About Mary Aalgaard

Mary Aalgaard is a freelance writer and blogger. Her words stretch across the globe through her blogs on www.playoffthepage.com, which include Play off the Page, inspiration and entertainment reviews; Ride off the Page, a travelog about riding adventures on a Harley-Davidson with The Biker Chef; and Dine off the Page, for chef’s tips, recipes, and restaurant reviews. Mary is also a playwright. Her original drama Coffee Shop Confessions was performed in coffee shops around the Brainerd, MN area in 2012. She works with both children and adults to create original dramas, and is offering theatre classes for kids where they write their own plays and create the set. Contact her at Mary@playoffthepage.com. Go. Create. Inspire!

Dear World, Performance by Ten Thousand Things Theater, review

Quote of the Day: Thinking is very hard on the skin. It causes wrinkles! line from Dear World, presented by Ten Thousand Things Theater (TTT) Company. We watched it at the Open Book store and arts center. If I lived in Minneapolis, the Open Book would be my hangout. It has an amazing gift shop of hand made journals, books, cards, writing supplies, and artwork. Plus, it has a coffee shop, and upstairs are meeting rooms, work spaces, and a large room for performances, where Ten Thousand Things Theater Company holds some of its public performances.  TTT is a mobile theater company. They don’t have their own stage. In fact, they perform with “All the Lights On,” meaning that they go into correctional facilities, community, homeless, and women’s shelters, libraries, and other public venues to perform. Michelle Hensley, founder and director of TTT, and author of the book All the Lights On, saw a need to bring the theater experience to people who might not otherwise ever experience live theater and its potential to move them, even change their lives. What I admire about Michelle Hensley and TTT is that she saw a need and tried to fill it. She didn’t let conventional style stop her. She didn’t even let the logistics of taking a show on the road daunt her. They always use minimal and very movable set pieces. In another show I saw by TTT, Measure for Measure, they had a few set pieces welded to represent a judge’s stand, a table, a jail, and more, simply by moving it around, or draping it with cloth. In Dear World, they use a table and chairs, a table cloth, a few accouterments for restaurant scenes, and a quick moving of the few set pieces to turn the floor into a park, or the sewers of Paris. Very clever. I sat next to the mirror/stone, and secret passageway to the depths underneath the sewer. (No, it didn’t smell.) The costuming, too, is kept simple so that the actors who play multiple parts can quickly slip in and out of them and into a new character. Dear World is a musical, so the instruments were set up in one corner. It was the opposite corner from where I sat. (The audience is set in a square around the perimeter of the stage floor.) Peter Vitale is the Music Director and main musician, and some of the actors also stepped in to play a few instruments. The singers were very strong, and needed to be because many of the songs have a very minimal

Countess Aurelia, played by Janet Paone, gazing into the mirror, reflecting on both the past and future, in Dear World, presented by Ten Thousand Things Theater Company

Countess Aurelia, played by Janet Paone, gazing into the mirror, reflecting on both the past and future, in Dear World, presented by Ten Thousand Things Theater Company.

accompaniment, sometimes a plucking of strings, a beat, and sounds made by various percussion instruments. The whole experience was mesmerizing because of the intimate setting, and the fact that all the lights are on and you know the actors can see you, and you can see the other audience members across the stage floor, and sometimes, the performers are right next to you. In fact, I felt like I could reach out and straighten the mirror/stone as the characters descended. I even looked down, as if I could see the stairs that led them under the underbelly of Paris. Countess Aurelia (played marvelously by Janet Paone) sat next to us and told us to help boo at a certain part in the play. The audience is part of the show. 

In both Measure for Measure and Dear World truth and justice are main themes. There are judges and trials and shysters and potential victims. People’s integrity and morals are tested. Some are driven by greed, while others act out of love. In the title song, Dear World, the characters sing about a broken world that needs healing. They sing about how one voice can be heard to make a change, one instrument playing, one drum beating, if we will but follow. TTT performs at shelters, libraries, and jails. I can’t help but think of the other audiences who watch this show. Are they seeing themselves in the characters and story line? Are they feeling the injustice, and rooting for the oppressed? What is it about live performance that gets us thinking, feeling, and wanting to take action? 

Dear World has a few more performances throughout Minnesota at various facilities. Some might be available to you. Check out their schedule, or watch for when they might be near you with their next performance. They always have outstanding actors and unique theater experiences to share with you. Also, check out Michelle Hensley’s book All the Lights On for inspiration on how to bring theater, and other art, to communities, perhaps the under served in your area. I am inspired by her words and work. If you’d like to see a couple clips from this performance, visit the TTT Facebook page. Shawn Vriezen plays Alain, a waiter, who is deaf. Watching him sign during conversations and the songs was fascinating. He’ll teach you a phrase on his video.

