Author Archives: Sue Schnell

“Radium Girls” to Light Up the Repertory Theatre

ROCHESTER — In 1926, radium was considered a miracle cure until the girls who painted with it began to fall ill with a mysterious disease.

“Radium Girls” is a drama based on the true story of female laborers who were poisoned and killed by their factory’s radium-based paint. It traces the efforts of Grace Fryer, a luminous watch dial painter, as she fights for her day in court.

As the case goes on, Grace finds herself battling not just with the U.S. Radium Corporation, but with her own family and friends, who fear that her campaign for justice will backfire.

As a result of the Radium Girls efforts, industrial safety standards were demonstrably enhanced for many decades.

Called a “powerful” and “engrossing” drama by critics, “Radium Girls” offers a wry, unflinching look at the American obsessions with health, wealth, and the commercialization of science.

If You Go

What: “Radium Girls”

When: 7:30 p.m. Jan.21-22, Jan. 27-29; 2 p.m. Jan. 23, 30

Where: Rochester Repertory Theatre, 103 Seventh St. NE, Rochester

Cost: $19-23, www.rochesterrep.org/tickets-2/ or call 507-289-1737

By Susan Schnell / Special to the Post Bulletin
January 11, 2022 06:00 AM

IT’S BACK: Rochester Rep Theatre Prepares for Opening Night in New Space

ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) – It’s back — the Rochester Rep Theatre is making its return in its own building.

About three years ago, the theatre purchased its spot on 7th Street NE, but when COVID shut down the world, so did The Rep. Taking advantage the audience’s absence, the theatre remodeled, revamping its front of house, box office and auditorium.

After performing a few shows at the Rochester Civic Theatre while construction wrapped up, The Rep is officially back home and gearing up for its first show in its new space: A Christmas Carol.

“It’s wonderful,” Director Bill Schnell said. “We are grateful for the time we had at the Civic, but mostly we are grateful to get this open again after waves and waves of COVID, to fill the seats again.”

While A Christmas Carol is a familiar show to many theatre goers, Schnell says The Rep’s version is unique, as there are only five actors during the entire show.

“It takes five really talented people, and so we had to choose a good cast,” Schnell said. “….There’s Scrooge played by one actor, and the other four actors play all 20, 30 other characters.”

The show will debut The Rep’s makeover — and welcome guests back after months and months of waiting on Black Friday, Nov. 26.

“I want people to leave and say, gosh, it’s good to be back. That feeling,” Schnell said. “And of course, smiling. That’s what A Christmas Carol is all about, redemption, and to have fun. There’s comedy, music, there’s singing in it. I want them to have the total experience…Plus, this is a show about redemption and celebration. What better show to have when you’re first starting back up where COVID was, and the newness of the theatre.”

A Christmas Carol opens Nov. 26 and runs for three weeks. Show times are Nov. 26, 27, Dec. 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 5 and 12 at 2 p.m. To purchase tickets, click here.

Audience member will be required to wear a mask, vaccinated or not.

–Beret Leone, KTTC, November 13, 2021

Will Laudon: I Found My Community in Community Theater

Will Laudon Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, in Rochester. Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

It was only after I had tried every sport with a youth league in Rochester that my parents decided to enroll me in a theater camp. I was only 6 or 7, but after forcing my parents and five older siblings to attend my makeshift puppet shows in our living room, they thought it would be nice if I could burn off some creative steam with other similarly dramatic children.

Unbeknownst to my parents or even myself at the time, theater would become a lifelong community.

In a classroom of other energetic kids, I felt strangely at home. I quickly grew accustomed to working with others in creating scenes and performing in a large group. It didn’t take long to realize that theater was something I truly enjoyed. Camp after camp, I slowly became more and more drawn to the art.

My “big break” came soon after. When I was 10 years old, a camp director asked if I would be interested in being a lead in a show at the Rochester Repertory Theatre. Me? A lead? Up to that point, I had only done camps with other kids, and now a director had chosen me to perform in an actual theatrical setting. With my parents’ support, I agreed and soon started rehearsals that summer.

I was thrilled. I’d never done anything remotely similar to real, onstage performing with real props and costumes, let alone with adults. And while only in elementary school, I had ended up performing the titular role in “Oliver!” for over a dozen shows over the course of a month.

