Posts Tagged: Commonweal Theatre

A Storied Summer: Driftless Theatre

Heartbreak House, 2018. Photo by Liz Lauren. / Courtesy American Players Theatre

Everybody loves a good story – from tall tales to fairy tales to ghost stories around the campfire to a stage full of actors, performing the scripts of Shakespeare (and others!). Stories transport us, remind us of our history – our joy and our sorrow – and bring us together for a fleeting bit of magic. Add to your summer story by checking out one – or all – of these fun theatres and story-telling events across the Driftless this year.


American Players Theatre – Spring Green, Wisconsin

The scene is set: You’ve got great friends, snacks, and a sense of anticipation along as you head off to the beautiful American Players Theatre (APT) in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Get there early to enjoy your pre-show picnic and the ambiance of the outdoor amphitheater, with sounds of whippoorwills and cicada floating through the air. And then, find your spot – the show is about to begin.

American Players Theatre

Photos by Kelsi Wermuth / Courtesy APT

“Nature definitely plays an active role in our outdoor theater,” says Jess Amend, APT’s Marketing Content Manager, explaining the charm of the Hill Theatre, where the outdoor APT plays are staged. “Most of the performances start around dusk, so you get to watch the world transform as the play goes on. It’s really a full sensory experience – the breeze blows, and the stars and moon come out, and they’re the same stars and moon that Shakespeare’s plays have always been performed under.”

With a backdrop like this, it’s no wonder playgoers love APT. Not only it is a great excuse for a relaxing night out, but the elements of nature – like the occasional pigeon landing on stage – also ensure each experience will be unique. “It all adds dimension to the plays we produce here, and it’s a pretty spectacular way to spend an evening.”

American Players Theatre's outdoor amphitheater, Hill Theatre

Photo by Mike McDermott / Courtesy APT

The storytelling in this setting is what truly makes the Theatre a must-see Driftless destination. “APT’s mission includes digging into really dense, poetic language. And that can be hard – for the actors and the audience – if you don’t do it right,” Jess says. This is why APT has a dedicated voice and text department – one of the strongest in the country – that helps bring stories to life in ways many have never seen before. “We often have audience members tell us that they never understood Shakespeare until they saw it at APT,” says Jess. That, in combination with the chemistry and ease on stage of the actors, makes once-complicated, hard-to-interpret stories feel more digestible, Jess says. “People tell us these actors feel like family, and that’s a powerful thing, and a powerful element to add to any story.”

In addition to the newly renovated 1089-seat outdoor amphitheater, Hill Theatre, there’s the 201-seat indoor Touchstone Theatre. Mark your calendars to the APT 40th Anniversary party on July 21 featuring a first-ever arts installation.

American Players Theatre’s 2019 season’s plays (both indoor and out) are:

Twelfth Night and Macbeth, both by William Shakespeare

She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith

August Wilson’s Fences by August Wilson

The Book of Will by Lauren Gunderson

The Man of Destiny by George Bernard Shaw (indoors)

A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur by Tennesee Williams (indoors)

A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen (indoors)

A Doll’s House, Part 2, by Lucas Hnath (indoors)

See more info and buy tickets at americanplayers.org


Great River Shakespeare Festival – Winona, Minnesota

At the Great River Shakespeare Festival (GRSF) in Winona, Minnesota, they spend a lot of time investigating what is at the core of the story and the characters – translating the works of Shakespeare in new and exciting ways is both challenging and rewarding. “Things like jealousy, love, and ambition are timeless, and there are always new ways to examine how those things affect us,” says Eileen Moeller, GRSF Marketing and Sales Director. “Keeping productions relevant is very important to our company.”

Great River Shakespeare Festival

Photo by Dan Norman / Courtesy GRSF

This year’s production of Macbeth is a great example of how GRSF stays true to the core story and script, but also dips its toe into something new. Their website even suggests you should bring along a “Game of Thrones fan looking to take their fandom to another level” to enjoy the show. “Macbeth is a popular play because it’s dark and broody, but it also deals with ambition and power,” says Eileen. “It’s one that offers a lot to a lot of different people – famous lines for Shakespeare geeks and lots of swords and (fake) blood for those who like action.”

The stories, the costumes, and the set design are all top-notch at GRSF, but, like APT, it’s the atmosphere of community that keeps both audience and company coming back year after year. They’re expecting about 11,000 attendees for this year’s event. “If you’re not from town, you feel like you belong, and if you live in Winona, it’s like seeing old friends,” Eileen says. “For those of us in the company, it’s a combination of a family reunion and summer camp.”