Dear World is based on “The Madwoman of Chaillot”, book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Lee, Music by Jerry Herman, Director Sarah Rasmussen, and producer is Michelle Hensley. Please visit the Ten Thousand Things website for a complete list of cast and crew, showtimes, and upcoming performances.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: What is one act of kindness, or words you can spread, that would help to heal the world?

The Amish Project, a stirring, eerie performance at The Guthrie Theater

Quote of the Day: The J stands for Jesus. The Y stands for You. And, the O in the middle stands for Others. Put them together and you have JOY! The voice of Velda, one of the Amish girls killed in the 2006 massacre in their one room schoolhouse near Nickel Mines, PA. This horrific tragedy shook the nation, as did all the school shootings in the past several years. It’s almost like the deranged are plotting, What is the most innocent and nurturing place where the most vulnerable people live, and who will be the most precious victims? This is a hard show to watch. 

Jessica Dickey in The Amish Project, written and performed by Jessica Dickey, and originally directed by Sarah Cameron Sunde. Part of the Guthrie Theater's Singular Voices/Plural Perspectives series, The Amish Project plays February 2-14 in the Dowling Studio at the Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis. Photo by Sandra Coudert

Jessica Dickey in The Amish Project, written and performed by Jessica Dickey, and originally directed by Sarah Cameron Sunde. Part of the Guthrie Theater’s Singular Voices/Plural Perspectives series, The Amish Project plays February 2-14 in the Dowling Studio at the Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis. Photo by Sandra Coudert

The playwright Jessica Dickey tells the story in seven different voices in a one woman performance: Velda, six year old Amish girl, her sister Anna, age 16, Carol Stuckey, the widow of the shooter, Bill North, scholar and professor of Amish culture, Sherry Local, a resident of Nickel Mines, PA, a local girl age 16 named America, and the gunman Eddie Stuckey. It’s eerie. Jessica gets into the psyche of all these characters, telling us, in the words she has imagined for them, what went on at that time, how these various characters were acting and feeling, and what happened to them. It’s one woman’s way of trying to make sense of such a horrific tragedy. Jessica is from Pennsylvania, not a local to Lancaster or Nickel Mines, but close enough to feel the aftershocks of this massacre, and to know the landscape and the folks who make that place their home. It’s like what any of us might say if something happened “in the next town over,” or “in my state,” and “in my country.” 

The Amish Project is part of a series offered by the Guthrie Theater called Singular Voices/Plural Perspective. They are holding discussions after each performance, given at various times throughout the season. The four shows in this series are all written and performed by a single actor. Artistic Director at the Guthrie Theater, Joseph Haj, says, “Aaron Davidman, Jessica Dickey, Taylor Mac, and Colman Domingo…are some of today’s most important writers and performers working at the height of their creative powers.” They encourage discussion immediately following each performance, and well into your drive home, and further with your friends and family, whether they saw the show or not. It’s something that I, for one, keep thinking about and wanting to discuss so that I can make sense of horrific tragedies, man’s inhumanity towards man, and why we can’t all work together to make this a better world. 

Jessica Dickey, playwright and solo performer in The Amish Project. Photo by Sandra Coudert

Jessica Dickey, playwright and solo performer in The Amish Project. Photo by Sandra Coudert

I saw this performance on a “Double Feature” Sunday, for me and my sister. We saw The Amish Project at the Guthrie Dowling Studio at 1:00 (it’s a shorter play, running 1 hour and 15 minutes with no intermission), then walked over to Izzy’s Ice Cream Shop (about a block from the Guthrie Theater), then scooted over to The Open Book to watch Dear World, performed by Ten Thousand Things Theatre. (Check back for that review.) Although these shows are quite different, they leave you wondering just how the world can heal, what’s our role in that, and what is the one word that we keep looking for that will guide us.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: Do you remember where you were when you heard about the killing of those Amish school girls? Do you remember hearing how their Amish community said that they were offering forgiveness to the shooter, and support and comfort to his widow and children? What’s your one word?

Daughters of Africa Performance at CLC, a review

Quote of the Day: A piano is a drum with wings. part of poem used in the opening of Daughters of Africa, a one woman show (with many voices) produced by Mixed Blood theatre of Minneapolis, and touring throughout the upper Midwest. My colleagues in the Twin Cities Theatre Bloggers group and I are on the lookout for diversity in theatrical

Tatiana Williams portrays various characters in Mixed Blood's touring show, Daughters of Africa. Mixed Blood production photo.

