How the Ghost of You Clings (PWC Reading)

I’m baaaaack! Hello, theater blogging world. After a much needed rest, I am back in the new year to continue sharing my thoughts on theater. I took some time to focus on mental health and my own writing. I took a trip to Louisville to get to better know Actors’ Theatre and to see a couple of shows there. I enjoyed the holidays and ate too many cookies. But now, I’m faced with a whole new year of theater and a new perspective on what I want to focus on. More about that to follow. But first – the Playwrights’ Center.
In case you don’t know, the Playwrights’ Center (or PWC) is one of the greatest centers for new work in the Twin Cities (and the US) and a huge, much-loved resource for playwrights. Also, all of their public readings are free and always wonderful. Monday night presented the opportunity for me to hear a piece by PWC founder John Olive. Olive has been writing for many years and, while artistic director Jeremy Cohen mentioned that right now much of the theater world’s focus might be on the next young and up and coming playwrights, it’s our core continuing playwrights, who are in the middle of latter part of their careers we also need to keep supporting.
This reading of How the Ghost of You Clings: The Anna May Wong Story included Sun Mee Chomet, playing Anna May Wong, Katie Bradley, Stephanie Bertumen, Daniel Coleman, Sherwin Resurreccion, and Daniel Sakamoto-Wengel, with Rick Shiomi directing. I’m sad to admit that I had never heard of Anna May Wong before this reading. She’s an Asian-American actress who made films in Hollywood, from silent films to talkies. She often was typecast, working in films with strong stereotypes and even yellow face. After seeing this reading, I want to learn everything I can about her.
If you’re unfamiliar with staged readings, this is how they work – actors read the lines and perform them with music stands holding the scripts in front of them. Another actor reads stage directions and, at PWC, the playwright chooses one aspect of design to focus on. For this reading, John Olive chose to have dramaturg Christina Ham work with him.
I absolutely loved this reading – it deals with a lot of deep, nuanced issues including casting and racism in Hollywood, race and gender, and the fact that not a great deal has changed since mid 1900s.
Part of this really hit home for me. Anna talks about being one person, that can’t be everything for everyone, or the solution we’re looking for to racism in Hollywood. It’s so easy to point fingers and see someone as misrepresenting their group and see their flaws as we look back on the past. We can blame Anna for taking these roles, but it’s much harder when you are the person trying to make a career.
Though I’m not a person of color, I aspects of this as a young queer playwright. I feel like there’s so much I’m expected to uphold. But I’m only one person. I can’t do everything. I feel exactly the same as a reviewer/blogger. I can’t see all the shows. I can’t go to all of the theaters. It’s unrealistic to expect me to be able to do that and it’s wrong to assume that I have to say it all or that I even should say it all. This is something I’m being more vocal about going forward as it’s a large part of why I stepped away from blogging. In regards to this, I’ve decided to stop writing my blog the way I think I have to or am supposed to or what people expect. I share this writing with others and to support the theater community, but most of all I do this for myself. I don’t want to feel the pressure of having to review certain shows or write certain things. I want to do this because I want to do this. And I really want to write about this show. So I’m glad to be jumping back into this with How the Ghost of You Clings and PWC. It feels good to be back, like I’m coming home. I can’t wait to see what else this year brings.

Meet Me in St. Louis

second fiddle
Source: facebook.com/secondfiddleproductions

If you aren’t already aware of Second Fiddle Productions, a company that produces staged readings of rarely produced musicals each year in the Twin Cities, let me introduce you. This year’s production was of Meet Me In St. Louis, a movie turned Broadway musical about a family living in the city of St. Louis during the World’s Fair in 1903. While the fair was a celebration for St. Louis and became a great source of regional pride, this musical celebrates a year in the life of the Smith family.

What I like best about these staged readings is the bare-boned nature, with actors standing before music stands with script and music in hand, featuring their acting and singing skills with the piece after a very short rehearsal period. With one rehearsal focusing on learning the music and another with a run-through of the piece, the result is always incredible, with wonderful acting and brilliant musicality. The casts feature some of the best of Twin Cities musical theater and this performance was certain no exception:

  • Esther Smith  – Sheena Janson
  • Mrs. Anna Smith – Kym Chambers
  • Tootie Smith – Natalie Tran
  • Grandpa Prophater – Gary Briggle
  • Rose Smith – Bergen Baker
  • Katie – Shelli Place
  • Agnes Smith – Anna Baker
  • John Truitt – Adam Moen
  • Lon Smith – Andrew Newman
  • Mr. Alonso Smith – Bill Marshall
  • Warren Sheffield – Robbie Droddy
  • Lucielle Ballard – Ruthie Baker
  • Eve/Ensemble – Elena Glass
  • Postman/Motorman/Clinton Badger – Adam Qualls

The reading was directed by Emily England and also featured Kyle Picha as musical director/keyboard, Ellen Hacker on violin, Melissa Nielsen on horn, and Matt Nielsen on drums.

I’ve learned a great deal about musical theater from these staged readings and can’t recommend Second Fiddle enough. Keep an eye out for the upcoming 2018 season as well as a benefit that will happen this fall to help support future readings. And if you’d like to donate so that Second Fiddle can keep staging these rarely produced musicals, please visit their website and learn more about who they are and their past productions!