***Celebrating our penultimate weekend of shows with a throwback to the excitement of opening! Enjoy this post by acting apprentice Emily Garst as she shares her opening night reflections.***
1776 Opening Weekend: Braving the Storm
By Emily Garst
It's impossible to accurately describe what an opening weekend feels like. After weeks of rigorous rehearsals - and subsequently weeks of expectation - you are finally in front of an audience. You cannot predict what kind of audience will be in attendance, nor how they receive the performance. The chance of missing a cue or mangling a line is left up to the fates. The time to call "hold" and run that song one more time is long past.
However, amidst all the panic and anxious excitement, there is also a unique sense of calm. It's as if we members of the entire cast and crew find ourselves in the eye of a storm. This tempest consists of keeping the author's and director's vision close by, supporting your voice, and responding accordingly to the choices made around you. The whirlwind is having animated whispered conversations in the green room before hushing yourself abruptly mid-sentence and perking your head up to listen for the scene's progress as you await your cue. The deluge is keeping the energy alive after 2.5 hours of congressional debate.
Even so, none of us feel a deep sense of dread. We've made it this far. We are a force with which to be reckoned. Just as our Founding Fathers who came before us, we "brave the storm in a skiff made of paper." This script brought us all together for a common purpose. And in our journey to revive a tale of America's birth, we have supported each other the entire way. There are bonds forged within this cast that are stronger than many I have experienced in my brief time on this earth - and that makes them all the more precious. I am endlessly grateful to everyone who has been part of this process, and I cannot wait to return to this incredible production for the next three weekends.
***Tickets are going fast! Don't miss your chance to see this wonderful, unique production!***
The St. Croix Festival Theatre production of the musical 1776: America’s Prize Winning Musical is truly unlike any you will ever see again, and not only because of all the new faces in our summer company and our intimate staging in the Franklin Square Black Box. The production is cutting edge as Co-Artistic Director Seth Kaltwasser employs two major theatrical conventions currently popular on Broadway and around the country: non-traditional casting and actors doubling as musical accompaniment.
So, what is non-traditional casting? The most famous example is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s award-winning Broadway musical Hamilton, with tells the story of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, reimagined with actors of color - George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and, of course, Alexander Hamilton are all portrayed by non-white actors. A truly innovative masterpiece, theatres around the country have embraced non-traditional casting as a way to re-experience the familiar through a new lens, and bring to the stage traditionally underrepresented persons.
For Co-Artistic Director Seth Kaltwasser, the choice to do 1776 with a female cast was timely. “I’d just recently fallen in love with the score [of 1776] and was curious about the possibility of reimagining the show to fit inside a black box venue. It seemed an odd fit, at first, for Festival Theatre’s summer season, as the applicants for our intern and apprentice company are college-aged performers, and our casting pool is always filled with an abundance of talented young women we’d like to cast. Unfortunately, very few musicals feature a large quantity of roles for young women. With this in mind, and because we were choosing our 2017 season in a year when America had its first female presidential nominee of a major party, Jackie and I felt there was a great opportunity to tackle this project now, and in doing so, hopefully expand the conversations that 1776 will inevitably inspire.”
As for the decision to double actors as accompaniment, it was a matter of economy. “We’re a black box, there is no place to hide a pit orchestra. I’ve learned that, as a director, you can’t fight your venue; you have to embrace the unique qualities of your space. So, in staging a big musical in a small space, you start to think about boiling the music down to its most essential qualities. Also, it’s a goal of ours to always engage our interns and apprentices at a very high level. With actor doubling, we wheedled a cast of 27 characters down to 14 performers. From that economic perspective, the next question was obvious: what if the actors also played the music? It felt like an exciting challenge.”
To meet the unique challenges of this concept, Seth and Co-Artistic Director Jaclyn Johnson had to secure a summer company up to the task. They would need to be especially strong musicians, singers, and actors to meet the demands of this artistic undertaking.
When I first heard our production was with an all-female cast I thought, ‘what a cool
opportunity to tackle a role I would NEVER been able to play otherwise,” says apprentice Marjorie Gast. Gast portrays Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, plays violin, and is a piano accompanist for a number of songs. “One of my favorite parts about our show is to watch the rotation of piano players circle in and out behind the piano - because all of the musicians have their own sense of musicality, each accompanist has a different flavor she brings to the show which I find to be truly charming.”
The rehearsal process brought about many surprises and discoveries.
“As a woman in 2017 portraying a male historical figure, it was interesting to see what made no difference versus what made a HUGE difference,” says apprentice Erika Kuhn, who portrays several members of Congress. “As a modern woman, taking action and fighting for what you believe in is not a stretch. However, there are several little moments in the show that draw attention to the gender bend purely because a woman speaking those words trips up a social expectation where a man's voice would've been the norm.”
As activist Marie Wilson says, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Diverse representation is important. And it means a lot to the young women in the cast.
"I love the idea of claiming the words of our Founding Fathers for ourselves,” says apprentice Emily Garst, who portrays Abigail Adams and Andrew McNair. “With an all-female cast, we explore the birth of our nation with fresh eyes.”