“It’s a community,” she adds. “We want to tell stories together and discuss with our friends and neighbors what they mean for us, in this moment.”

Great River Shakespeare Festival

Photo by Dan Norman / Courtesy GRSF

This year’s Great River Shakespeare Festival – it’s 16th Season! – includes these plays:

Cymbeline

Macbeth

No Child…

The Servant of Two Masters

White Rabbit Red Rabbit

Love’s Labors Lost (Apprentice/Intern Production)

Mark your calendars: GRSF runs now through early August. New this year are two off-site performances at Forager Brewery in Rochester (July 11) and Pearl Street Brewery in La Crosse (July 14). Learn more and buy tickets at grsf.org.

Noteworthy: There are many opportunities for kids to get involved in GRSF through classes, like Shakespeare for: Young Actors; Young Designers;  Young Filmmakers and more. Find details at grsf.org.


Commonweal Theatre – Lanesboro, Minnesota

Lanesboro, Minnesota, is a charming little town that packs a punch, with outstanding recreational activities, exquisite art experiences, and beautiful Victorian houses. And one of the big pieces at the heart of Lanesboro is the Commonweal Theatre, an intimate theater with 30 years of experience under its belt. Executive Director Hal Cropp works hard alongside staff and crew to ensure that playgoers have the same, enjoyable experience at their shows that they do in the surrounding community. The ensemble of folks at the Theatre rotate between different jobs – in addition to being actors on stage, they may also be ticket sellers one day, ticket takers the next, or work selling concessions another. This allows theatre-goers to interact with the company on a more personal, face-to-face level. “It works with both the intimacy of the theater itself and the unique style of the public spaces – all of which are a permanent art display,” Hal says. “And deepens the audience feeling that we are ‘their’ theater.” Passionate storytelling is at the core of the Commonweal company, and this is what brings attendees back for more.

2018 production of The Clean House at Commonweal Theatre

Colleen Barrett (left) and Fernanda Badeo in the 2018 production of The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl. Photo by Peterson Creative Photography & Design / Courtesy Commonweal Theatre

Production selections start with “passion pieces” presented by members of the ensemble. “This generally yields a list of 40 or 50 titles, which then get sorted through for a number of variables: cast size, technical requirements, as well as how it fits against the other titles being offered,” Hal explains. “We are deeply cognizant of our mission to enrich the common good.” Even after 30 years, each production is a new experience at the Commonweal. The company is dedicated to the philosophy of making each person feel like the theatre is their home, and ultimately, feel connected to each story. “The satisfaction we derive from having people connect on so many levels is spiritually fulfilling, and therefore fun,” Hal says. “Passionate storytelling, executed on a highly professional level, touches everyone.”

Commonweal Theatre

Commonweal Theatre. Photo by Katrina Myrah / Courtesy Commonweal Theatre

Commonweal’s 2019 Season runs from April-December.

Current and upcoming shows include:

Boeing Boeing by Marc Camoletti (May 10-Aug 31)

Peter and the Starcatcher by Rick Elice (July 12-Oct 26)

On the Verge by Eric Overmyer (Sept 6-Nov10)

Sanders Family Christmas by Connie Ray (Nov 15-Dec 22)

Find details and buy tickets at commonwealtheatre.org

Resident ensemble member and theatre patron at Commonweal Theatre

Brandt Roberts (left), resident ensemble member, and a theatre patron / Courtesy Commonweal Theatre


Looking for more storytelling fun?

La Crosse Storytelling Festival – La Crosse, Wisconsin

Love a good scary story? Then the La Crosse Storytelling Festival in La Crosse, Wisconsin, is for you! This two-day event kicks off on a Friday night with a gentle first act, perfect for youngsters or the faint-of-heart. Then, the fear gets for real after intermission. “Humans have listened to scary tales for centuries as both cautionary tales and fun experiences. We hope to address the fun, but scary, experience,” says Professional Storyteller, Terry Visger. The festival ups the fun by serving witches brew with costume-clad emcees – appealing to young and old. “This has been a very popular event for children of all ages but, in the last two years, we have actually had more adults than children in attendance,” Terry says.

Day two brings tales of a tamer variety. Musicians, jugglers, and storytellers unite to provide an exciting family-friendly experience. “Storytelling is magical for children. It engages all of their brain and physical being. We choose musicians who know how to interact with children by making them part of the performance,” Terry says.

