Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Student Showcase is going to wow you

Following each dance concert, we offer a Student Showcase of student-choreographed work, and this year's pieces are extraordinary. Below is a sneak peak of what our students will offer during the 2 p.m. matinee Sunday, Dec. 6, in the Ted Paul Theatre. Tickets are only $5 at the door!!!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Fall Dance Concert promises variety, premieres

As always, the Minnesota State University, Mankato Fall Dance Concert will be featuring an array of dance techniques, and many of the pieces are brand new.

Dance Professor Daniel Stark said this year’s program includes ballet, modern, jazz-based modern and an Afro-Cuban dance. Pieces include a duet about a couple in love who experience a loss, one about the absurdity of television, and one about Minnesota’s North Shore, among various others.

But words hardly do these dances justice. Pictures do better to capture the beauty of what will be on the stage. (Photos by Dan Norman. Illustrations by Matthew Caron.)

The Fall Dance Concert is 7:30 p.m. Dec. 4 and 2 p.m. Dec. 5 in the Ted Paul Theatre, Early Center for Performing Arts, Minnesota State University, Mankato. Tickets are $10 regular; $9 for seniors ages 65 and older, children under 16 and groups of 15 or more; and $8 for MSU students. The Student Showcase, featuring dances choreographed by students, is 2 p.m. Dec. 6 in the Ted Paul Theatre. Student Showcase tickets are $5. Tickets can be purchased at MSUTheatre.com or by calling 507-389-6661.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Time marches on, and 'Time Stands Still' is up next ...

"Time Stands Still" Director Michael Sheeks had a great Q&A with The Free Press this week. Read all about his vision for the show below!

(Click on the images to enlarge.)

Michael Sheeks is the director of "Time Stands Still."

Sarah (Alex Blesi) evaluates Richard’s (Logan Sulentic) embryonic girlfriend, Mandy (Maureen O’Malley) as James (Jordan Wolfe) looks on nervously.

Sarah (Alex Blesi, top right) and James (Jordan Wolfe, seated) surprise Richard (Logan Sulentic) and Mandy (Maureen O’Malley) by tying the knot.

Sarah (Alex Blesi) contemplates her next steps with James (Jordan Wolfe).

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Preview performance puts us in the 'Christmas' spirit a little early

Although it may seem counterintuitive, one of the funnest nights in the Performing Arts Center are Corporate Sponsor Nights. The event name itself might sound like our theater fills up with suits and ties, but the reality couldn't be further from the truth.

When a company generously sponsors one of our productions, they get the run of our theater the night before opening night. Every seat in the house belongs to them, and we perform our show just for them. So companies often use the special event as a social gathering to invite their hard-working employees and their families to come enjoy the show, have some cookies and cider, and have some fun outside the office.

That's exactly what happened Wednesday night in the Ted Paul. Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato is our wonderful sponsor for "A Christmas Story: The Musical," and they helped fill the Performing Arts Center with the holiday spirit a little early this year. Mayo families packed the Ted Paul, and we were so proud to unveil to them our production, which Director Melissa Rosenberger and the cast and crew have been working so hard on perfecting.

We sincerely hope everyone enjoyed the show last night, and we're pretty sure they did. Reviews were pretty positive as they streamed out during intermission for cookies, coffee and cider. Our favorite comment came from a little girl who was about the age of our lead character, 9-year-old Ralphie Parker. "This is the funniest show I've ever seen. Do you know if they still make Red Ryder BB guns? I want one, too."

Here are some photos from last night's event.

Our cast in the display cases
Our ensemble
Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato employees and their families filled the Ted Paul Theatre.
Adam Yankowy warms up the orchestra.
Dr. Paul Hustoles thanks Mayo for their long-standing support of MSU Theatre and Dance.
Dr. Hustoles hands over a plaque with our gratitude to a Mayo employee.
Employees and friends socialize during intermission.
Two boys talk about their favorite parts of the musical.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

What I Want For Christmas ...