"I would definitely do this sort of thing again!” says Laila Sahir, who plays Thompson and piano accompaniment on a number of songs. “Reimagining a piece of theatre is incredibly empowering. It shows that there isn't a ‘right’ way to create and that innovation is important and necessary for continued growth and vitality in the arts. There's no one 'right' way to tell a story."
This is it. Tech week for 1776 is upon us. I can hardly believe that we've been in this process for three full weeks already.
Tech week is one of my favorite parts of the rehearsal process even though it can also be the most intense period of time. New technical elements are constantly being added, but the same amount of focus is required every day as during an actual performance. All of the moving pieces can sometimes be frustrating and cause tensions to run high.
And yet, tech week is also the time when I start to feel like the show truly comes to life. After spending countless hours with the ensemble reading the script, practicing in music rehearsals, and memorizing lines and blocking, now is the time when we are able to shift our focus from all of the intellectual work that we've done to being in the present moment with each other. The addition of lights, costumes, and props allows us to fully embody our characters and to truly live in the world of the Founding Fathers that we are portraying.
It is a truly incredible experience to be backstage with such amazing women and to feel all of our energy and focus being directed toward a common goal. I am constantly amazed by all of the incredible work done by my colleagues in the cast and production team; every day they inspire me to come to rehearsal as my best self, knowing that they will be there to help me when I need it in the same way that I am there to support all of them.
Above all, this is why I love tech week: the ensemble transforms from individuals focused on their individual pieces of the puzzle to a community of people working together to tell a story. I can't wait to share our story with everyone!
The Wannigan Days Talent Show is back this year! Join us Saturday, June 10th, at 4 pm at the Overlook in St. Croix Falls for some of the best the St. Croix Valley has to offer.
The event, sponsored by Festival Theatre and Music on the Overlook, has a long history as a Wannigan Days staple and attracts people of all ages and talents: pianists, singers, cloggers, stand-up comedy and plenty of others.
“All acts are welcome, and it’s a very respectful atmosphere,” says Jaclyn Johnson, Festival Theatre’s Co-Artistic Director. “Though we do ask that the acts be family friendly. There are also prizes for all acts, but the sign up is first come, first serve and there’s only 20 slots, so sign up soon!”
Register at the Festival Theatre Box Office at the Franklin Square Black Box (125 N Washington.) Call Festival Theatre at 715.483.3387 with questions.The Wannigan Days Talent Show is back this year on Saturday, June 10th, at 4 pm.
My name is Rachel and I’m the new Arts Education Director at Festival Theatre. A few things about me: I just finished graduate school, I joined the Festival Theatre staff last January, and I know all the words to Don McLean’s American Pie.
I wanted to write a quick blog post about our Art In Action! summer arts camp for kids ages 5-12, which is replacing Creativity Camp.
We decided the best way to recommit our summer youth programming to our mission of meaningful enrichment through the arts was with a new name which put that mission at the forefront. To us, Art In Action! means empowering kids to take ownership of the creative process and put it into action!
Here are our two main goals: we want our campers to think of art as a verb. It’s something you do, not something you make. A process, not a product. When you focus on art as an action, then mistakes are less scary. And it's only through making mistakes that we can learn. We believe that practicing this mindset makes for better creative thinkers and better people.
In theatre, often called the collaborative art form, it’s easy to feel unempowered as an individual because you rely on so many other people. You first need to be cast, then directed, etc. But it doesn’t need to be that way. We want our campers to feel like they don't have to wait around to be cast in a play. They can write, produce and star in their own show! They can be actor, director, producer, designer-- an entrepreneur! How to ideate and originate your own work is among the most important professional skills you can learn.
Along with the new name, here are a few other changes we’re making:
Like what you hear? Help us spread the word so we can reach as many in our community as possible! Registration is available now by clicking here.
Rachel Kuhnle, MFA
St. Croix Festival Theatre
Carrie Elkin has earned a reputation for a sound both tender and evocative and her sixth and newest album, The Penny Collector, doesn’t disappoint. St. Croix Falls, WI is her ninth stop on her tour that starts in the US and ranges into England, Scotland, and the Netherlands. She’ll be in town Friday April 28th and with limited capacity in the Franklin Square Black Box, patrons are encouraged to make their reservations as soon as possible. Tickets are $26 and can be purchased at FestivalTheatre.org, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling the box office at 715-483-3387.
The intimate performance venue of the Franklin Square Black Box is just her style and complements the way her songs draw the listener in. The Penny Collector is soulful and reverent, with good reason: the album was released just over a month ago, and recorded after her father’s passing and her daughter's birth.
This unique album inspired Elmore Magazine’s Lee Zimmerman to say, “The lingering sadness is pervasive throughout, making Elkin’s hushed, mournful delivery both affecting and embracing. Plaintive and reflective, the music seems to flow from the core of Elkin’s soul, casting a quiet haze that’s often barely above a whisper.”