For adults, the talent and variety of internationally-known storytellers can’t be beat. “We strive for variety in style, content, and type of story. We believe our audiences should experience the best-of-the-best and that is why we bring tellers from many areas and backgrounds to La Crosse,” she says.

After 16 years of hosting this fun-filled weekend under tents, this year’s festival will leave the mosquitoes and unpredictable weather behind for a new location: The Pump House Regional Arts Center. “We will have great food and drink, a silent auction, and bookstore,” Terry says. “And, more importantly, wonderful entertainment for the weekend.”

Mark Your Calendars: La Crosse Storytelling Festival – July 19-20. Learn more at lacrossestoryfest.com.

History Alive – Lanesboro, Minnesota

Loving that Lanesboro, Minnesota vibe? Mark your calendars for History Alive Lanesboro, “Pop-up Plays: Founding Lanesboro 1869,” coming this fall, September 21, 22, 28, and 29 at 1 and 3 pm each day.

History Alive presents stories of Lanesboro… in the streets of Lanesboro. The one and a half-hour walking tours take you to different play locations around town. Tours begin at Sons of Norway, 200 Parkway Avenue South, Lanesboro. Tickets are for sale at the door.

2019’s traveling plays celebrate Lanesboro’s 150th anniversary. Meet some of the town’s first residents, railroad builders, stonemasons, fresh off-the-boat Irish and Norwegians, Chief Winneshiek, area abolitionists, even snake oil salesmen through this storytelling event!

Mark Your Calendars: History Alive Lanesboro – September 21, 22, 28, and 29. See facebook.com/historyalivelanesboro/ for details.

March 2019 Calendar!

March 2019! Spring is coming! (And the people of the Driftless seem to know it!) Lots of fun this month – start your planning with this handy-dandy March 2019 calendar (you can download the pdf here). Have a blast! XO, Inspire(d)

LOOKING FOR MORE DETAILS ABOUT EVENTS ON THE CALENDARS?
Check out these great March 2019 activities! In chronological order, each event’s number coincides with its number on the calendar!

1. March 16: Kinderfolk on Stage: Enjoy live performances, appetizers, and cash bar at The Cellar, 7 p.m. Free-will donations will support Kinderhaus Preschool – ALL ARE WELCOME! kinderhausdecorah.com

2. March 21-31 – Commonweal Theatre in Lanesboro launches it’s Wealhouse series with Bakersfield Mist, a hilarious and provocative comedy featuring Hal Cropp and Adrienne Sweeney. Nightly, March 21-31, St. Mane Theater – commonwealtheatre.org

3. March 23: SOAR! (Save Our Avian Resources) – Decorah Public Library, 11 am A LIVE raptor program for children of all ages about the amazing adaptations of local raptors and their role in the environment. Pre-registration required at www.decorah.lib.ia.us.

4. March 23: Make a day of Lanesboro! Art Making Crawl Downtown 11am-3pm, and Lanesboro Arts ‘Canvas Clash’, a Live Painting Tournament with craft beer and more. Commonweal Events Hall, 9pm lanesboroarts.org

5. March 29 & 30 or April 12 &13: Seed Savers Apple Grafting School. Graft and take home three apple trees in a half-day Seed Savers Exchange workshop. $60. Register in advance at seedsavers.org/events

Smithsonian Water/Ways in Lanesboro, MN

Photo courtesy Smithsonian . Pakhnyushchy/Shutterstock.com

Smithsonian Institute’s Museum on Main Street exhibit, “Water/Ways” lands in Lanesboro, Minnesota, January 7 through February 19, 2017. The exhibit showcases how water forges bonds more complex than ‘H’ to ‘O’.

By Kristine Jepsen

Water. It hauls 108M tons of freight annually within the banks of the Upper Mississippi River alone, makes up 84 percent of any Honeycrisp apple and carries every single molecule of metabolized carbs and protein to each cell in – you guessed it – your body.

But stats alone cannot tell the story of water’s universal importance to life, nor inspire anyone to take action to conserve it. Driving home the awareness that water is a resource we must respect, honor, and absolutely protect is at the heart of Smithsonian Institute’s Museum on Main Street exhibit, “Water/Ways.” Lanesboro, Minnesota was one of six locations in Minnesota that was chosen for this national exhibit. It is installed in Lanesboro January 7 through February 19, 2017, and there’s with a huge variety of corresponding events scheduled throughout town – from Lanesboro Arts Center openings to Commonweal Theatre plays to film sets to moonlight snowshoe hikes. (See below for full event details.)

