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A Time to Open Up

Content warning: This post discusses assault, rape, abuse (physical and emotional), toxic behavior, and codependency. Please take care of yourself while reading and please reach out if you need to talk.

After getting involved in the CTC boycott, I’ve sat with the idea of opening up and sharing my experiences of being an assault survivor. I’ve continued to argue with myself about timing, if this is something I really need to share, if it’s appropriate, and so on – all the techniques that have kept me silent until now. I know I don’t have to share but I want to in the hopes that it will help someone – a survivor trying to take action or cope, or someone who is struggling to understand how what happened at CTC doesn’t just disappear.

When I was quite young – likely no older than four or five  – I stayed over with my grandmother while my parents went to a concert in another city. My grandmother had remarried (my grandfather having died long before I was born). Her second husband’s name was Ed. He lived on a house on a lake and I remember him having a seaplane. I have always remembered this lake, long before I remember where this memory was from.

My memory of what happened is fuzzy and jumbled. I remember a bedroom in a wood-paneled room and lying on the bed with someone beside me. I remember wearing a faux-denim dress with no back and someone’s hand resting on my bare back. I remember a pink sparkly bikini swimsuit and taking it off in a bathroom. I remember suddenly refusing to wear both of these clothing items later on and feeling sick and revolted at the sight of them. I remember a figure standing in a doorway at night, silhouetted by light behind them.

This is all I remember. It’s more than what I could recall a year ago. In fact, I would have never remembered much of this except for a series of events that unfolded over time – my parents mentioning rumors from my aunt that Ed had been to court due to allegations of pedophilia, which confirmed some fear I’d had of a name of a person I’d all but forgotten. That I had always ben Ed’s “favorite.” Hearing my grandmother relive her experiences of abuse at the hands of her second husband. And then the sudden intense end last year – my grandmother dying a week after my then-boyfriend broke up with me, citing a return of repressed memories of familial abuse as to why he couldn’t be in a relationship. Later that summer, I met up with my ex for a painful night (in more ways than one). The following night, while celebrating the end of grad school, I had the worst panic attack of my life, triggered no doubt by not being sober but also from events the night before. In between thinking I’d been drugged or that I was going to die, I had cyclical memories return about my ex and about Ed until I fell into the arms of one of my friends, screaming.

Here is what I know:

  • I will probably never remember entirely what happened at Ed’s. I was young and whatever occurred is deeply buried somewhere deep in the recesses of my mind. Whatever did happen, it was bad and my mind is still fumbling to understand it.
  • I have struggled with body image – from my weight to body dysmorphia to feeling like my body is not my own to feeling like I didn’t belong in my body/sort of dissociation. This came from somewhere. And given that I refused to wear anything that revealed my back until late in high school and didn’t wear a bikini again until after college, I have drawn the conclusion that whatever happened with Ed planted this in me.
  • I have had some questionable encounters and made questionable choices in my life. I have felt inferior to every partner I have been with, whether through their treatment or my own treatment of my body. I have had encounters that became nonconsensual at some point and I continue to struggle at how to describe them. As people discussing these issues continue to say “nonconsensual encounters are not a thing – just call it rape” – I feel like a terrible feminist for not wanting to use that word. I also feel like it is not mine to use – that some how it is a far worse thing than what I have experienced. But at what point, when something starts as consensual and becomes nonconsensual and you never feel that you can or should speak up to stop it, do I need to stop worrying about how to describe the experiences and care more about how I felt and how to move on from them? Or do I need to know how to define them? How much do my words matter if I only share these stories with myself, running the narratives over and over in my mind until I feel like I can’t breathe?
  • None of my partners know about my past trauma or about my feelings of nonconsensual activity with them. I never got the chance to discuss it with any of them, though I planned to with my recent ex and never got the opportunity.
  • I am still recovering from all of this, especially the break-up in what I now see was a toxic and codependent relationship. He is going through is own experience with trauma but, at some point, his dealing with it was harmful for me. It is a difficult situation and one I still struggle to discuss openly – perhaps because I fear what words can do, what talking about something had so many ambiguities might do. Some memories cause more pain than others – perhaps the one I continue to struggle with is a conversation is the first night we met up when he discussed a scene in a Fringe show he’d done a few years back, describing a scene people thought was a rape scene. He argued it didn’t depict rape, that instead it showed when things go too far between couples. At some level I think I knew this wasn’t right but I made myself agree, thinking that maybe I didn’t understand, didn’t know enough. And I made myself believe this for too long.
  • I don’t have answers. I only have my experiences, trying to open up about this, and more questions than I know what do do with.
  • Certain pop culture elements in my life have made me realize what kept me in a place of toxicness and what helped me wake up. “Jane Eyre,” “Twilight,” and and other Gothic romantic narratives gave me poor expectations as a teen, but now read like warning signs I didn’t quite see. “Jessica Jones,” the book Goodbye, Sweet Girl, and the poetry of Amanda Lovelace helped me realize the trauma that lived beneath the surface and gave me a place to sit and feel all the emotions I had buried beneath the surface.
  • I have learned that abuse doesn’t always look the way it does in film or TV. Sometimes it’s dark and insidious and hard to see in the moment. It’s hard to talk about now, because the narratives of Ed and my ex are so intertwined, with both “waking up” moments (so to speak) in my mind occurring at the same time. They are very different experiences and yet they mirror each other in an abuse of trust. Ed is now dead (he died a good ten years ago or more) so I have no fear talking about him. But talking about my ex – and issue I continue to dodge and avoid, for fear of sounding like a broken record who can only harp on about the same issue, for fear of what happens when people learn who he is and what I think, for fear of repercussions, of not being believed, for being criticized for not knowing better, not speaking up … the list of fears go on and on.
  • I have waited too long to talk about these experiences. I wanted to wait until I would feel comfortable, trying to write them in diary entries and deleted blogs and plays I never finished. There are numerous nonfiction pieces and abandoned novels sitting on my laptop that I can never return to because they’re just too painful. I was never going to feel comfortable talking about this- I decided today to dive in and do it, because it’s been a year since this all came to light in my mind. And it’s time to get it out of my mind and truly find a way to move on.