Tatiana Williams portrays various characters in Mixed Blood’s touring show, Daughters of Africa. Mixed Blood production photo.

productions, in the metro and throughout our region. It’s going on five years now since I’ve been writing reviews for productions in the metro and where I live in the Brainerd lakes area. Of all the performances I’ve seen from grand productions at the Guthrie theatre to small town community theater, and other small cast shows, plays I’ve seen in the past, and those yet to be seen, any of them will be hard pressed to top the performance, storytelling, and experience of watching Tatiana Williams perform the multi-layered, diverse women of African American history on the stage at Central Lakes College yesterday. Playwright Syl Jones uses the device of flying in an airplane, a flight through history, to tell the story of remarkable women of African decent who showed us all what courage, moxie, brains, beauty, music, and style can accomplish. The turbulence in flight are caused by the turmoil in history when there was slavery, the Civil War, KKK, assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to name a few. Williams portrays so many outstanding women from Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, C.J. Walker (first African American entrepreneur and millionaire) Serena Williams, and Michelle Obama. She croons the raspy blues of Billie Holiday in a version of Strange Fruit that sends chills down your body. She gives us Lena Horne, Oprah Winfrey, Queen Latifa, and that soul stirring rhythm of Aretha Franklin (Oh, Freedom!) that even got us stiff Northerners to clap our hands. 

In my own attempts to add diversity to my viewing and reviewing, I had hopes of getting to a production at Mixed Blood Theatre this year. Lucky for me, and the other audience members at CLC, Mixed Blood came to us. This current production of Daughters of Africa is touring the Midwest through the end of February, 2016, and has been since 1992. In the discussion after the performance yesterday, Tatiana told us that this show would be undergoing a reconstruction after this season. One of the audience members asked if they would be including some of the current women, particularly those of Somalia descent, and the turbulence facing Americans of all cultural backgrounds today. Yes, it will. Although, it must have had some revisions since Syl Jones first wrote it because it did include Serena Williams and Michelle Obama and her role as the first African American First Lady. 

Since this is a one woman show, Tatiana makes quick costume and character changes, usually with a duck behind the airline chair that is the only set piece besides a subtley painted white backdrop. She performs to a recording of the sound effects and accompaniment for many of the songs. Although, she does sing a few A Capella, with a gorgeous voice. Basically, Tatiana Williams can do it all, move smoothly in and out of various characters, change costume with a shawl, scarf, or by simply holding a tennis ball (Serena Williams) or donning a string of pearls (Michelle Obama). She moved her body with the grace of a dancer, scrunched up like an old woman, and moved her shoulders, head and mouth to give us Billie Holiday, a character she said she loved playing but needed to do much research and character work to do well. 

If Daughters of Africa is playing anywhere near where you live, go. It is a performance that will move you and stick with you for years to come. The history of Africa American women is the history of all women, and all Americans. “If you don’t know your history, you can’t know where you’re going,” said Tatiana Williams. Thank you, Syl Jones, for writing this remarkable play. Thank you, Tatiana Williams, for portraying all those characters in such a full bodied YES, and thank you CLC for your Cultural Arts Series and bringing this play to our community.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: Who are some of the African American women that you admire?

Pericles at The Guthrie Theater, a review

Quote of the Day: You’ve probably heard this one, If you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans. In the play Pericles, it’s If you want to hear the gods laugh, tell them your plans. Shakespeare based his play Pericles on the person and his story in Greek mythology. Poor Pericles has big plans, find a woman, get married, have kids, rule his kingdom, and it will all be smooth sailing. But, the gods have other plans (or is it men who have

Wayne T. Carr (Pericles) in Pericles by William Shakespeare, directed by Joseph Haj. Scenic design by Jan Chambers, costume design by Raquel Barreto, lighting design by Rui Ruta and projection design by Francesca Talenti. January 16 - February 21, 2016 on the Wurtele Thrust Stage at the Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis. Photo by Jenny Graham.

Wayne T. Carr (Pericles) in Pericles by William Shakespeare, directed by Joseph Haj.Photo by Jenny Graham.

other plans?). He is chased out of his home country by a sick and corrupt king who tells him his secret (or at least his daughter who is the mother of his child does), and in doing so basically says, “I told you, now I have to kill you.” So, Pericles sets sail to find his destiny. And, as we all know, the seas are moody. They bring trials and tribulations, storm and strife, dead calm, and the winds and waves can sweep you off your course. Pericles finds himself in a foreign country, Pentapolis, where he does find the love of his life. At first, her father, the king, pretends to not be happy about their relationship, then smilingly pronounces them “Man and wife.” Pericles must return to his kingdom, or lose it, so he takes his now pregnant wife, Thaisa, and sets sail. The seas are even angrier, now. Thaisa gives birth to a baby girl, and dies (or so they think). Because of the storms, and sailor superstition, they beg Pericles to throw his “dead” wife overboard. They place her in a coffin with some jewels and spices and she floats away. Realizing that he can’t raise his daughter on his own, he leaves her with another couple. When she is of age, they plot to have her killed. When Pericles returns to that country, he sees her grave and weeps. 