This will be her fourth time visiting Festival Theatre, her first since 2014. She comes again with her musical partner and husband Danny Schmidt. Tickets are $26 and can be purchased at FestivalTheatre.org, emailing email@example.com or by calling the box office at 715-483-3387.
The Real Inspector Hound by Tom Stoppard is a lampoon on the murder mystery genre. Four suspects and one inspector are trapped at Muldoon Manor, while two critic watching from the audience comment, squabble, laugh, cry, and add to the wonderful theatre experience. At once funny and frightening, suspenseful yet full of obvious humor, it's a pleasure to watch.
This show is being performed in connection with ArtReach who received a grant from the NEA for the Big Read. The book they’ve chosen? The Maltese Falcon - another murder mystery. “ArtReach sees the NEA Big Read in the St. Croix Valley as an opportunity to create multi-disciplinary art programing around an incredible piece of literature,” says Heather Rutledge, ArtReach St. Croix executive director. “Theatre provides an opportunity for audiences to experience literature in alternative way.”
Director Rachel Kuhnle shares that the actors have found real joy embracing the dramatic side, but that only adds to the humor. "It's very funny for a murder mystery. Also, it's thrilling to be doing this show in our space at the Franklin Square Black Box - we're making the show fit the space in a way that puts our audience right in the middle of the action. I don't know of a Murder Mystery quite like this one - that's ever been done this way."
The Stillwater Trolley will be providing a free shuttle to the opening night performance of The Real Inspector Hound, on Saturday, April 8. The shuttle will depart from ArtReach St. Croix in Stillwater at 6:15pm with stops in Marine on St. Croix and Scandia. Reservations are required. To reserve your seat, please call ArtReach at 651-439-1465.
Free vignette performances of The Real Inspector Hound will also take place at River Falls Public Library and Bayport Public Library as part of NEA Big Read. Please note these will not be full performances.
Opening night is April 8th and the show runs through April 30th. With limited capacity in the Franklin Square Black Box, patrons are encouraged to make their reservations as soon as possible. Tickets are $26 for adults and $13.50 for students (ages 5-25) and can be purchased at FestivalTheatre.org, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling the box office at 715-483-3387.
Festival Theatre presents the first show in their Youth and Family Series, The Titanic Project. Shows run at the Franklin Square Black Box from March 10th-12th and then again from March 16th-19th. The Titanic Project is a devised show, that comes from the creative minds of young actors who have been working with the Festival Artistic Staff.
Artistic Director Jaclyn Johnston shared, “We’re devising a piece of theatre working with 26 youth from the area, where we research historical facts from that infamous voyage and then, using improv and creative movement, the youth are putting their touches on a show that will be unique only to Festival Theatre.”
"It’s really inspiring to watch the creative process. Our youth are used to being in youth and family shows - they’re always ready to dive into characters but asking them take ownership on the creation of the character has really opened them up”
Arts Education Director, Rachel Kuhnle led a workshop with the young actors on Saturday and spoke a little about the process and the goals:
"To get our creative juices flowing, we devised a movement piece based on rain. Everybody shared what came to their minds and we got answers ranging from "wet and loud” to "sad but boring” to "rain is like my tears" then we took all these feelings and words and as a group we came up with different ways to express rain with our bodies - we made a series of movements that became a piece.”
“I hope they leave thinking ‘we could do this ourselves, you know we could just make something up - we don’t have to wait for someone to create something for us, we can do this ourselves.’”
Come support the youth of the community and connect with this historical event in a new way. Tickets for The Titanic Project are $13.50 for adults and $8.50 for youth (5-25) and can be purchased here, by emailing email@example.com or by calling the box office at 715-483-3387.
The holiday season is in full swing at Festival Theatre, and “A Laura Ingalls Wilder Christmas” will close this weekend with a special matinee on Christmas Eve. There only are four performances remaining of this heartwarming family show this Thursday, December 22nd at 2:00 and 7:30, Friday at 7:30 and Saturday at 2:00 at the Franklin Square Black Box in Downtown St. Croix Falls, WI.
Audiences have been raving about “A Laura Ingalls Wilder Christmas”, Jody Hansen commented on Festival’s Facebook, “My daughter and I enjoyed this show very much!” She continued, “Definitely recommend to anybody looking for a heart touching, loving and humorous show!”
The youth cast has learned a lot from playing the Ingalls family. Elliana Naegelen plays Laura’s older sister Mary in the production, and she has enjoyed her new perspective on the Little House tales. “Through playing her older sister and watching Laura’s life from the back and inside, I’ve experienced it as almost being inside the book.” she shared, “filling this gap of her life between books for our viewers has been a blast.”
The final performances of “A Laura Ingalls Wilder Christmas” are selling fast, and with limited capacity in the Franklin Square Black Box, patrons are encouraged to make their reservations as soon as possible. Tickets are $26 for adults and $13.50 for students (ages 5-25) and can be purchased at FestivalTheatre.org, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling the box office at 715-483-3387.
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