I would be lying if the moment I hit the publish button on this post, I won’t shake and panic. Talking about this is the scariest thing I’ve done. I’ve tried to make this post more readable, make it clearer, more concise, less jumbled. This is not a story or a set of experiences that can be made clear. I can go only so far to share my experiences here – this is so much left unsaid, so much I haven’t described, only because some details are too much for the online world. And they’re too much for me for what I’m ready to tell. If anything, I hope that this gives a better understanding for what kind of struggles survivors carry with them. I have only recently begun to understand how trauma has shaped my life and framed my experiences. I have only recently begun to resist the expectations my anxious mind has made for itself. I hope that if anyone out there reading this is a survivor, it gives you the confidence to keep fighting and to know that you are not alone.

Screaming into the Void

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I wrote this post last March but hadn’t gotten around to typing up and posting it until now. Why? Excuses mainly (busy, not ready, other self-sabotage to share it I suppose). While I enjoy reviewing, I really want to expand this blog to talk about playwriting and theater-making in a larger way, especially about my own writing process and current struggles and thoughts about making theater. So, here we go.

Writing, at times, is like screaming into a void. You’re not really sure anyone is listening but there’s something inside you that needs to be released and something you hope is eventually heard.

I initially wanted to write a post like this in February but I felt blocked and unsure where to start. So I posed this question to my Instagram story: What do you want to know about playwriting/writing? I began to get worried as I got no responses. My anxiety kicked in, saying, “No one cares. You’re an unproduced playwright. No one cares about playwriting – it’s not interesting like acting. After all, it’s not rocket science, you just slap some words on a page.”

Fortunately, my rationale kicked in, reminding my most of this is invalid. After all, 25+ people viewed this post and, while I eventually noticed I got one response, I realized that maybe no one else knew where to start either. If I as a playwright can’t decide, how can anyone else?

So I’ll start by yelling into the void – this is a job where most of the world is done where no one sees us, as Christina Ham wisely told our MFA group my first year at Augsburg. We may not be very glamorous, but I love what I do and I think it’s fascinating. Playwrights want to be heard and seen – especially with new plays – and I hope to provide a little more visibility to the work we do.