Brooke Parks (Thaisa), Wayne T. Carr (Pericles) and Emily Serdahl (Lychorida) in Pericles by William Shakespeare, directed by Joseph Haj. Scenic design by Jan Chambers, costume design by Raquel Barreto, lighting design by Rui Ruta and projection design by Francesca Talenti. January 16 - February 21, 2016 on the Wurtele Thrust Stage at the Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis. Photo by Jenny Graham.

Brooke Parks (Thaisa), Wayne T. Carr (Pericles) and Emily Serdahl (Lychorida) in Pericles by William Shakespeare, directed by Joseph Haj. Scenic design by Jan Chambers, costume design by Raquel Barreto, lighting design by Rui Ruta and projection design by Francesca Talenti. January 16 – February 21, 2016 on the Wurtele Thrust Stage at the Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis. Photo by Jenny Graham.

Of course, not everything is as it seems. This is one of Shakespeare’s “Romances,” which is neither comedy nor tragedy, but a blend of both, which is how our real lives tend to go. We have ambition, romance, birth, death, miscommunication, pirates (it is a sea adventure after all), corrupt rulers (they didn’t exist only ancient times, did they), smart, resourceful women, and music. Jack Herrick wrote the music for a production of Pericles that director (now artistic director of The Guthrie) Joe Haj did at PlayMakers Repertory Company in Chapel Hill, N.C. The lyrical elements of the play, Shakespeare’s language, and the use of the poet Gower beg for a musical score. What Herrick does is give us melody for the songs that are already there, in some instance. He makes music for both comic and tragic scenes, sometimes with a rolling underscore, a time filler for quick changes, and a recurring lullaby that links family through their melodic memory. The musicians also use their instruments to create tension, recreate sounds of waves, storm, mystery. Darcy Danielson who plays piano, flute, and other instruments described how well the music works with this script in a post-play discussion. She mentioned various instruments, including one called a waterphone (seems fitting for a play set on the high seas). It was lovely, haunting, mood setting, and memorable. 

Cedric Lamar, Jennie Greenberry, Emily Serdahl and Darcy Danielson (musicians).

Cedric Lamar, Jennie Greenberry, Emily Serdahl and Darcy Danielson (musicians).

Wayne T. Carr plays Pericles with intensity and emotion. Most players in the company, from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, play various roles. One of the actors explained, during the post-play discussion, that they are often cast as opposite characters. He might be the villain in one scene, and the comic relief in another. The person commissioned to murder Marina in one scene might be the one who finds her mother’s undead body in a coffin in a different scene. I think they all do so well playing those different parts, that I don’t think about them being played by the same actor. It was fun to see a Shakespeare play that was unknown to me (and, I even took a Shakespeare class in college!), and how Joseph Haj was able to place it on the larger Wurtele Thrust Stage at Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theater. The cast members said that they have performed this play in various venues, and it was a fun challenge to fill the Wurtele Thrust stage with all it’s emotion, visual feast, and musical nuance.

Pericles is a story of being lost, and then found again. With it’s stunning imagery and projections that, at times make you feel like you are also tossed at sea, to visuals that look like a kaleidoscope, you are swept away. It is playing at The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis through February 21, 2016. Get your tickets now for this high seas adventure. As I said in my tweet after the show, Pericles sets sail, taking us through the lifts and swells of life’s perilous journey. 20160124_121915_resizedI’m sure most schools have decided whether or not they’ll bring their students to this production, but I’ll have to say, they will enjoy it. I brought my twin sons who are sophomores in high school. They said it was good. They enjoyed watching it, and they helped me retell the story to their older brother who wasn’t able to go with us. We all agreed that sometimes, due to the Shakespearean language and the (weird to us) Greek names, we were not always sure about certain things. But, with most Shakespeare plays, there is enough repetition, and recap in the end, to clear a few things up. Plus, the actors do an outstanding job of conveying the meaning, and sense of time and place, through their actions and expressions.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: What are some storms you have weathered, be it ones like the blizzard that just hit the East Coast, or life’s tragedies? Have you ever been so sure of your plans only to have fate dictate otherwise?