Historical photos of Lanesboro – ranging from 1876-1950 – courtesy Lanesboro Historical Museum

 

Designed in collaboration with state humanities councils, the project weaves the science of water conservation together with individual experiences of the power and poetry of water. Lanesboro’s narrative will, naturally, feature the Root River and its impact in the development of the region, from its meaning to Native American tribes on through to the more recent life threatening flooding of 2007-08 and 2016.

“Rivers move. They’re alive. They have this flow to them that just is fascinating,” says John Weiss, outdoor reporter for the Rochester Post-Bulletin for nearly 40 years. Project technology coordinator and award-winning ethnographer Erin Dorbin recorded the interview with Weiss as they hiked along the Root River, one of several audio pieces produced for the exhibit.

Top: Fishing on the north branch of Root River, 1950. Bottom: A more recent view of the Root River Valley.

“You gotta love water. You gotta protect water. You got to cherish water. But never, ever, ever trust water,” Weiss continued. “You got these two sides of it – the beauty and the beast. Moving water, as everybody knows, is dangerous. You have to respect it.”

Water/Ways was brought to the area by state sponsors like the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and a variety of local organizations – see sidebar for a full list. Credit for Lanesboro’s selection as a host location goes to Nancy North, who initiated the town’s application. She is principal at the Lanesboro-based communications and design firm, NewGround, specializing in environmental education and outreach. Partnering organizations have been planning the exhibit and related events since its announcement in June 2015.

Alongside Smithsonian’s Water/Ways is a companion exhibit specific to Minnesota, We Are Water. This interactive story-collecting showcase includes recordings from Minnesotans – including Lanesboro locals – who reflect on the meaning and experience of water. There are also opportunities for exhibit visitors to share their own stories and images. We Are Water MN connects visitors with ways to take action in water conservation, including in-depth resources for youth educators, regardless of whether they visit the exhibit in person. Visit mnhum.org/waterways for details.

The scientific side of the exhibit is spearheaded by Friends of the Root River, a non-profit advocacy coalition, and Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center, which brought on a Minnesota GreenCorps staff member to train local docents for the Water/Ways exhibit. Friends of the Root River organized several Science Sunday public lectures in downtown Lanesboro, such as “Contaminants: What the Data Show” given by Terry Lee from the Olmsted County Water Quality Lab. The Eagle Bluff Center itself, located on the bluff northwest of town, will host candlelight snowshoe hikes, several themed dinners, and a family sled dog day.

Stephanie Davidson

“Talking about water strictly in the language of scientific research and conservation can get dense,” says Eagle Bluff fellowship coordinator Stephanie Davidson. What’s inspiring is that a lot of water quality sampling, especially in the Driftless Region, is done by citizen scientists, she says. An introduction to water sampling is offered year-round through Eagle Bluff’s “Stream Lab” unit for students grades 4-8. Adults and/or parents of children interested in office training can sign up with Minnesota Pollution Control Agency: www.pca.state.mn.us/water/citizen-water-monitoring.

“Literally, grade-school students can be eyes and ears for streams in their backyards,” says Davidson. “You can collect valuable information on the pond you pass on your way to work. It’s one reason our watershed has some of the broadest and longest-standing water data in the state.”

Adam Wiltgen

Lanesboro’s installation of Water/Ways differs from other Smithsonian stops across the country – locations ranging from Rock Springs, Wyoming to Okeechobee, Florida – in that the exhibit’s home-base isn’t a science center or historical society, though both are integrally involved, says Adam Wiltgen, program director at Lanesboro Arts, a key collaborator.

Instead, viewers will find Water/Ways rooted in the historic St. Mane Theatre and Commonweal Theatre, both on Parkway Avenue, Lanesboro’s main drag. There, viewers will gather for educational events, film screenings, and musical productions. The resident Commonweal Theatre Company will present dramatic readings of locals’ most striking memories of water, as well as creative short plays, written and produced by Commonweal staff and alumni.

One script pushes the envelope on water scarcity, says Commonweal executive director Hal Cropp. In the future it imagines, a bottle of water appears in a museum exhibit – because it no longer exists as we know it.

St. Mane Theatre will also debut the work of student videographers Olivia Obritsch (grade 12), Jared Peterson (grade 7), Nora Sampson and Mai Gjere (grade 8), whose short documentaries on Lanesboro history and culture were funded by a nationally competitive Youth Access Technology Project grant. Just six communities received the award.