Time for a Change

Hello friend, blog readers, and those of you stumbling across this expecting to find something about the musical Hamilton:

You might have noticed there’s been a steady decline in my reviewing over the last couple of years. As I focus more on my own writing and work more nights and evenings in my “day job,” it’s become harder for me to keep reviewing. After much though, I’ve decided to officially move away from reviewing on my blog. There are a number of reasons for this decision, which I’ll illustrate below:

  • It’s getting harder and harder to ethically review plays in town without being influenced by people I’ve worked with or know who might be working on projects. Generally, this has only been good – it means I’m excited to share something that a friend is in or want to let audiences know how much I’ve enjoyed it. But after going through some rough patches in my personal life, I don’t want to put myself in a place where I feel like I need to criticize something because of someone working on it. And I also don’t want to only review shows because I know someone in the cast.
  • Time and money are big factors. Unlike journalists who review, I’m not paid for anything on this site (just the opposite, actually). Financially, I’m in a place where I need to work as much as possible in order to get myself in a more stable place post-grad school.
  • I desperately need to focus on my own writing more. I’ve done a great job of doing that after graduating from my MFA program, but it’s come at the cost of letting my blog lapse. I want to keep writing here, but I’d rather write about being a writer and talking about the day to day life of a playwright (who also writes in other genres).
  • I would be lying if I wasn’t making this decision off the affects speaking out about Children’s Theatre had about me. The blog post (in which I shared Laura Stearns-Adams statement about CTC) was the most visited post I’ve ever had on this site. It also was the most stressful. I was removed from CTC’s press list and it caused me to think about what I want to do in order to engage with issues and causes I feel strongly about in town and in the world at large. I can’t stay silent and I want to share and strengthen my voice. But I also don’t want to do it from a position where I will be ignored or alienated for speaking out. I also don’t want to burn bridges if I don’t have to and I feel it’s easier if I do it from the perspective of a theater artist and community member.
  • I’m changing and growing a lot as a person. I’ve been working through some difficult personal experiences over the last year (much of which as been stimulated again by the CTC issues). I believe I eventually want to write posts about these experiences but I’m struggling with my comfort level of being able to do so. Putting aside my work as a reviewer somehow makes it easier, paired by the fact that the number of press releases I get is stressful to me. There is so much theater in town to see and I know I can’t see it all, but feeling like I have to see it in order to support the community is something I’m struggling with. In short, there’s a lot of struggle in my mind.

All in all, I’ve decided to step back and work on different kinds of writing about theater – primarily about playwriting and craft, perhaps with a few performing arts and pop culture posts sprinkled in here and here. I hope you all will continue reading and also supporting the other Twin Cities Theater Bloggers who put and incredible amount of time and dedication into what they do. I’m honored to have been among them and grateful to still be an honorary member.

So that’s what’s new with me. Until next time- happy theater-going!

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A Call for Boycotting CTC

Note from the blogger: For those of you who have been working in the Twin Cities theater community for some time, you may know about the abuse scandal at Children’s Theatre Company that occurred in the 1980s. For those of you like me, you may have only learned about it shortly before or after the Laura Stearns Adams, a former child actor and coworker of mine at the Guthrie, sued the theater and the matter went to court. The theater was found negligent but not liable and overall the matter seems to have been concealed once more. Thankfully, that is not the case. While public media is by and large not discussing this, many of us in the theater community have discussed it over and over, especially with the recent death of John Clark Donahue. Now, Laura Stearns Adams has spoken out again on her Facebook page about her experiences. As someone who has recently started attending CTC, an advocate for survivors, and an abuse survivor myself, I knew this was not something I could stay silent about. I asked Laura’s permission to share her post, the entirety of which is below. Please read and share. I myself am joining the boycott and will no longer be attending CTC. Rather, I will speak out and advocate for Laura and other survivors. And for those of you looking for more information about the case and for resources about abuse, please visit this post written by Chris Peterson at OnStage Blog. #boycottCTC

A CALL FOR BOYCOTTING CTC:

I am a patient person. Some might say too patient. I am also a person who wants to see the best in people. I am not a pessimist. I want to believe that people are intrinsically good and I give the benefit of the doubt. That is, until proven otherwise. I now have all the proof I need to call for an all out boycott of The Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis.

Here are some facts to help you understand why;

-In December of 2015, I filed a civil suit against CTC and Jason McLean for the sexual assault that happened to me in 1983 while I was a student there. I filed it because of the MN Child Victims Act which allowed for my case to be brought fourth in the civil court, not the criminal court.

-Seventeen people filed civil suits because of abuse they endured at CTC. Hundreds could have.

-In order for the truth to be revealed about what happened to the students at CTC back then, we needed to have the legal platform of a the civil court, otherwise we could be sued for slander.

-If I could have done this in a criminal court, I would have.