Unfortunately, my 10-year-old voice was gone for closing night. Despite this small setback, from the experience of that show alone I had determined that theater was something I wanted to continue doing.

With small ensemble roles here and there in a variety of community shows, my parents diligently drove me to hours-long rehearsals in the Minnesota winters. Show after show, performance after performance, I felt at home among local performers on stage.

I continued theater throughout middle school, performing in front of my peers in “Guys and Dolls” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” My parents were enthusiastic about seeing me perform and happily sat through every single one of my performances, camera snapping and all. However, my siblings were known to make monetary deals and pay each other to sit through yet another performance of “Oklahoma!”

Now, as a high schooler, you can still find me on stage singing and acting. More than ever, drama is second nature for me. Theater has become so much more than a hobby; it’s a community.

My best friends and greatest mentors have been made through theater. Acting techniques and learning how to memorize lines aren’t necessarily the most valuable lessons; instead it is teamwork, collaboration, empathy, vulnerability, and compassion. Through theater, I developed my voice and learned who I am. On the stage and under the lights, I’ve found my home.

I’ve been asked plenty of times, “Are you pursuing theater after high school?” Good question. Because theater has shaped me so much, I can’t see myself not doing theater in the future. I realize that I don’t want to perform as a career, but more as a lifelong activity.

For me and so many others, we’ve found our belonging. As live performances return and audiences fill the seats again, support for the arts is needed now more than ever. By supporting local theater communities such as those in Rochester and area schools, you are supporting this sense of belonging that I have been so lucky to find.

–Will Laudon, Post-Bulletin, October 26, 2021 (Will Laudon is a junior at Mayo High School)

Rep’s ‘Evil Dead’ Finally Coming to Life

Isaiah Asplund as Ash in Rochester Repertory Theatre’s production of “Evil Dead the Musical” which opens Oct. 8 at the Rochester Civic Theatre. John Molseed / Post Bulletin

It’s the musical that refuses to die.

Rochester Repertory Theatre’s production of “Evil Dead the Musical” will finally hit the stage Oct. 8 at the Civic Theatre main stage. Two scheduled runs of the comedic horror were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It looks like we’re really doing it this time,” said director Annie Landkammer.

The show has a new cast and makes use of the Civic’s larger theater space than the Rep’s home which is under renovation. Cliché horror tropes are given a send-up as five teens find themselves facing an ancient evil in an empty cabin in the woods. The actors straddle the line between parody and believability.

“The goal is to have the actors, as their characters, not believe they’re being silly,” Landkammer said.

Based off of the movie series, the stage musical version features the same camp humor, over-the-top horror tropes and self-referential Easter eggs as Ash battles demons, zombies (and his own hand) in the secluded woods. The new cast brings youthful energy to the show, Landkammer added.

“Every single one of them — even though they’re new to the Rochester theater scene — has a lot of experience and education,” she said. “It makes my job easier.”

Cast members add a bit of their own humor and twists into their roles and find ways they can push a joke a bit further for extra laughs, Landkammer said.

“The cast really gets into it and adds their own stuff,” she said. “Or we’ll all come up with an idea and they make it work.”

If you’re looking for something creepy and frightening, this show might not be what you need. This production also tones down on the gore the script calls for.

“The show actually calls for a ‘splatter zone,’” Landkammer said. “We’re not doing that — liquids and COVID don’t mix.”

Humor is at the forefront of the show. However, sound and lighting techs have their hands full.

“They’re the ones that bring (the evil) to life,” Landkammer said.

–John Molseed, Post-Bulletin, September 29, 2021

Plot Tightens and Twists in ‘Turn of the Screw’

 

Daria Koon, left, and Chris Kuisle rehearse a scene from Rochester Repertory Theatre’s two-person show “Turn of the Screw” on Thursday, July 22, 2021, in Rochester. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

 

Rochester Repertory Theatre presents a play adapted from a 19th-century horror novel.

Daria Koon was excited to portray the long character arc of the governess in Rochester Repertory Theatre’s “Turn of the Screw.”

“There’s so much to dive into with this character,” she said.

As events unfold in the stage adaptation of Henry James’ “Turn of the Screw,” the audience sees a young governess changed by the events she witnesses.

“In the span of two seconds, I play three characters,” he said.