Dorbin, who directs graduate-level ethnographic programs for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, conducted four months of field training with the students. “We covered everything from interviewing skills to research and editing,” she explains. “At one point, their assignment was to approach people on Main Street and ask, ‘When was the last time water made you laugh?’”

The result, Dorbin says, is some of the best work she’s seen. “I have loved seeing their exploration of their environment and community and their growth as citizens, uncovering history and realizing that they are also creators of history and can influence local decision-making.”

Mai Gjere, who studied Lanesboro’s economic history and plans to attract young people in the future, put it this way: “Our community won’t get better with chance. It will get better with change,” she concluded in her documentary, citing the town’s need to supplement thriving eco- and arts tourism with professional employment in more sectors. “Hopefully, my generation will be the one to change it.”

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Kristine Jepsen writes for magazines and the Web and enjoys grant writing for small businesses. She’s grateful for awesome educational resources, like Water/Ways, available in the Driftless – particularly as she embarks on homeschooling with her young daughter. Read more of her work at www.kristinejepsen.com.

The Lanesboro Water/Ways + We Are Water schedule is subject to change, so if you’re thinking of heading to one of the events listed here, please check mnhum.org/waterways/lanesboro for any updates.

January 7, 4-6 pm — “Currents of Change” – Visual Art and Historic Photograph Exhibit Opening Reception + Water Bar! Lanesboro Arts and the Lanesboro Museum at the at Lanesboro Arts Exhibition Gallery (Exhibit will run throughout the Water/Ways exhibition)

January 7 & 8 — “Ripples of Reflection” theatrical performance, Commonweal Theatre

January 8, 2 pm — Science Sunday, River Sojourn Film Screening with Sara and Ken Lubinksi, Friends of the Root River at the St. Mane Theatre

January 13, 7:30 pm — “Our Mighty Mississippi” with Steven Marking, baritone, St. Mane Theatre

January 14, 5 pm — Dinner on the Bluff, Protecting our Waters with Dr. Joshua Lallaman, Phd., Assistant Professor at SMUMN, Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center

January 15, 2 pm — Science Sunday, Wild Caving with Bill Brueck, Friends of the Root River at the St. Mane Theatre

January 21 – Giant bass snow sculpture will be created today! Downtown Lanesboro

January 21, 5 pm — Fish Fry, Lanesboro American Legion

January 21, 5-9 pm — Candlelight Snowshoe, Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center

January 22 — Science Sunday, Contaminants: What the Data Shows with Terry Lee from the Olmsted County Water Quality Lab, Friends of the Root River at the St. Mane Theatre

January 27, 6:30 pm — Grand Premiere Film Screenings: Youth Access Technology Project, Lanesboro Arts

January 28, 1 pm — Grand Premiere Film Screenings: Youth Access Technology Project, Lanesboro Arts

January 27-28 — Lanesboro Ice Bar, High Court Pub

January 29, 2 pm — Science Sunday, Swimmable, Fishable, Fixable? with Cathy Rofshus from the MN Pollution Control Agency, Friends of the Root River at the St. Mane Theatre

February 4, — Family Dog Sled Day, Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center

February 4, 5 pm — Dinner on the Bluff, Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center

February 5 — Science Sunday, Improving Water Quality with Land Conservation with Kevin Kuehner, Field to Stream Partnership, Friends of the Root River at the St. Mane Theatre

February 11, 4 pm — Chasing Niagara, Lanesboro Arts and the Frozen River Film Festival at the St. Mane Theatre

February 11, 7:30 pm — Aqua Adventure Film Set, Lanesboro Arts and the Frozen River Film Festival at the St. Mane Theatre

February 12, 2 pm — Science Sunday, Ironwood Landfill with Gary Peterson, Friends of the Root River at the St. Mane Theatre

February 16-18, 7:30 pm — “H20 Ten” eight 10-minute short plays about water, Commonweal Theatre Company

February 18, 5-9 pm — Candlelight Snowshoe, Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center

February 19, 2 pm — Science Sunday, Mysteries of the Driftless Film with Co-Producer George Howe, Friends of the Root River at the St. Mane Theatre

Contribute your story to Water/Ways or listen to oral histories collected in your area through Smithsonian’s app for smartphones.

Water/Ways and We Are Water are made possible by:
Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES)
US Environmental Protection Agency
National Endowment for the Humanities
Minnesota Humanities Center
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
Minnesota Historical Society
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Minnesota Department of Health
Minnesota section of the American Water Works Association
Minnesota Public Radio
Lanesboro Arts
Commonweal Theatre Company
Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center
Lanesboro Museum
Friends of the Root River