-Because years we’re going by with no resolution to any of the cases filed against the theater, I was required to go through all of the difficult hoops again. Some of those hoops include probing depositions and psychiatric evaluations. Trust me, they are not fun.

-We were not allowed to present evidence at trial that showed that McLean’s criminal activities extended beyond me. Victims of his that were abused after May of 1983 were not allowed to testify at my trial because the defense objected to it saying that McLean’s activities after my abuse was irrelevant and the judge ruled in their favor.

-I have been sexually assaulted four times in my life by four different men. My lawyers argued for me to not have to give testimony of the rapes that happened after McLean. The judge did not agree and I was required to describe every one of my sexual assaults at my trial.

-Kim Motes, the current Managing Director of CTC, was allowed to testify at my trial, giving testimony to how great they are today and how they only have an operating budget around $8m. My lawyers objected on the grounds that her testimony is irrelevant to what happened back in the 1980’s and would prejudice the jury. The judge overruled and allowed Motes to testify.

-Because the law requires that juries NOT be instructed about who has to foot the bill of what ever they deem fair as a judgment, they only need to worry about the number, they were not told that the Insurance companies who covered the theater at the time of the abuse are the ones who would be required to pay. Unless they already knew that, which most people don’t, there would be no way for them to know that this is an insurance liability issue.

-In January of this year, after a 13 day trial, CTC was found negligent for their part in my abuse as a student at CTC back in the early 1980’s

-I was awarded a judgment of $3.68m but because the jury did not find CTC liable, only negligent, the payment of that judgment would fall to Jason McLean, the man who raped me.

-I will likely never see a penny of that judgment because McLean was allowed to sell his properties, the Varsity Theater and The Loring Pasta Bar, to his business associates, and flea the country. He currently resides in Cabo San Lucas and can not be extradited because this is civil court not criminal court. His assets are safely out of the country.

-My lawyers have filed for a mis-trial, citing several reason in a court hearing on Friday, not the least of which is the fact that the judge allowed Motes to testify and that never should have been allowed, especially in light of the fact that he would not allow the two Jane Does that were assaulted after me to testify.

-On Friday, I sat in a courtroom and listened to CTC’s lawyers argue that I should have to pay $283,792.25 of CTC’s trial fees. This is called “taxation of cost” and is only allowed to be an option to the prevailing party in a trial. CTC was found guilty of negligence. I’m not sure how this is even allowable.

CTC’s administration and board would have to sign off on this request for taxation of cost. They know they got off the hook by the jury not finding them liable, and now they are going after me. So, in a nutshell:

CTC was found negligent in the case against them, that proved that the institution placed children in harms way, and now they are going after me, the childhood sexual assault survivor who was harmed because of that negligence, to pay cash dollars out of my own pocket, for proving their own negligence.

It is the last straw for me. I know that these kinds of cases are very much in the hands of the lawyers. This is their arena. So I have sat patiently waiting to see how CTC’s current administration would chose to respond to all of this. What the survivors of CTC want is for them to own their part. To apologize. Not say how sorry they are for what happened to us and wish us well, but to publicly own the fact that their very existence as an institution today is because the well being and safety of the students was sacrificed for the INSTITUTION ITSELF! They would not EXIST if the kids hadn’t been silenced. If the right thing was done back in the 1980’s, when all of the shit hit the fan, the theater would have gone under. Instead, the board of directors and administration saved the theater and vilified the children who came forward at the time, saving the theater and their reputation, which never deserved to be saved. The BCA investigator who testified at my trial referred to the place as “a cesspool”. My lawyer says that in the 35+ years he has been doing this work, he has NEVER seen anything like what they have found through their investigation. They should have gone down. They didn’t. They survived. Those of us who were assaulted there still have nightmares. CTC needs to help those that were harmed, take a real stand, not deny their culpability and put “policies” in place, but take some damn initiative to make things better for children all over! Stop hiding from the past! They want to own their legacy of 50+ years, OWN ALL OF IT!!!

I have taken the high road through all of this, trying to give CTC a chance to do the right thing, not wanting to make things ugly because I believe healing happens in the light and we don’t need more discourse. But this personal attack on me is enough evidence for me to take a different kind of stand. I ask that you not buy tickets, send your kids to their classes, audition for their shows, accept jobs or support them in any way until they do the right thing by the survivors. If you work there, ask yourself if you want to work for an organization that would do this to the survivor of sexual assault who brought the truth to light. Other theatre companies, make a point of reaching out to employees of CTC and offer them work so they have other options around town. To the other theater owners, artistic directors and administrators, board of director members around town, call on CTC to do the right thing. Many of you are my friends. Do you think this is right? If you are okay with it, ask yourself if you would be okay with it if I were your daughter.