Melissa Rosenberger remembers the moment well, tearing through the wrapping paper of a box she was sure contained “more clothes,” but was soon overjoyed to find the Cabbage Patch Doll she had wanted more than anything.
Parents just love to do that, don’t they? Trick a kid into thinking they’ll be disappointed on Christmas, only to sweep in like heroes and win the day with the perfect present.
That, right there, is the essence of “A Christmas Story,” the movie the masses have loved for decades. It’s about humor, hope and wonder, not to mention just getting through the holidays relatively unscathed and, most importantly, together as a family.
So if you’re wondering (and many are) how similar MSU Theatre’s “A Christmas Story: The Musical” will be to Jean Shepherd’s 1983 movie, you can rest assured that all of these elements are firmly intact.
“There is a cult-like following with this story,” said Melissa, the director and choreographer. “I think its appeal is the common memory we share. The story was never dressed up to the point of being out of reach. Rather, it’s a lovely look at authentic family life during the holidays.”
The story, set in 1940, follows Ralphie Parker, a 9-year-old kid in small-town Indiana who wants nothing more than an official Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-shot Range Model Air Rifle. The obstacles standing in his way? A whole slew of grown-ups who are sure he would “shoot his eye out” if his wish was granted.
Melissa’s vision for MSU Theatre’s version of the story was to preserve the way Ralphie’s child-like and imaginative perspective shaped the movie. So unlike the Broadway version of “A Christmas Story: The Musical,” there won’t be over-the-top glitz and glam.
“I didn’t see this as a glitzy show,” she said. “I wanted it to look and feel similar to the way kids play at things, like when they build a tent around the kitchen table and suddenly it’s a fort. It all has to come from their imaginations – what they would do, how they would dress it up and pretend.”
The glam will be at a minimum, but the musical numbers will be big and will enhance the funniest, most iconic moments of the film.
“The iconic moments from the movie are intact but heightened,” she said. “The musical uses the humor as a launching pad into grand exaggerated moments. For example, the leg lamp not only arrives in the home, but soon thereafter we are transported through elaborate song and dance into a big musical number.”
At the same time, the musical version is a different way of telling the story, so Melissa never felt committed to presenting scenes exactly the way the movie does. She wanted the actors, including the many children in the production, to be able to “find the funny” for themselves and bring something of their own to the roles.
“The best part about working with the kids has been watching them play and explore, knowing the story is being told through their eyes,” Melissa said.
The hardest part, she said, has been educating the kids on what it was like to live in the 1940s.
 “They say, ‘Oh yeah, we don’t have cell phones,’ and ‘Why aren’t we wearing jeans?’” she said. “I have to explain that boys and girls didn’t wear jeans to school then. When you went to school, you were rather dressed up.”
More than anything else Melissa hopes the musical will invite audiences to think fondly on their own family stories and memories of their childhood experiences.
“I hope they look at a story set in the 1940s and see how completely relevant it still is today,” she said. “We all have these shared stories and memories to laugh at. I love laughing at myself and hope everyone can join in.”

If you go
“A Christmas Story: The Musical” will be staged 7:30 p.m. Nov. 5-7 and 12-14; and 2 p.m. Nov. 7-8 and 14-15 in the Ted Paul Theatre, Early Center for Performing Arts, Minnesota State University, Mankato.
Tickets are $22 regular; $19 for senior citizens, youth 16 and under and groups of 15 or more; and $15 for MSU students.
For tickets, visit MSUTheatre.com or call 507-389-6661.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

MSU Theatre offering special performance for the visually impaired community

Helen Keller is one of those people who stand out in history as having an absolutely indomitable spirit.

Her story – the early years of which are told so beautifully in the play “The Miracle Worker” – resonates with people to this day, especially through the medium of theater.

“The Miracle Worker” dramatizes the volatile relationship between lonely teacher Annie Sullivan and her violent, spoiled charge, Helen Keller, who was stricken blind and deaf at a young age. Annie realizes that there is a mind and spirit waiting to be rescued from the dark, tortured silence.

“I think that live theater is such an interesting medium by which we can explore significant moments of the past,” said Matthew Caron, who is directing the play that opens Oct. 15 in the Andreas Theatre, Minnesota State University, Mankato. “Similarly, live performance allows an audience to witness these recreated events in a much more immediate and personal way than, say, a documentary film. Film provides some distance for the viewer, whereas theater requires the audience to be involved in the process simply because they occupy the same space as the performers.”

Creating this immediate and personal experience with visually impaired audience members also is important to Caron. He has partnered with Meridith Tietz, a teacher of the blind and visually impaired through South Central Service Cooperative, to offer audio description services during the 2 p.m. matinee Oct. 18.

Tietz will be in a room at the Performing Arts Center during the matinee and will speak into equipment that will broadcast her voice over an FM transmitter while she follows along with the play via live video feed. Blind and visually impaired people in the audience will have an earbud and an FM transmitter and will be able to hear her describing the action on the stage. That way they not only hear the dialogue of the play, but they also get a feel for how the characters are interacting, what the costumes look like, and how the set is designed.

The nuanced process involves hours of preparation studying the play and the dialogue to ensure that Tietz’s descriptions do not conflict with the dialogue.

