Friday, April 29, 2016

HTT to Have First Sensory Performance for The Lion King

More theater for more people is always a good thing. 

Hennepin Theatre Trust announced today that they will be hosting their first ever sensory-friendly performance on Saturday, July 30 at 2 p.m. for the Lion King.

For those not in the know, this will be a special showing for those who are affected by normal performance qualities, such as jarring sounds and strobe lights. In addition to modifying the production, the Orpheum Theatre lobby will offer quiet spaces and activity areas for families, there will be standing and movement accessibility throughout the theater, and sensory objects including fidgets, earplugs and noise canceling ear-muffs will be provided. Trained staff and volunteers will be available to offer encouragement and assistance to patrons.

“We believe everyone deserves the opportunity to enjoy live theater,” said Tom Hoch, Hennepin Theatre Trust’s CEO/President. “We’re excited to work with Disney to enable all audiences to experience this award-winning show.”

This is a huge step forward and something I hope is interwoven into more theater performances in general, especially for kid-friendly shows. Disney's stories in particular are renowned for being favorites of kids who are affected by conditions such as autism, and creating a space to enjoy their favorite stories with live performances is an admirable goal.

For more information about viewing the Lion King or this new initiative, contact the Hennepin Theatre Trust.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Wholly Harmonious Harvey

Joseph Haj continues to impress with a delightful staging of this classic story

Photo courtesy of the Guthrie Theater.
You'll definitely want to check out the Guthrie's latest main stage offering of Harvey, which is currently halfway through its run. It is one of the rare true comedies that anyone can love, with the sheen of Hollywood's Golden Age still alive in the performance by the wonderful cast.

Harvey centers around the eccentric but loveable Elwood P. Dowd, an intelligent and exquisitely-mannered man who seems to have it all - except for his sanity. Elwood's best friend is a 6 foot 3.5 inch tall white rabbit named Harvey, a "pooka" or Irish fairy, who only Elwood (and occasionally his sister) can see. Harvey's invisibility to the rest of the world causes much concern to everyone but Elwood. His sister Veta Louise Simmons tries to maintain a semblance of normalcy for herself and her daughter Myrtle Mae, but finally tries to commit Elwood to a sanitarium to keep him - and Harvey - from destroying their social standing.

Disaster ensues, however, as wires get crossed and the sanitarium staff let Elwood go and put Veta away instead. Once their mistake is realized, they chase Elwood down and nearly "treat" him, but are stopped by Veta before they can do so. Veta realizes that Elwood's quirks are what make him himself, and even if they are annoying sometimes, she doesn't want to fundamentally change who her brother is.
Photo courtesy of the Guthrie Theater.
This is a really fun cast, and they bring such brightness to their roles. Sally Wingert is wonderful as Veta, sharp and soft at the same time. Sun Mee Chomet steals the show as Veta's daughter Myrtle Mae, bringing a dry, overtly physical performance to each of her lines. I can't wait to see Sun Mee in future shows; she is acting from forehead to fingertips. Peggy O'Connell also makes the most of her brief moment as Betty Chumley, sending the audience into a shower of giggles.

David Kelly is heartwarming as Elwood, winning us over with his magnanimous mannerisms. He really sells the idea of Harvey as a real creature, and his monologue at the end of the show about the virtues of being pleasant versus intelligent would be well-heeded by many people. Steve Hendrickson is fabulous as psychiatrist William Chumley, bringing an old-school horror feel to his character with a serious yet witty delivery. His exposure as a Harvey-believer at the end of the show is a highlight and Hendrickson wears his surprise as a badge of honor.

Ansa Akyea and Greta Oglesby are in this show as well and do a great job with their vignettes. Both are fine actors and I would have loved to see more of them than relegated to a taxi driver and a vocalist - hopefully we they'll have bigger roles in future productions.
Photo courtesy of the Guthrie Theater.
The production design for this show, as is usually the case at the Wurtele Thrust Stage, is spot on. The set literally revolves between a doctor's office and Elwood's home, and the transition is clean and precise. Both settings are just simple enough to allow focus to remain on the actors, which is a good thing; the whole cast is extremely physical with their delivery, and they need room to get around. In fact, the physical comedy in this Harvey is one of it's biggest joys - it will surprise you and make you wonder why more shows don't perform that way.

I was so impressed with this production, and that surprised me. I never liked the generally-beloved film version of Harvey starring Jimmy Stewart, and I fully anticipated to feel the same way here. (There's something about invisible bunnies that makes me a little uncomfortable). However, that was not the case at all. I laughed all the way through the show and found myself a little emotional by the end.

On the surface Harvey is just a silly story, but it has so much to say about inclusion and choosing a better life. Sometimes we make things too complicated for ourselves. Who cares if someone sees an imaginary spirit if that person is a genuinely pleasant, interested person? How often do you meet anyone who acts as generously as Elwood in real life? Isn't that a shame?

Harvey is a show that kids of any age can enjoy and will leave you feeling lighthearted and hopeful. With the gloom and doom on the news these days, that is an incredible gift. If you are able, definitely check Harvey out before it closes on May 15 - it's worth it!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Guthrie is About to Get Cheaper!

