Talk about roadkill. The grandfather of Twin Cities playwright Jessica Lopez Lyman lived or worked in a series of places taken over by government authorities under eminent domain.
"The first was when his childhood home in East L.A. was turned into a freeway," she said. "Then his barbershop was turned into a parking lot. And then they took three feet of his yard" for another highway.
Lopez Lyman deals with this bit of family history in "141 Mednik Avenue," an experimental interactive performance installation this weekend and next in the lobby of Minneapolis' Pillsbury House Theatre. The 20-minute show is one of three pieces in Pillsbury House's Naked Stages program that add up to one evening of experimental theater, not unlike Walker Art Center's current Out There series.
Meanwhile, St. Paul's History Theatre is presenting staged readings this weekend of four new works in its Raw Stages series, a program that "is primarily a way for playwrights to hear what they've written," said artistic director Ron Peluso, who started the series back in 2003.
Both series are part of a rich complex of pathways that Twin Cities theater artists can use to develop new work. Others include Illusion Theater's summertime series Fresh Ink and the PlayLabs program, held each fall at Playwrights' Center.
These workshops serve as testing grounds where actors add muscle and meat to the voices bouncing around playwrights' heads — and hopefully give them wings. One work that's taken flight is the Chan Poling murder musical "Glensheen," which after sold-out runs in 2015, '16 and '17 at the History Theatre will have yet another encore next summer.
"About 85 percent of [Raw Stages] shows end up being produced on the main stage," said Peluso. That helps explain the high-talent casts he's able to assemble, including Ann Michels, Mark Benninghofen, Gary Briggle, Nat Fuller and Shanan Custer.
Each artistic team gets 20 hours of development work, mostly around a table. But the four days of public readings that began Thursday may have been years in the making.
On Friday evening, Raw Stages will present the first act of "The Spy Musical," by composer Robert Elhai and collaborator Laurie Flanigan Hegge, about Minnesota-born socialite turned secret agent Betty Pack, "who used seduction and charm to change the course of World War II," said Peluso, who directs the work.
The roster is rounded out by "Not for Sale," a drama by Kim Hines and Barbara Teed about what happens to a white Minnesota real estate agent after she sells houses to black families in all-white neighborhoods (2 p.m. Saturday), and "Sisters of Peace," Doris Baizley's play about the McDonald Sisters, four siblings who became nuns and social justice activists (2 p.m. Sunday).
Coming out of their shells
The focus is slightly different at Pillsbury House, which aims to help emerging artists find their voices, with little regard for whether the shows get produced elsewhere.
"This is about performance and imagination," said artistic director Pramila Vasudevan, "and finding ways to be bold about where they are and who they are as artists."
The performances Jan. 11-13 and Jan. 18-20 cap a seven-month program funded by the Jerome Foundation. For the artists, that means working with mentors, which this year included a multiday retreat with well-known performer and playwright Daniel Alexander Jones.
Actor/writer Antonio Duke, 24, graduated in 2017 from the Guthrie Theater/University of Minnesota BFA program. He drew from his own biography for his show "Ashes of Moons."
"It uses spoken-word poetry, hip-hop dance and Yoruba mythology to explore adoption," he said. "Metaphorically, since I grew up with a Scottish father and a mother from Montgomery, Minn., I'm reconnecting myself with African culture."
One of the more interesting trajectories can be seen in the work of Ritika Ganguly, a medical anthropologist and composer. Her autobiographical piece "All Exits Are Clearly Marked" is about her journey "through misdiagnoses, mistreatments and mediocre health care."
In her former life, she said, she would have presented her research and data in a paper. Now she is presenting it onstage, borrowing techniques from Bengali protest music and poetry.
"I've been singing with rock bands and [groups in] the Indian music scene," she said. "This is my debut as a performance artist and I'm learning there's so much opportunity to explore movement through music."