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Posts about Theater

Torch and Gremlin team up for four-show season

Posted by: Graydon Royce Updated: December 17, 2014 - 3:11 PM

Torch Theater and Gremlin Theatre – two middle-aged small troupes – are collaborating on a season of four shows in what could be the final year of the Minneapolis Theatre Garage. The corner at Lyndale and Franklin Avs. in Minneapolis has been targeted for redevelopment although the project plans are a bit unclear.

Stacia Rice and Peter Christian Hansen starred in "Sea Marks" at Gremlin Theatre in 2012.

Regardless, Torch and Gremlin will co-produce “Death and the Maiden,” by Ariel Dorfman. A reaction to Chile’s authoritarian past, the play is a taut melodrama about torture and revenge. David Mann will direct Stacia Rice, Peter Christian Hansen and Craig Johnson – all Torch/Gremlin regulars. The production runs Jan. 30-Feb. 21.

Torch then gives the regional premiere to “Boeing Boeing,” the Marc Camoletti farce that Mark Rylance sent into orbit on Broadway several years back. Zach Curtis, Rice and Mo Perry will be directed by Johnson. Lots of slamming doors, confused identities – that sort of thing. It runs March 13-April 4.

Gremlin then takes charge with “H2O,” a regional premiere of the play by Jane Martin. Ellen Fenster, who directed last spring’s “Rocket to the Moon” for Gremlin, is back for this production. The play is about callow actor who will star in “Hamlet” and meets his match in the woman who will play Ophelia. No casting news about the production, which runs June 5-28.

The fourth production will be another collaboration between the two companies. The title and dates and have not been announced. Nothing on the web sites as of this moment. Rice and Hansen -- artistic directors of each troupe -- promise that information will be forthcoming. Check back.

Robert Stearns (1947-2014) ex-Walker Art Center performing arts director.

Posted by: Mary Abbe Updated: December 15, 2014 - 4:51 PM

Robert Stearns, who headed Walker Art Center's performing arts department from 1982 - 1988, died December 3 at his home in Palm Springs, Ca after a brief illness. He was 67.

While working at the Walker, Stearns was the executive producer of the Minneapolis workshop and concert performances of "The Gospel at Colonus," a contemporary reimagining of Sophocles' "Oedipus at Colonus," directed by Lee Breuer and composed by Bob Telson. Co-produced by the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the show was presented as part of the 1983 Next Wave Festival. It subsequently toured internationally from 1984 - 1988.

In 1984 he was executive producer for the Walker's staging of "the Knee Plays for the CIVIL warS: a tree is best measured when it is down," directed by Robert Wilson with music by David Byrne.

During his Walker tenure Stearns also oversaw performances and residencies by such Walker stalwarts as John Cage, Spalding Gray, Ntozake Shange, William Burroughs, Robert Bly, Fab Five Freddy, the Trisha Brown Dance Company and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.

Stearns left the Walker in 1988 to become the first director of the Wexner Center for the Arts which was still under construction at Ohio State University in Columbus. Exhibitions organized under his leadership include a series surveying art in Europe and America beginning with the 1950s and '60s, followed by the 1970s and '80s, and wrapping up with "New Works for New Spaces: Into the Nineties."

In 1992 he established Stearns + Associates, a Columbus-based firm providing curatorial and arts programming to galleries, arts councils and festivals throughout the country. The firm produced the exhibition "Photography and Beyond in Japan: Space, Time and Memory," which opened at the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo in November 1994 and subsequently toured to the Museo Rufino Tamayo, Mexico City; Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, BC and was presented in the United States at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Denver Art  Museum and the Contemporary Art Museum in Honolulu.

Over the following decades, Stearns' exhibitions focused on Ohio artists, early-American painting, artists from Mexico City, and visions of the American heartland.

While based in Columbus, Stearns retained ties to Minnesota, serving from 2000 - 2006 as senior program director and curator for Arts Midwest, a Minneapolis-based non-profit that produces exhibitions and programs that travel throughout the Midwest.