Brazil Fest at International Market Square

header collage for nov email copy



Brazilfest MN invites internationally-acclaimed Brazilian performer Badi Assad

to two shows at International Market Square on Saturday, February 13!

MINNEAPOLIS, January 18, 2016 — How often do kids (and adults) in the Midwest get to see an international Brazilian superstar in a live performance? The Brazilian superstar, Badi Assad, has recorded a CD just for kids called Cantos De Casa (The House Sings), inspired by her own daughter Sofia. This CD inspired a theatrical montage of various characters with whom Assad has toured extensively throughout Brazil. 

Throughout her exciting 25-year career, internationally celebrated singer/guitarist/composer Badi Assad has won numerous awards in her native Brazil including best composer of the year in 2012, and was selected as a Master Brazilian Guitarist by Rolling Stone Magazine. She has nearly 15 recordings to her name, as well as multiple collaborations with other internationally known artists. 

Executive Director of Brazilfest MN, Robert Everest, an accomplished internationally touring musician with a 25-year music career in his own right, opened for Assad with his trio Choro Borealis at the Dakota Jazz Club nearly two years ago and has been searching for a way to bring her back to Minneapolis ever since.  When Everest, the father of two young boys, received Cantos de Casa as a gift from Assad a few months ago, the wheels started turning and he invited her back (knowing it was a long-shot) to Minneapolis to perform the repertoire from the CD for the Brazilfest Family Matinee, a children’s festival Everest has been organizing and directing with the help of cultural grants for the last five years.  Fortunately, Assad loved the idea, since she has never performed the children’s repertoire outside of Brazil.

Because Brazilfest MN receives funding from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, it is able to offer this event for just $10, which is less than Badi has ever charged for a paid live performance in the United States.   For the more mature audience Badi will also be performing a set just for grown-ups in the evening at the Carnaval Brasileiro Masquerade Ball, accompanied by several Minnesota musicians.

Other performers will include Everest’s ten-piece group Beira Mar Brasil, Brazilian percussion ensemblesBatucada Do Norte and Drumheart, professional samba dancers Edilson Lima (who has been featured on Ellen DeGeneres), Vanessa Luiz, and Mariana Urraburu from São Paulo, Brazil, Brazilian martial arts group Omulu Capoeira of Minnesota, and most notably, another world-famous Brazilian singer and samba dancer from Salvador de Bahia, Brazil, Dandara Odara, who performs at over 50 carnival celebrations around the world each year in Europe, North America, and of course, Brazil.   This will be Dandara’s tenth year in a row in the Minneapolis festival.

Other festival details include three performance stages, free parking, and Brazilian food and drink by D’Amico Catering available for purchase.  Carnaval guests can participate in Brazilian dance lessons, and purchase authentic carnival masks created by master Brazilian artisan Goretti Aamot or have their face and body painted just like they do it in Rio!  The all-ages afternoon family matinee will also include these activities, along with mask and instrument making workshops for kids. Both afternoon and evening shows will take place at one of the premier event venues in the Twin Cities, International Market Square.

The annual Carnaval, celebrated throughout Brazil, lasts nearly a week and has roots dating back to the 1700s.  Like Mardi Gras, Carnaval is an all-out party with music, masks, dancing, food and drink – a final blowout before Lenten traditions kick in for the Easter season.  This Minneapolis edition of Carnaval falls a week after it is celebrated in Brazil, allowing for many of the special guests to come to Minneapolis.

Carnaval Brasileiro 2016


Saturday, February 13, 2016


3 pm – 6pm (doors at 2:30) BrazilFest Family Matinee (All-ages)
Badi Assad will perform at 4pm

9 pm – 2 am (doors at 8:30) Evening Masquerade Ball (18+)
Badi Assad will perform at 10pm


International Market Square, 275 Market Street, Minneapolis


3 pm Afternoon Family BrazilFest: $10 in advance, $15 at the door.

9 pm Evening Masquerade Ball: $20 – $30 in advance, $40 at the door.

Tickets for both events available now at BrazilFest.org

Badi Assad’s children’s CD Cantos De Casa  has received high acclaim in Brazil, where Badi has toured extensively performing songs from that recording in a captivating theatrical montage. The CD won the Premio Catavento (Brazilian equivalent of a Grammy Award) for “Best Children’s Album” of 2014.  Carnaval Brasileiro of the Twin Cities will be the U.S. debut of that repertoire!  Badi has recorded nearly 15 other CDs over the last 25 years, won several awards in Brazil, including best composer of the year in 2012 (APCA/BR), and was selected as one of the Brazil Guitar Masters by Rolling Stone Magazine.  Badi is considered to be one of the most innovative international artists of our time. She also won the 2013 USA Songwriting Competition in the World Category.  She will be doing a set in both the afternoon Family Matinee and the evening Masquerade Ball. BadiAssad.com

With over 1,500 attendees in 2015, Carnaval Brasileiro has become a very popular and appreciated mid-winter getaway, and with Badi’s presence it becomes even more enticing!