(above post by Laura Stearns Adams)

Matilda

matilda
Photo Credit: Children’s Theatre Company

About the Show

Based off of Roald Dahl’s classic book, Matilda Wormwood is child genius trapped in a family that cares more about the television than her. While she dreams up wondrous tales and reads more book than anyone else, she finds herself at odds with the adults in her life – her foolish parents and brutal headmistress. However, her teacher Miss Honey, shows her not all adults are cruel or selfish and a sudden discovery of magical powers give Matilda hope to fuel her stories and to revolt back against her oppressors.

Why I Chose to See It

Matilda was one of my favorite books as a child (ever the bookworm, I related to her greatly and spent hours bored in my classes trying to move objects with my eyes). I was also excited about the casting – I’m a fan of China Brickey (who plays Miss Honey) and I was delighted to see the role of Miss Trunchbull (the cruel headmistress) actually cast to a woman (on Broadway it has been staged with a man in drag). I’m also a fan of Emily Gunyou Halaas so the chance to see her play the wicked Trunchbull wasn’t something I could pass down.

My Response

I think I have a new favorite musical. This show expertly combines the whimsy and darkness of Dahl’s writing along with the poignant and humorous nature of British artist Tim Minchin’s music and lyrics. Celebrating the intelligence and power of children, this musical is a delight from start to finish. Often with new musicals, I worry about the plot being diluted by large musical numbers or simplistic songs that do little to advance the piece. This musical is not like that at all – the full story is there in all its twists and turns and samplings of childhood antics. And the music is glorious – from humorous romps (starring the wonderful Dean Holt and Autumn Ness as Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood) – to nostalgic pieces like “When I Grow Up” that make me miss the simplicity of being a kid, to Miss Trunchbull’s frightening solos that feel somehow like a soliloquy by Iago or Richard the III. Perhaps most striking of all are what I consider the three female leads – Matilda, Miss Honey, and Miss Trunchbull. It’s wonderful to see such diverse examples of women portrayed on stage, from sweet and conscience (Miss Honey) to clever and bold (Matilda) to wicked and brutal (Miss Trunchbull) and so much more in between for all three. Seeing Emily Gunyou-Halaas play Trunchbull alone makes the entire show – I can’t recall seeing a performance that made me so afraid and yet also gleeful as someone who loves seeing more diverse rolls for women onstage.

Overall

Go see this show. It’s beautiful and wonderful and a giant fist pump for bibliophiles. It will make you appreciate what it takes to be a growing child (and adult) in this world. And it’s a whole lot of fun to boot.

General Information

Matilda the Musical runs through June 23. The book is by Dennis Kelly with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin and direction by Peter C. Brosius. For show and ticket information, please visit Children Theatre’s website.

Handled

Facebook
Source: Wildwood Theatre

About the Show

Penny is returning home after six weeks of residential treatment. In her absence, her mother, Melanie, created a Twitter account (@Shiny_Penny_1999) to help her meet people at the new school Penny will be attending in the fall and give her a foundation of where to start after treatment. Penny, however, doesn’t want to be shiny and feels outraged at her mother’s insistence at performing that everything is fine when Penny is truly battling depression on a daily basis. Tensions flair when Penny creates an alternate account (@Bad_Penny_69) to combat the forced persona of her mother’s account.

Why I Chose to See It

Wildwood Theatre is a new company in town, focusing on telling stories about mental health and combating the stigma around them. As “storytellers bound to reignite empathy,” they’re doing the kind of work I feel compelled to do in my own writing and I’m excited to see a new lens for theater and new work in general in the Twin Cities.