"Robert was an extremely gifted curator," said David Fraher, president and CEO of Arts Midwest, in a statement. "He was quirky, erudite, curious, and extraordinarily thorough with his research. He was also so very bright and passionate about his work, the artists he worked with, and the projects he built."

Fraher credited Stearns with helping Arts Midwest expand and strengthen its ability to produce international programs and exhibitions.

Prior to arriving in Minnesota, Stearns worked in New York first as assistant director of the influential Paula Cooper Gallery (1970-72) and then at The Kitchen (1973-77), a pioneer in video and installation art. He was director of Cincinnati's Contemporary Arts Center from 1978-1982. He graduated from the University of California, San Diego in 1970.

A celebration of his life was held Dec.10 in Palm Springs.

Peter Vaughan, theater critic, dies at 76

Posted by: Graydon Royce Updated: December 8, 2014 - 2:37 PM

Peter Vaughan, a longtime theater critic and reporter for the Minneapolis Star and the merged Star Tribune, has died at his French home in the Loire Valley. His 77th birthday would have been Friday.

Vaughan moved to France with his wife, Dana Wood, after retiring from the Star Tribune in 1997.  They lived in a country manse in Saint-Senoch, in central France, where Vaughan was able to indulge his tastes for good wine and food.

Born in London, Vaughan and his mother moved to St. Paul when he was a child. His father, Tom Vaughan, was an amateur theater enthusiast who became a critic himself after he retired from an academic career.

Peter Vaughan graduated from St. Paul Academy and received degrees from Yale and the London School of Economics. He started his career at the Minneapolis Star as a reporter, winning an award in 1974 for working on a team that investigated the value and reliability of auto repairs. It was as a theater critic, though, that he was remembered best.

“Guys like me and Lou [Bellamy] over at Penumbra, owe our careers to him,” said Jack Reuler, who founded Mixed Blood Theatre about the time Vaughan started to cover Twin Cities theater. “His own personal world view fit in with what our mission was.”

Bob Lundegaard worked with Vaughan at the newspapers and shared an enthusiasm for the arts and sports. The two played a regular tennis match each week for more than 10 years, Lundegaard recalled.

“He was very enthusiastic about theater – he’d review three or four shows a week,” Lundegaard said.

Vaughan could also be irascible when he felt the occasion necessitated it. Lundegaard remembered that the critic would often look at his reviews after they had been edited and restore his original word choices.

He also had dry sense of humor. At a breakfast with Rohan Preston, his successor at the Star Tribune, Vaughan was asked how he kept up with the plethora of theaters producing shows.

“Your job is to kill half of them off,” Vaughan said without missing a beat.

In a valedictory when he left the Star Tribune, Vaughan called theater “a unique forum to probe the political, social and personal forces that shape our lives.”

“Probably the most disappointing aspect of Twin Cities theater is how often good, even exceptional work, is ignored by audiences,” he wrote. “One might argue that we have too much theater and that the
exceptional often gets lost, but I fear that too often, people shun theater for the very reasons I am attracted to it.”

Vaughan is survived by his wife, her daughter and his two sons. There was no news about a service.

Memorial services announced for Guthrie Theater guru Ken Washington

Posted by: Rohan Preston Updated: December 3, 2014 - 10:57 AM

There will be three memorial services next week for Kenneth H. Washington, the Guthrie Theater’s beloved director of company development who died Nov. 26. He had been diagnosed with kidney disease.

A mentor, teacher and guru, Washington influenced the careers of scores of actors across the nation. Before coming to the Guthrie 19 years ago, he taught at the University of Utah, where he earned a master of fine arts degree and headed the school’s actor training program.

Washington was instrumental in the launch of the Guthrie’s joint BFA program with the University of Minnesota. He also started the Guthrie Experience, a summer training program that annually brings a cohort of some of the best graduate students in theater to the Twin Cities for training and real-world experience.