BrazilFest.org / 612-747-1234                                     #BrazilFestMN

This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board and the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.


Theatre Workshop for Playwrights and Actors at CLC

Quote of the Day:  Our stories come from our lives and from the playwright’s pen, the mind of the actor, the roles we create, the artistry of life itself and the quest for peace. – Maya Angelou

Screenshot_2015-12-29-10-07-43_resizedI have great news! I will be offering a theatre workshop for playwrights and actors this winter at Central Lakes College. With the support of Central Lakes College director Patrick Spradlin, Jean Beckmann, and a grant from the MN State Arts Board, we are able to offer this writing/acting class for just $15 to students in grades 5-12. The class will meet January 21 – February 25, 2016, on Thursdays from 5:00-6:30 pm in a classroom at the college. Students will have a chance to read plays (already published), write their own original scripts, help read and offer feedback to playwrights, and work on their own plays. I will be working alongside the students, with my own work, and helping them develop theirs. We’ll have a public reading of a portion of each play on the final class day, Feb. 25, at 6:00 pm. I am so excited to see what these young writer/actors come up with. They will also have a chance to work on characterization and voice work. 

Please register by calling Jean at CLC, 218-855-8253. If you have additional questions, please contact me. The info is on the ad that I attached (above). 

What a great way to start of the New Year!

Happy New Year, everyone!

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: If you could teach a class, what would it be? What would your play be about? Do you set off fireworks on New Year’s Eve?

Stage North Presents It’s a Wonderful Life

Quote of the Day: Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he? Clarence in Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, playing now at Stage North in Brainerd, MN.

Wonderful Life Choir. Photo by Katie Seipp Deblock

Wonderful Life Choir. Photo by Katie Seipp Deblock

My sister Joy Ciaffoni and I once again have the privilege of directing the children’s choir for Stage North‘s holiday production. We provide pre-show music, sing at intermission, and come in for a brief scene in Act II, and the curtain call. We have 11 girls in the choir this year, another wonderful crew to work with. It is especially fun to see them interact as we’re waiting downstairs in the old school cafeteria where they’re drawing murals together, playing games, and building friendships. Our song list this year has some fun tunes like “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “Snake for Christmas,” and sentimental favorites like “White Christmas,” where Joy sings a lovely solo and the girls join her for the second verse. That’s my favorite part of the show! We were able to watch the tech rehearsal, and from what we saw, it’s well acted and staged. Kevin Yeager plays George with actions and body language, and accent, that are quite convincing. Mark Liedl plays cranky old Mr. Potter to perfection. Of course, George Bailey’s kids steal the show when they’re on. That little Lauren Yeager inherited her dad’s acting gene! 

It’s a Wonderful Life has always been my favorite holiday show. It’s not all happy “aren’t we a perfect family” kind of story. In fact, it has melancholy undertones. George thinks he’s a failure. First, he didn’t purse his childhood dreams of traveling the world, going to college, and living a big life. Instead, he found himself trapped in Bedford Falls, running the family business, married and raising four kids. Then, the business is in danger of collapsing. He thinks he’s better off dead than alive. Enter the angel in training, Clarence, who points out how much George has touched the lives of all those around him. He is indeed valuable to them, not because of his accomplishments or wealth, but because of his generous and giving spirit, his love for his family, and concern for his community. 

We have three shows remaining in the run. Saturday at 2:00 and 7:30, and Sunday at 2:00. Visit Stage North website for more details, or visit their Facebook page, call for tickets 218-232-6810, or come early and purchase your tickets at the door. Both Thursday and Friday performances were full, not quite sold out, but a good house. The audience seemed to really enjoy the performance! Thank you to everyone who has come to the show and supported community theatre! 

Happy Holidays!

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: Do you have a favorite holiday story? What gets you blue during the holidays? How do you share the holiday spirit?