Each role makes an opposite demand of its actor in the two-person show. Koon and Kuisle said they found their respective challenges equally enticing. After seeing a notice for auditions, Koon read the play script, adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher, then she read the original 19th-century novel. A recent graduate with a BFA in musical theater from Millikin University in Decatur, Ill., Koon said she was excited for the role.

“There’s so much in this story as a young woman in this time period, and how she deals with all the challenges presented to her and how they affect her,” she said.

Kuisle has focused on making distinct characters clear to the audience without making them into caricatures.

“I think and I hope I have been successful in creating believable characters,” he said. “These guys can attest that I would slide in and out of accents and characters in rehearsal at the beginning.”

Director Kami Sim said Kuisle has been successful, but agreed it took time and practice.

“A lot of times at the beginning, I’d say, ‘That was hilarious, don’t do that,’ ” Sim said.

The show follows a young governess who, caring for two children at a remote estate, begins to see apparitions and becomes convinced that the grounds are haunted. The audience, unsure of whether the ghosts are real, is pulled into the suspense, Sim said.

“Two pages into the script, you just want to know what happens next,” she said.

The show is set for performances in the blackbox theater at the Rochester Civic Theatre. The sparse set includes one antique chair and a platform.

“It allows for the audience to fill in those details in their own minds,” Sim said.

A rehearsal for Rochester Repertory Theatre’s two-person show, “Turn of the Screw.” on Thursday, July 22, 2021, in Rochester. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
Chris Kuisle, left, and Daria Koon rehearse a scene from Rochester Repertory Theatre’s two-person show “Turn of the Screw” on Thursday, July 22, 2021, in Rochester. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

–John Molseed, Post-Bulletin, July 26, 2021

“Love Letters” Shows Distance Doesn’t Diminish Connection

Anne Black-Sinak and Larry Sinak read their lines at the first in-person rehearsal for Rochester Repertory Theatre’s “Love Letters” on Tuesday, June 8, 2021, at the black-box theater at Rochester Civic Theater.

Anyone who’s acted in live theater knows the scenario: You’re about to go onstage, everyone is waiting for you, and you don’t know your lines.

It’s a classic actor nightmare.

Two experienced actors are preparing for a show that will make that anxiety dream a reality.

Rochester Repertory Theatre is resuming live performances with “Love Letters,” featuring veteran stage actors Anne Black-Sinak and Larry Sinak. The show opens Friday, June 11, and neither actor is expected to have the script memorized. And neither is a bit worried about it.

They’ll have “scripts” in front of them — the letters their characters exchange over decades of friendship and, later, more than friendship.

The play’s author, A.R. Gurney, specifically instructs directors not to have the actors memorize their lines. The “lines” are letters that begin as a series of thank-you notes after a birthday party where the characters met. Later, they exchange summer camp postcards, and then continue the correspondence through school into adulthood.

Because the actors are married, they aren’t required to maintain a distance under COVID-19 safety protocols, which helped make the show a contender for director Mary Pyfferoen. However, she said her choice was motivated by more than logistics. Pyfferoen wants people to consider their relationships after a year of distancing, she said.

“Part of what drew me to this show was how a relationship can keep going and growing no matter the distance, the time, or isolation,” she said. “I think as we’re coming out of all this isolation, it’s important to start thinking about our own connections and realize that it’s not too late to reach out.”

Pyfferoen said not memorizing the lines can evoke a more honest emotional response to the letters’ contents.

“You want to get to the feeling without going over the top or trying to force it,” she said.

The show will be performed at the Rochester Civic Theater Black Box space. The Repertory Theatre’s building is still under renovations, and its theater space doesn’t have the room to accommodate COVID distancing guidelines.

The show includes no blocking or stage directions. Subtle lighting changes help enhance or reflect the mood of the letters. With the show opening Friday, the director, stage manager and lighting technician met Tuesday for the first in-person rehearsal.

Pyfferoen said she isn’t worried. “I trust (Sinak and Black-Sinak) implicitly,” she said.

Larry Sinak reads a “letter” at the first in-person rehearsal for Rochester Repertory Theatre’s “Love Letters” on Tuesday, June 8, 2021, at the black-box theater at Rochester Civic Theater.
Anne Black-Sinak reads a “letter” at the first in-person rehearsal for Rochester Repertory Theatre’s “Love Letters” June 8, 2021 at the black box theater at Rochester Civic Theater.

–John Molseed, Post-Bulletin, June 9, 2021