My Response

This is the sort of play I wish I’d seen about ten years ago, when I was undiagnosed with anxiety and struggling to come to terms with accepting that mental illness is A) far more common than we think, B) can affect anyone, and C) nothing to be ashamed of. This play is smart and funny, weaving Penny’s teenage growth and transition with transitioning to a life of self-care and openness. I have a lot in common with Penny – we express our struggle to communicate with anger (I cannot tell you how refreshing it is to see young women express anger on stage. It’s something I haven’t seen enough in theater), we spend a great deal of our time reading, and we want to talk openly and candidly about our mental illnesses. Having this character onstage alone is groundbreaking in a lot of ways. But it isn’t just Penny’s character who’s doing incredibly work (though I feel so much empathy for her I think it skews my view of everyone else). There’s Melanie, who’s reluctant to let go of the image she has of her daughter in her mind, which doesn’t match up to who Penny feels she really is. There’s the tension between creating an entire persona online versus having a mostly authentic persona (or as authentic as one can get in a limited amount of Twitter characters). There’s @IWantCandy, a high school student Melanie and Penny interact with online who appears to be a stereotypical bright, happy high school girl but is her own unique woman with her own unique struggles. Both Twitter Pennys are portrayed by actors who perform the Tweets, blending cyber life into real life in a way I really appreciate as a playwright (and something my MFA pal Allyson would really appreciate, making me wish she could see this show). Perhaps in the biggest surprise for me was Laura, Melanie’s coworker. I thought her firmly on Melanie’s side, pushing for Penny to be less troubled and just be happy. So imagine my surprise in Act 2 when (SPOILERS) Laura pulls out pill bottles from her purse and explains to Penny that she has had similar experiences.

At times, I really struggled with Melanie’s character only because she was so real to me. The play might require a certain suspension of belief that a parent would really create a Twitter profile and control a child’s life so much that she would dictate how far away her daughter could go to college. However, I know parents who told their kids what they could and could not major in, what classes they could take, etc. And as someone who’s experienced codependent relationships in my life, I can see a sort of codependence between Penny and Melanie. I do wish I had more backstory on Melanie and Penny’s relationship – not because I think it’s lacking in the play but because I just want more of it. I live every day of my life in the complex world that Melanie and Penny’s discussion inhabit so seeing that onstage is wonderfully comforting. It’s hard to hear at times, but so incredibly important to have stated and heard in front of an audience.

Overall

This play was really enjoyable and deals with mental illness, social media, and who we are versus the perceptions people have of us/who others believe us to be in a really lively, energetic way. I’m open about discussing my mental health but after seeing this show, I felt twenty times more open and immediately wanted to jump on Twitter (even though I rarely use the site) and use all the #endthestigma hashtags. Unfortuantely I wasn’t able to get this review up soon enough (the last performance is today at 2pm) so I can’t implore you to go see it. But you should absolutely keep Wildwood on your radar and seek out their future productions (hint hint: they have one in July). I’m so excited to see this theater creating work and I really look forward to seeing what else they create.

General Information

Handled is written by Shayne Kennedy and directed by Sarah Catcher and David Albino. It ran from April 25-28th at Off Leash Art Box. For future productions and show information, please visit their website.

The Hobbit

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Photo Credit: Children’s Theatre Company

About the Show

Based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved tale The Hobbit, this play focuses on the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, a peaceful food-loving hobbit turned reluctant burglar to aid a troupe of dwarfs in regaining their mountain overtaken by the terrifying dragon Smaug.

Why I Chose to See It

I am a Lord of the Rings fanatic and actually a hobbit (second breakfast, anyone?). I hadn’t yet seen a show at Children’s Theatre Company (I know, how is that possible?) and, as this was one of my favorite books as a kid, I deeply wanted to see how a children’s theater adapted it. Also the casting was phenomenal and there was no way I was going to miss the chance to see this ensemble perform.

My Response

This is a fantastic and faithful adaption down to Bilbo’s dress and spiffy feet – yes, while there’s no hairy feet onstage (likely due safety and the price/ quick wear and tear of prosthetics) but the brown dress shoes still get to the heart of a hobbit’s character and physicality. I expected the adaption to trim away unnecessary bits and skirt away from the grim end, none of which it did. It certainly trims the book down but doesn’t leave anything out, merely represents it more leanly, also making it easier for its younger audience members to understand (and likewise shows how foolish it was for the film to stretch the story out into three films). It also doesn’t change the end at all –  in fact, the show deals with hardship grief in a really lovely and sensitive way. The costumes are fantastic, creating whole new characters out of a certain core piece (goggles, helmet, headband, etc) and blending a feel of found items with a highly designed set. The cast is especially delightful and powerful. I don’t want to pick a favorite in this ensemble because they’re all so good – Joy Dolo’s Lady Gandalf and skin-crawling Gollum, H. Adam Harris’s cheerful Kili and menacing Smaug, Becca Hart’s endearing Balin and courageous Bard (I always thought Bard ought to be a woman so I’m happy to see this come true in this production), Reed Sigmund’s brave, powerful, and greedy Thorin, and Dean Holt’s picture perfect Bilbo. I couldn’t believe that an ensemble of only five members could portray all the characters in this book (especially as there’s thirteen dwarfs!) but they do it without making it feel barebones. It’s simple but as lush, robust, and alive as any large-casted show. The music is especially fun with a score throughout and a several key songs.