“It’s really precise timing,” she said. “I will talk about costuming, characters, what Annie looks like, what Helen looks like, and just start building the setting.”

Caron said he had learned about audio description from his friend, Benji Inniger, who held audio-described performances at Bethany Lutheran College’s theater in the past.

“Benji talked about what a valuable experience it was for the blind patrons in attendance, but also for the students involved with the show,” Caron said.

Tietz and her former student, Megan Bening, also worked with cast members during a recent workshop to help them better understand through simulation exercises what it feels like to navigate the world with a visual impairment. The experience helped the actors craft much more realistic portrayals of these famous historical characters.

Caron said the play has been done at Minnesota State Mankato before, but it will be brought back throughout the years for good reason.

“The Helen Keller story is one of those stories that just needs to be told again and again,” he said. “It is such an inspiring tale of overcoming insurmountable odds and about the power of unrelenting love.”

If you go 

“The Miracle Worker” will run 7:30 p.m. Oct. 15-7 and 21-24; and 2 p.m. Oct. 18, 24 and 25 in the Andreas Theatre, Earley Center for Performing Arts, Minnesota State University, Mankato.

Tickets are $16 regular; $14 for seniors ages 65 and older, children under 16 and groups of 15 or more; and $11 for MSU students. Discounted tickets for $14 will also be available to those with visual impairments who attend the 2 p.m. matinee Oct. 18.

Those with visual impairments who are interested in reserving audio description equipment should call the box office at 507-389-6661.

For more information, visit MSUTheatre.com.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Great-grandson of Titanic survivor wins tickets to MSU Theatre’s 'Titanic,' recounts survival story details

Completely at random, Dr. Paul J. Hustoles decided to do a drawing for two free tickets to “Titanic” at a recent Mankato Rotary meeting, where he was giving a talk about MSU Theatre and Dance.
Of all the 50 or so names in the room, Jenna Arkins was the name he drew, and what she had to say took aback everyone within earshot.
She said that her husband, David Arkins, would be particularly excited to see the show because he is the great-grandson of a third-class passenger survivor of the actual RMS Titanic – the “unsinkable” ship that sank on its maiden voyage April 15, 1912, killing more than 1,500 passengers and crew.
The odds of the Arkinses being the ones to win the tickets, the odds of a that couple living in southern Minnesota when only about 700 passengers had survived, the odds of David’s ancestor having been a poor, third-class passenger, most of whom died – a great deal of luck seems to have followed the Arkins lineage throughout the ages.
“As far as luck has gone, there’s a number of different things that should have never happened that have happened,” David said.
David and Jenna of St. Peter visited the Ted Paul Theatre recently – where the Mainstage opener “Titanic” debuts Oct. 1 – to share what he knew about his great-grandmother’s remarkable story of survival.
Kate Connolly was her name, and she hailed from County Cavan, Ireland, where the 23-year-old was dating her soon-to-be husband, William Arkins.
Kate’s sister had already made her way to New York. Kate was poor, but she managed to get money together for a ticket on the Titanic to join her family.
“She went first to try to get settled,” David said. “(William) was going to follow later.”
Of the ship itself Kate described the third-class accommodations much differently than is often portrayed in movies and on television. Third class had its own dining halls, and most of the lower-class passengers were bringing all of their belongings with them to move to the United States, so they had pillows, sheets and incidentals that made the trip comfortable for them.
“It was more or less like second class on other ships,” David said. “At that time, it was pretty good digs.”
Kate knew three other girls from the County Cavan area, and the four of them had met two men from Ireland who would prove to be their saviors.
The women were together in their room in steerage (third class level) when the Titanic struck the iceberg at 11:40 p.m. April 14, 1912. At that level of the ship, it was clear something was wrong.
“They were instantly scared. They felt it. They became alarmed immediately,” David said. “They came out, and they started asking questions. At that point they were more or less mocked. This was supposed to be an ‘unsinkable’ ship, so they were told they were obviously overreacting. Shortly thereafter, everyone realized it was a big deal.”
The women and the rest of the third class were trapped in steerage. But the two Irish men they had met before had gotten in with some second-class passengers and found a way out of third class. Feeling a loyalty to their fellow countrywomen, they came back for all four women from County Cavan and brought them up to second class. From there they were able to reach open air and find a lifeboat.
Kate also met up with a second-class passenger who had three girls, including a 2-year-old, and she helped the family get into a lifeboat. While being lowered, the lifeboat was nearly crushed by the lifeboat above it due to tangled wires, but they were cut at the last minute and the lifeboat managed to row to safety just in the knick of time.
As the boat was being lowered into the ocean, it contained 49 passengers. Although Kate didn’t share many details with family on the events that unfolded thereafter, the boat ended up containing 69 passengers when they were picked up by the Carpathia (the rescue ship that arrived at 4 a.m. to take on the 705 survivors).
“She never talked about what she saw (in the water) or much of what happened,” David said. “She said the biggest struggle for her was boarding the Carpathia with the 2-year-old. And then on the Carpathia, they were broken down by class again, and the woman she had helped picked up her children, didn’t say anything, and didn’t offer my grand-grandmother any help.”
Kate never found out what happened to the two Irish men who had saved her. Of the 709 third-class passengers, 537 died (75 percent). Only 13 percent of those survivors (59) were men.
Kate, of course, made it to New York. William joined. They were married. She worked as a maid, and he worked somewhat ironically in a shipyard.
Soon, however, their luck followed them again when William bought tenement housing in Manhattan, which would turn into them owning a block of real estate in New York City and original stock in AT&T, among other good fortunes.
Kate lived to be only 60, dying of a stroke. Kate and William’s son, Peter Arkins (David’s grandfather), was only in his 20s when she died. David never met her, of course. But the few times Kate shared her stories of the Titanic with family were preserved in memory, as well as in books and articles about the event that featured her.
“Everything’s documented with the boat, including names and ages,” David said, adding that a second Kate Connolly (a second-class passenger who died on the ship) has resulted in some confused reports.
“She was very lucky,” David said.
The Arkinses plan to attend the 7:30 p.m. Oct. 3 production of MSU Theatre’s “Titanic,” which, coincidentally, includes three third-class passenger characters named Kate.