The Sound of Music Soars at The Ordway in St. Paul

Quote of the Day:  You gotta have a dream. If you don’t have a dream, how you gonna make a dream come true? Oscar Hammerstein II

The von Trapp family. Photo by Rich Ryan Photography

The von Trapp family. Photo by Rich Ryan Photography

The von Trapp family singers, including Maria, were just as talented, adorable, and energetic as they look. The Sound of Music is playing atThe Ordway Performing Arts Center in St. Paul this December (2015). They performed to a full house (nearly sold out) on Sunday evening (12/13) when I was there to view and review. I attended this performance with my son Zach (a senior in H.S.) who loved it as much as I did. The stage version of this iconic story came first. The movie starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer came second. The producers of the film made a few changes, so when you go to the theatre, just note that some of the songs are sung in different places by different characters. A film can do things a stage can’t, but a stage performance can do things that you won’t experience by just watching the movie. Sitting in a packed house with fans of the story, who are just dying to sing along, and are in love with the characters, and story, is electric. We, and the story, came to life from the first note. The nuns’ chorus is gorgeous. Billie Wildrick’s Maria is a little more playful than Julie Andrew’s character. In her opening scene where the Hills are alive with the Sound of Music, she’s barefoot and dreamy, and her voice is splendid. When she meets the kids, she goes to them, gets down to their eye level and teaches them “Do-Re-Mi” with fun movements and a few giggles. In the movie, Baroness Schraeder and Herr Detweiler don’t sing. In the Ordway’s stage production, they have a couple fun numbers. And, thank God, they do because Kersten Rodau plays Elsa Schraeder, and she has a fabulous voice. Plus, she’s a great actor. I’ve seen her in a couple other Ordway productions, and she just shines. The love song between the Captain and Maria is a different song from the movie, and Zach and I agree that it’s better. It seems to fit the mood better, and their voices and message to each other. Honestly, I could go on and on about this wonderful production. We are so fortunate to have such tremendous talent right here in the heart of the Midwest. In the write-up about casting the kids, they said that 600 kids auditioned for these roles! Imagine the honor, and pressure, to portray these characters.

Billie Wildrick (Maria) with the von Trapp children. Photo by Rich Ryan Photography

Billie Wildrick (Maria) with the von Trapp children. Photo by Rich Ryan Photography

The audience response is the best measure for how the show was received. I’ll say it in two words: Standing Ovation! We clapped enthusiastically after every number. Most of the scene changes happened then, so they did the black out and set shuffling seamlessly while we showed our admiration for the music. I heard sighs, and quiet singing, and a few comments. We, the audience, were fully involved in this performance. And, much to my delight, during the competition scene where Georg stands on stage, with his family nearby, playing the guitar and singing Edelweiss, he gestured to us, inviting us to sing along, as they did in the movie, when the citizens of Austria reclaimed their song. Zach, in his lovely tenor voice, sang next to me, until I got a little choked up and had to just listen. It was all over for me from that point to the end, where I shed a few tears as the cast bowed, and bowed again, to a grateful audience.

Dieter Bierbrauer (Captain von Trapp) and Billie Wildrick (Maria) in that dance number that changes everything. Photo by Rich Ryan Photography

Dieter Bierbrauer (Captain von Trapp) and Billie Wildrick (Maria) in that dance number that changes everything. Photo by Rich Ryan Photography

You can experience The Sound of Music, live and full of love, at The Ordway Performing Arts Center in St. Paul, MN December 10, 2015 – January 2, 2016. I expect most of the performances to sell out, so call early, and plan a fun family outing and make memories that will last a lifetime. Bravo to The Ordway cast and crew, and especially Director Gary Briggle, you did well to bring this beloved story to life.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: Did you watch The Sound of Music when you were growing up? Have you ever seen the stage version? Who would you want sitting next to you during this, or any holiday, show?

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe playing at Open Window Theatre

Quote of the Day: ‘The Lion’ all began with a picture of a faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. This picture had been in my mind since I was about sixteen. Then one day, when I was about forty, I said to myself, ‘Let’s try to make a story about it.’ C.S. Lewis

That’s a long time to be walking around with a seed of an idea. That’s how the creative process works. You are like a computer with data input, processing time, and energy. Sometimes, you can print out a creation in a short time, while other times, it takes years. One of the many things I love about the story of young Lucy and her siblings walking through that wardrobe is that they can have a lifetime of adventure in Narnia, then walk back through the portal, and in some ways nothing has changed, time has frozen, and in other ways, everything has changed. They’ve discovered another world with mythical creatures, a Witch/Queen who rules with a frozen heart in a land that is always winter and never Christmas, and they learn to be brave and loyal. As a girl growing up in the Northern part of Minnesota, where most of winter feels that way, it was an instant connection. As I walk around the neighborhood, or drive at night, I admire the lovely holiday lights and think, “We should just leave those up all winter.” We spend so much time in the dark and the cold, and those lights give us a little cheer. Preparing for Christmas puts a little spring in our step. And, watching shows together like The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe warm our hearts and give us a chance to make memories with friends and family. The best thing about this show is that it is for the whole family. It might be a little long and sad for preschoolers, but from elementary age kids on up to grandparents, this show has something that everyone can enjoy, connect with, be entertained by, and learn a little more about themselves.