Overall

I’m sad I waited to so long to see a show at CTC but I’m also overwhelmingly happy this is my first. I don’t often find myself in rooms filled with children and I absolutely loved experiencing this show with young, creative minds willing to go along with whatever was thrown their way and use their imaginations to fill in the blanks with costumes and sets. I also enjoyed their unrestrained reactions and I jumped right along with them in some of the scary parts. I highly recommend this show equally to children and adults. I found myself hoping that this show returns one day so I can bring my friend’s child to this and experience introducing a new generation into one my favorite books.

General Information

The Hobbit adapted and directed by Greg Banks. It is playing now through April 14th at Children’s Theatre in Minneapolis. For show and ticket information, please visit Children’s Theatre Company’s site.

The Wolves (2019)

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Source: Jungle Theater

About the Show

This play follows a girls’ indoor team of high school soccer players as they navigate relationships, friendships, and trying to make it to nationals. #46 is new to the team (the rest of the group having played together since they were kids) and is learning their inside jokes, their habits, and what it mean to be part of the Wolves.

Why I Chose to See It

I saw this play last spring when it was first performed at the Jungle. At the time, the play was part of my graduate work at Augsburg and I was excited to see it staged. I adored the production and, when I heard about the remount, I knew I had to see it again.

My Response

If I liked this play the first time, I am absolutely infatuated with it this time around. The nuances between the players, the overlapping conversation, and the emotional trials of being a teenage girl are powerful and even more finessed and clarified. It helps that this same group of actors performed it less than a year ago and (from what I gather from Instagram) adore this play. Creating theater is teamwork so it’s no surprise that a show that mixes soccer and acting together works so well. The physicality is mesmerizing and, with the location of the Souther, it truly feels like you’re in the bleachers watching a game (the stage is on ground level – it is not raised about the seats – which is a huge advantage in this show). I don’t want to give away too much about this show, but it really hits personal notes for me due to my experiences in high school and I have heard other women have the same reactions. Even if you do not identify as a woman, the characters and the stories will feel familiar and tell a very moving story about growing up in the Midwest.

Overall

Just go see this show. Bring your friends, bring your enemies, bring everyone. This is modern theater at its best.

General Information

The Wolves is written by Sarah DeLappe and directed by Sarah Rasmussen. It is playing now through February 17th at the Souther Theatre. Ticket and show information can be found on the Jungle’s website.

The Children (Jungle Theater)

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Photo credit: Jungle Theater

About the Show

The Children takes place along the coast in England after a terrible natural disaster has led to nuclear issue. Hazel and Robin have moved to a new house after theirs was damaged and Rose, Robin’s one-time lover, has shown up unexpectedly. The three navigate their complex relationships and the decimated world around them, ultimately having to make difficult decisions about life, sacrifice, and morality.

Why I Chose to See It

Each production I see at the Jungle makes me love the new artistic leadership more and more. This is a regional premiere of a play that was just on Broadway in 2017 and I was intrigued by the promotions for this show which left a lot of what could happen in the play ambiguous. And I will pretty much see Stephen Yoakam in anything,

My Response

This play starts slow then pummels you through an emotional roller coaster. I went into this show knowing next to nothing about it (other than I kept seeing gas masks show up in promotions for it at other theaters). I feel inclined not to give away too much about this show as there’s something particularly poignant with this piece going in not knowing what’s going to happen and if you can entirely believe what you see. The show is title after unseen figures in the play – the children of Robin and Hazel, and other children in the world, who are being affected and having their lives shortened by something that was beyond their control, but in some ways could have its damage reduced by their parents. Generational and economic struggles are gestured to without soapboxing or allowing for easy answers. Another theme is living with less, something that Robin and Hazel especially struggle with. As I’m in the midst of vegan January (something I chose to do for animal and environmental welfare reasons), this particularly struck me. On top of the unexpected outrage toward Marie Kondo, this echoed the outrage that comes with a certain level of privilege when people are asked to reduce. There’s also a certain striking juxtaposition here of great terrible danger outside and general peace that’s found in the cottage by the sea where Robin and Hazel live that eases the audience into thinking that things are alright because they are for this couple – when the rest of the world is greatly suffering.  Hazel is disinclined towards risks, wants to lengthen her life as long as possible, and in some ways refuses to accept that death is inevitable, something I think wonderfully articulates the resistance and refusal I see again and again of those who are afraid to actually to work towards change lest they lose something due to it. For Hazel, it’s better to stay where they are and muddle through, hoping things will get better, rather than making the sacrifices that will actually change things – or so we hope.