He also instructed students at Julliard and New York University, where he directed regularly.

Washington was born in Louisiana and educated at Talladega College, Syracuse University and the University of Utah, where he earned an MFA and completed coursework on a doctorate. A quiet man with a lilting accent informed by his Southern heritage, he was known for “not speaking much but when he did, it was meaningful and important,” Guthrie artistic director Joe Dowling said last week.

The services will be held in Salt Lake City, Minneapolis and Manhattan.

On Monday, Dec. 8, the University of Utah theater department will hold its service at 4 p.m., in the Babcock Theatre, 300 S. 1400 East, Salt Lake City.

Also on Monday, a cohort of former students, mentees and colleagues in New York have organized an East Coast memorial to be held from 7-10 p.m. in New York University’s Atlas Room, 111 2nd Avenue, 3rd Floor, New York.

The following Thursday, the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis holds its memorial for Washington organized by colleagues and friends Marcela Lorca, Randy Reyes and Michelle O’Neill. That event is at 3 p.m. Dec. 11 on the Wurtele Thrust Stage, 818 South 2nd St., Mpls. 612-377-2224.

Megan Mayer reaches for the stars

Posted by: Graydon Royce Updated: December 2, 2014 - 10:52 AM

Charles Campbell, Angharad Davies and Elliot Durko Lynch in "Soft Fences."/Photo by Al Hall.

By Caroline Palmer/Special to the Star Tribune

Even though space travel has become more prevalent over the past 50 years the experience never fails to fascinate. Recent blockbuster films like “Interstellar” and “Gravity” prove this point but a Hollywood-size budget isn’t necessary to capture the experience for those of us who will never blast off like Major Tom. 

Choreographer Megan Mayer has spent the past two years developing “Soft Fences,” an evening-length work that draws upon the awe-inspiring experiences of astronauts to explore more down-to-earth ideas like extreme journey, loss, transformation, isolation and overcoming challenging situations. It premieres this weekend at Red Eye Theater and features Mayer along with performers Charles Campbell, Angharad Davies, Jim Domenick and Stephanie Stoumbelis with video cameos by Elliot Durko Lynch and Greg Waletski.

Mayer, interviewed prior to a recent rehearsal, explained that the work began to form during a residency at the Maggie Alleles National Center for Choreography in Tallahassee, Fla., when the artist and her collaborators took a day trip to the Kennedy Space Center. “I’ve always been a science fiction nerd,” she said. During this period Mayer was going through significant personal and professional life transitions and although the scope of the subject matter felt intimidating she pursued it, focusing on the psychological aspects of life as an astronaut.

“Astronauts go away and do amazing things and then they come back. Their lives have changed, they’ve seen things [hardly anyone] else has seen. And then they’re supposed to go to Costco?” said Mayer. As part of her research she immersed herself in NASA TV and interviewed Norman Thagard who flew on four space shuttle missions and was the first American astronaut to fly on a Soyuz Russian spacecraft. 

Mayer was intrigued by the unique experience of combining an amazing journey with the routine maintenance of life that doesn’t seem to go away beyond the atmosphere. A mind-blowing space walk, for example, might include the mundane task of changing bolts or mending equipment. What’s different, of course, is that the view is of the planet or the deep infinite darkness of outer space.

The title, said Mayer, comes from the definition of “orbit.” “I thought of it as circling but there is another definition: stuck or held between gravity and momentum,” she continued. This “in-between place” is where spacecraft hover and the title refers to a sort of see-through barrier, a place of suspended transition between gravity and weightlessness, earth and space.

“Soft Fences” didn’t come together easily. Life continued to throw curve balls at Mayer and her collaborators. The cast changed and Mayer grappled with finding funding to finish the work, all experiences that furthered her themes about the struggles, big and small, that must be overcome to achieve a goal. Now she’s finally nearing the final countdown on the premiere and all systems are go.

“Soft Fences” will be performed December 4-7. For further information and tickets visit redeye theater.


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