"The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe" at The Open Window Theatre. Jeremiah Cox as Peter, Mikaela Kurpierz as The White Witch, Josie Axelson as Susan, Madeline Ann Sundheim as Lucy, and Jack Alexander as Edmund. Photo credit Matt Berdahl Photography / Jeremy Stanbary

“The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe” at The Open Window Theatre. Jeremiah Cox as Peter, Mikaela Kurpierz as The White Witch, Josie Axelson as Susan, Madeline Ann Sundheim as Lucy, and Jack Alexander as Edmund. Photo credit Matt Berdahl Photography / Jeremy Stanbary

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, the most famous of C.S. Lewis’ novels is so well loved because it illustrates the Biblical story of Christ’s sacrifice. It also shows what it means to be loyal to your family and friends, to be brave under trying circumstances, and that love wins. The Open Window Theatre in Minneapolis provides a place to experience theatre with your family. They do an excellent job of staging, adding music and sound, and casting their shows. The kids were wonderful in their roles. The White Witch (Mikaela Kurpierz)was stunning and powerful. When Aslan (Peter Simmons) entered, I felt a change in the room, like the king really had arrived. The scene changes were executed smoothly by the woodland creatures, and other cast members, like turning the pages of the book.

The holiday season reminds us that relationships are important. The gift of time and experience is the most precious, and I feel grateful for the day I spent with the Cartwright girls. We left early, enjoyed art and lunch at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, then dinner at Bad Waitress (a favorite), then took in this delightful show. Thank you, Open Window Theatre, for providing a place where families can enjoy theatre together.

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is playing at The Open Window Theatre, Dec. 4-30, 2015. Many of the shows are sold out, so please call ahead to secure tickets.

Jade Grutsch as Unicorn/Wood Nymph, Arnie Roos as Mr. Beaver, Karen Weise-Thompson as Mrs. Beaver, and Peter Simmons as Aslan. "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe" Photo Credit: Matt Berdahl Photography / Jeremy Stanbary

Jade Grutsch as Unicorn/Wood Nymph, Arnie Roos as Mr. Beaver, Karen Weise-Thompson as Mrs. Beaver, and Peter Simmons as Aslan. “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe”
Photo Credit: Matt Berdahl Photography / Jeremy Stanbary

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: What are some ways you make memories with your family during the holidays, and throughout the year?

Review of The Snow Queen at Park Square Theatre in St. Paul, MN

The Snow Queen is a delightful show for the whole family. If your kids are old enough to sit through a two hour production with great songs, humor, and a sweet story, plus one intermission, bring them. Gerda, the female hero, must go on a quest to save her friend Kai. She learns much about herself and the world along the way. This production uses movable set, colorful lighting and projection, shadow puppetry, costuming, and terrific actors who are also the musicians. I went into this show with great expectations, and The Snow Queen exceeded them! Caroline Amos, who plays Gerda, is absolutely fabulous. I wanted to kick off my shoes and be her friend and have adventures, too!

Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen was first published in 1844. The character of the White Witch shows up in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. They say that Disney used some of the ideas from Andersen’s fairy tale in their hit movie Frozen. The similarities are limited to setting, a heart that is frozen, and a helpful reindeer. Michael Peter Smith‘s musical adaptation of Andersen’s tale follows the original story which was told in seven parts. The first part is about the a mirror, a devil, and a curse that is put on the millions of shards of glass that go out into the world, distorting people’s vision of what is good and magnifying the bad and ugly, and freezing their hearts. I read the book before attending the show and was delighted to see that the characters and imagery are portrayed on stage. Characters range from the human children Gerda and Kai, best friends who are like brother and sister, to talking flowers, the North Wind, a sneaky Enchantress, a Robber family, the Snow Queen (of course), and the aforementioned helpful Reindeer, and many more. This performance was directed by Doug Scholz-Carlson and arranged and orchestrated by Denise Prosek. The music is also by Michael Peter Smith. It is billed as a “folk opera,” which, I think, is an excellent description.

Cast of The Snow Queen at Park Square Theatre in St. Paul, MN. Promo photo from Park Square Theatre.

Cast of The Snow Queen at Park Square Theatre in St. Paul, MN. Promo photo from Park Square Theatre.

Visit The Park Square Theatre website for tickets and showtimes. The Snow Queen is playing Nov. 27 – Dec. 27, 2015 at the St. Paul, MN theatre.

To read my full review, please visit my author website, Play off the Page.

Go. Create. Inspire!