Overall

This play is powerful, thought-provoking, incredibly timely (what with the government shutdown, repeated reports about the effects of global warming and changing temperatures here in Minnesota, and general continual fear/dread that seems to have become normalized in society), and one that deserves lots of discussion and pondering over afterwards. It’s an uneasy, ponderous play but it’s one that certainly deserves attention and I hope will spark conversation.

General Information

The Children is written by Lucy Kirkwood and directed by Casey Stangl. It is playing now through February 10th at the Jungle Theater. Ticket and show information can be found on the Jungle’s website.

Animus

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Photo Credit: E/D 

About the Show

Elisabet, self-help guru and Instagram celebrity, suffers a sort of break-down in the middle of one of her public speaking engagements. Alma, a nurse, is charged with looking after Elisabet on a seaside retreat. A bit starstruck and struggling with authenticity herself, Alma works to help Elisabet find herself again, but things take a dark turn when the two women discover how similar and yet how different they are. Inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s film Persona, this show is part of the Bergman Jubilee in 2018 (a celebration around the world the centennial of the celebrated filmmaker’s birth).

Why I Chose to See It

I love seeing new work, especially work that is multi-media and advertised as something “like you’ve never seen before.” I admire the work of Emily Michaels King and Debra Berger (who both appear in the show) and I’m excited about their company E/D generating new work about women for everyone.

My Response:

This absolutely is like nothing I’ve seen before. It’s gorgeously staged and challenging (both to watch and understand) which is very much welcomed on my end – I love a good puzzling story as well as a production that feels uncomfortable and suspenseful throughout, which this play delivers wonderfully. Much of the suspense is created through the ever present camera operator – Amber Johnson of Dangervision Productions – who captures close-up details that otherwise might be as noticeable to the audience’s eye in theater while also emphasizing the influence of social media and the focus on physical appearance. Johnson is onstage almost the entire show, following both King and Berger’s characters, often using camera angles to reveal something about the two or giving the perspective that they are standing side by side when the in actuality might be a whole stage apart. The show also uses prerecorded footage to add to the sense of unease.

There’s a lot to unpack in this performance and I’m certain that anyone who sees it will walk away with a slightly different idea of what it’s about, reflections that all overlap on the same foundation. The production shows the complexity of people – especially women, the ways in which the self-help industry can profit off of people and use them rather than help them, how authenticity is a nebulous topic – How can we be real in a world that at times feels both too real and utterly unreal? How can be be real people when our social media presence causes us to act and entertain in certain ways? How can women really know who they are when they are constantly barraged with ideas and perspectives of who they’re supposed to be? I’ve spent some time in my personal life struggling through feeling authentic and who I think I am (including conversations with my therapist about it) and much of the show hit me very personally for this reason.

By the end of the piece, the audience is left with a great deal of questions. I don’t want to give away the story but I can’t help but note and appreciate the yin and yang symbolism that is used throughout the show (from costuming, to movement, to the cover of a book in one scene). As Elisabeth and Alma travel over the course of the show, I’m never quite certain if they’re different people, the same person, people existing only in the mind of the camera operator. Perhaps we all get to decide at the end, just as we all must decide how we be authentic in this world and how live and find balance ourselves – as it’s nothing that a self-help expert can fix for us, no matter how good they are.

Overall

This was the perfect show for me to see in my present moment (where I’m navigating belief changes, new health practices, and new ways of defining myself) and I can’t recommend it enough. Whether you’re a film fan – especially of Bergman, but also of  filmmakers such as  Lars von Trier or David Lynch – or looking for theater that pushes the boundaries of what we think it can do, or just looking to see some great new work  – specifically work by women artists – I think you should see this.

General Information

Animus is created by and features Emily Michaels King, Debra Berger, and Amber Johnson. It runs now through December 22nd at the Southern Theater. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit E/D’s website or the Southern’s.