“Those we serve,” said Haj, “we serve extremely well, but we are not serving enough people. There are entire populations that are left out.”
Photo linked from the City Pages; credit to Mark Vancleave.

Or at least the Dowling Studio is about to get cheaper, as announced by City Pages in an awesome new article and interview with new Guthrie Artistic Director Joseph Haj about the initiative.

"“We are very conscious,” emphasized Haj, “that price is not the only barrier to entry. For some, it’s second, third, fourth on the list of barriers. There’s [the question of] relevance, and there’s the psychological barrier of just coming into our building. Price is a barrier to some — and a meaningful barrier. We’re going to see a different demographic by virtue of [the nine-dollar] price point.”"

The new program, thanks to a $1 million grant, is going to help subsidize ticket prices in the Dowling Studio and make the space more readily available for of-the-moment art. This philosophy will hopefully make the space more accessible to the community and also encourage the Guthrie to become more of a hub and incubator for innovative local theater.

"Haj acknowledged the oft-stated fact that the Guthrie, like any large organization, is a “big ship” that takes a long time to change course. Planning for these “happenings,” he said, is a way to build organizational capacity to more quickly respond to developing events. “Why can’t we have three Zodiacs on board so that we can zip out and come back to our aircraft carrier?” asked Haj, extending the nautical metaphor.

When something like a “Ferguson moment” arises, said Haj by way of example, the Guthrie could host a spoken-word event or otherwise participate in an ongoing conversation. With the Level Nine Initiative, “we can have some resources on the shelf to be responsive,” Haj said."

The Guthrie is an institution that placed the Minneapolis theater scene on the international map, and for that we should be grateful. In recent years, however, it has begun to feel a little stale and certainly not as progressive as some of the other innovative companies and art spaces in the Twin Cities. It seems that Joseph Haj is truly breathing new wind into the sails at the Guthrie now; one can only hope that this continues. I'd love to see the Guthrie as a vital, accessible space, especially to our communities of color.

For more information, check out the excellent City Pages article by clicking on this link.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Blogging Business Moment: Branding Advice from The Skinny Confidential

Amazing branding advice from Video Influencers and The Skinny Confidential

Sometimes the best tips come from unexpected places, and this featured video is one of them.

I've been following the Skinny Confidential for a while. I couldn't tell you how I stumbled upon the blog, but something about it completely struck me - Lauren's voice is really authentic, and she has a lot of good business advice buried in between the fluffier posts.

If you're looking to build a brand (be it online or otherwise), or to refresh your current brand, it would be a great idea to take 30 minutes and watch this video. Lauren and Michael's tips may seem like common sense, but too many businesses - and let's be honest, people too, because every person is their own brand now in our social media age - ignore them. Anyone can use a refresh on these principles and it's a fun piece to boot. I know I learned a lot and will be picking up some of these tips as I continue to work with Compendium.

Like this? Want more business posts? Let me know in the comments and I'll expand this idea!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Buying In to Buyer and Cellar

Is there anything more Broadway than Barbra Streisand? 

Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust. 
Let's be honest: there's not.

So it's a good thing that Barbra came to Broadway via Minneapolis, in the form of Buyer and Cellar, the new show at the New Century Theater. Buyer and Cellar springs from the real book authored by Barbra Streisand called My Passion for Design. The book details Barbra's immaculate eye for the tiniest of details in (everything, honestly, but especially) decorating her own home. A real part of that home is an exquisitely re-created antique shopping mall in Barbra's real basement, which is where Buyer and Cellar takes root.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
The play follows Alex, a struggling L.A. actor who finally finds work as the only "employee" of the stores in Barbra's basement. Although he thinks it strange at first, Alex finds unexpected fulfillment working in the "shops" and getting to know Barbra. Buyer and Cellar follows Alex's thought process through his hiring, working and quitting the basement shops, and shows a fascinating imagination into what it is really like to be Barbra Streisand.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
This is a one man show and may sound a little dry, but it holds up surprisingly well. Much of this is due to the inexhaustible Sasha Andreev, who plays each of his many characters with aplomb. Andreev was the perfect choice to play Alex; he has that sunny L.A. tan, the sashay-Shantay of a broke, gay L.A. actor, and the clear passion for his subject matter to hold our interest. Andreev describes Barbra with a startling clarity and makes Alex and Barbra seem like our long time friends.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
The set is very minimal, using only intermittent projections to place us in the basement, in Alex's apartment, or the few other possible settings. Costuming is equally minimal, as is the rest of the production design. This was a wise choice, as it leaves us space to concentrate fully on Alex and the fantastic tale he describes. As a note: there is no intermission in this show, so make sure to plan accordingly.

The best thing about Buyer and Cellar is the finely dotted line between reality and make believe. The show is a fiction, of course, but one has to wonder: how much of it is truly made up? Streisand is notoriously eccentric, and many of the scenarios imagined here can be seen as real-life possibilities. It really stirs the imagination and provides a fun exercise in picturing how the 1% really lives.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
Buyer and Cellar is a perfect show for our TMI era. It provides a Kardashian-level privacy invasion into who Barbra Streisand may really be, and that holds enormous cultural appeal. Andreev creates a magnetic one man performance, and it's worth a visit. The show runs through April 24; click on this link for more information or to buy tickets.