Sponsored by the Consolidated Communications Community Fund, the musical examines the causes, the conditions and the characters involved in this ever-fascinating drama. This is its Minnesota State Mankato debut.

If you go
MSU Theatre’s Mainstage opener, “Titanic”
7:30 p.m. Oct. 1-3 and 8-10; and 2 p.m. Oct. 10 and 11
$22 regular; $19 for seniors ages 65 and older, children under 16 and groups of 15 or more; and $15 for MSU students with a Mav Card.

Season tickets for all six Mainstage shows are on sale for $100 through Oct. 11.
MSUTheatre.com or 389-6661.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

If these (haunted) walls could talk

When you walk into the Andreas Theatre, the space known as the “black box” will fit its name – dark, ominous, encapsulating.

“We are setting up an environment for you, that when you first walk in, it makes you very aware of where you are – a feeling that something could possibly go wrong, or possibly has gone wrong,” said Tim Rosin, director of “The Haunting of Hill House.” “It’s definitely moody and spooky, and it’s almost pressure-building. I like to say that the house is a terrorist.”

Mood is vital for the Studio Season opener, about four would-be ghost hunters who visit a house with a dark reputation to do some exploring for paranormal activity. The weathered house is complemented by sound and lighting effects that create a heightened sense of awareness in the audience. It certainly does so for the characters in the play.

“While they’re there, one of them (Eleanor) comes to believe the house doesn’t want her to leave,” said Rosin, a second-year MFA directing candidate who directed “Venus in Fur” last season.

Despite the modern-day popularity of ghost hunting, the fascination with communicating with the great beyond – and the associated fear of unwelcomed responses – is an ancient phenomenon. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the ultra rational character Sherlock Holmes, for example, claimed to speak with the spirits of the dead.

“It’s one of those things that is common as you look back,” Rosin said. “For example, when Harry Houdini died, his wife had séances for years to try and contact him.”

A quintessential haunted-house story, “The Haunting of Hill House” was written in 1959 as a novel first before being adapted into a play in 1964. Rosin is intrigued by the time period of these characters, in that Atomic age when the world is starting to change.

“The whole reason I read it and wanted to direct it was because it gave me that feeling I had when I was a kid, which I think we don’t get a lot anymore,” Rosin said. “People like to be scared.”

The house achieves that. Rosin said terrorism is about using fear to get something that you want from someone else, and to willingly cause fear to control another person’s actions.

For the answer to what it is, exactly, that the house wants from its guests, you will have to come see the show.

If you go
“The Haunting of Hill House” runs 7:30 p.m. nightly through Saturday, Sept. 19, in Andreas Theatre, Performing Arts Center, Minnesota State University, Mankato.
Tickets are $10 regular; $9 for senior citizens ages 65 and older, children under 16, and groups of 15 or more; and $8 for MSU students with a MavCard.