A Step Back: David Hennessey on Partial Retirement

By David Hennessey

David Hennessey

In 1998, I drove down Route 8 from Fountain for the first time and saw Lanesboro nestled below the bluffs like a picture post card.  It was magical. Little did I know I’d spend more than two wonderful decades here at the Commonweal.  My artistic journey continues, but now at a slower pace.

I will partially retire in 2020, cutting my hours to one-third time.  I’ll continue acting when there are suitable roles and will work as needed with our development team, but Jeremy van Meter will be the principal contact for the MDC. Meanwhile, I’ll keep handling advertising sales in our season program. 

In short, I will take a step back, but I am definitely not stepping away.

David Hennessey and Eric Lee share the mic in It's a Wonderful Life - A Live Radio Play
David as Clarence in It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play

How could I? The Commonweal has been the perfect artistic home for me. I love working with a resident ensemble of both seasoned artists and new apprentices. We all learn from each other and have a chance to assess our artistic growth annually with Hal and Adrienne. Those assessments shape the roles we’re assigned, and I’ve been lucky to play more than 50 — from likable characters such as Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life to despicable liars like Bob Ewell in To Kill a Mockingbird, plus appearances in world premieres by Jeffrey Hatcher and Scott Dixon (#teamscotty). As with everyone here, I’ve also had many behind-the-scenes roles over the years including costume shop manager, Elderhostel organizer, student matinee scheduler, underwriter recruiter, company calendar manager, writer, editor and audio description trainer.

Along the way I’ve collected meaningful memories both off and on stage. Once, a couple who had just lost half their income told me they decided to keep season passes in their reduced household budget. They had just seen The 1940s Radio Hour, and it had lifted their spirits, reminding them why our work was crucial.

Apprentice Diana Jurand performs with David Hennessey
David in the 2013-2014 Apprentice Capstone Tigers Be Still

And when Phillip Muehe, then a directing apprentice, asked me to join the apprentice cast of Tigers Be Still, I accepted, even though it added to my heavy stage schedule of four other shows that year. When the first-night audience leapt to their feet at the end of the show, I felt like I was in a credit card commercial.

Extra rehearsal hours: 50. Added gray hairs from lack of sleep: 32. The smiles from my young colleagues after an opening-night standing ovation: Priceless!

Hey, I can’t possibly step completely away from memories like those. So I’ll see you all next year . . . sometime! 🙂

Thanks for all you’ve done for us David! We’re so glad we still get to have you around in 2020. Trust us, there will be plenty to do! See you all in the New Year!


2020 Passions: “A Christmas Carol”

By Philip Muehe

It’s hard to believe, but our 2019 Season is almost over! From a twisting mystery, to tropical islands, to a small church on Christmas Eve, this season truly has had something for everyone. Thank you all so much for being a part of it!

As we now look to the future, we are incredibly excited about our 2020 Season! Our 32nd Season is equally exciting and will offer just as many unique and moving experiences for our patrons. Over the next few entries of this blog, we will hear from people who are passionate about each show, and what they look forward to it brining our patrons.

Philip and Adrienne prepare for her role as Scrooge
Director Philip Muehe, and Scrooge herself Adrienne Sweeney practice their best “Bah, Humbug!”

While right now our stage is filled with toe-tapping bluegrass music provided by a triple-threat cast in Sanders Family Christmas, next season we will journey across the pond to Victorian London. This time next year, we will have opened our version of Charles Dickens’s classic A Christmas Carol. I will be fortunate enough to direct this incredible piece. It’s my favorite Christmas story – and I couldn’t be more excited!

While our unique adaptation has been done here before, next season will provide an entirely different experience. Associate Artistic Director Adrienne Sweeney will sit behind the miser’s desk. That’s right, a female scrooge! And not a “pants role” (A woman playing a man), Scrooge will be entirely female. Adrienne has been introducing us to so many wonderful people through her nuanced, focused, and powerful performances. I’ve admired her work since I first saw it when I was in high school, and since then we’ve become co-workers and good friends. So getting to share this journey with her is another huge plus!

Sally Nystuen Vahle as Scrooge photo by Karen Almond
Sally Nystuen Vahle as Scrooge (Photo By Karen Almond)

Why would the Commonweal want to do this? Why Not?! The lessons of A Christmas Carol, don’t just apply to men. It is a universal story for all humanity. So it would make sense, that in turn, we would feature a woman to help communicate its themes. Both Adrienne and I were inspired by Dallas Theatre Center’s recent production, featuring Sally Nystuen Vahle as Scrooge. The production was a huge success, and audiences were moved. That’s the thing about A Christmas Carol – we’ve all seen it, or have had some experience with it. However, by providing a new angle, you will see the piece in a whole new way, and hopefully get something new out of the familiar.

I am so excited for you to see this adaptation, and I hope you’re excited too. Keep an eye out for more information on A Christmas Carol, and the rest of the shows in our 2020 lineup. But before that, be sure to catch Sanders Family Christmas, now playing until December 22nd! We’ll see you at the Commonweal!

A Commonweal Farewell

By Eric Lee

Eric Lee
Eric Lee

To everyone of you who makes the Commonweal what it is, it’s time for me to share some news: Sanders Family Christmas is going to be my last performance as a Resident Ensemble Member.  My time here has been wonderful, and my life has been enriched by every one of you.

Five years ago, I was fresh from a year in LA. I was unsure of myself, and whether I wanted to even continue acting. I initially landed in Decorah and appreciated the beauty of the Driftless region, having grown up visiting. 

Jacob Marley (Eric Lee) tells Scrooge (Ben Gorman) his fate
Eric As Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol

Shortly into my acting “retirement”, I became restless, and remembered that my aunt and uncle had taken me to a professional theatre in the area when I was in high school. I decided to submit my materials and Hal Cropp called me up, and soon he was in Decorah and auditioned me. Within a couple of weeks, I would step on the Commonweal stage for my first time, in Arsenic and Old Lace.  

I appeared the next year in The Three Musketeers, and then was thrilled to be invited to join the Resident Ensemble for the 2016 season. Onstage, I’ve had so many incredible opportunities. From Megan Pence’s wonderful telling of A Christmas Carol, the gorgeous Silent Sky, and of course the great fun of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Commonweal professional resident ensemble member Eric Lee in the role of Peter Shaw in Silent Sky
Eric As Peter Shaw in Silent Sky

This year has provided one great opportunity after another, starting with the mysterious Holmes and Watson and ending here with the lovely Sanders Family Christmas. And Jeremy van Meter and I have had quite the season together – having been adversaries, comical lovers, and now brothers! 

Offstage, whether working on our marketing team, or just being out and about, I have forged so many relationships that I will deeply value. From serving with the Lanesboro Business Promotion Group, working with other folks in the area to get out the good word of Lanesboro, to having the honor of being the word pronouncer for the elementary school spelling bee, I have enjoyed my time in Lanesboro so much.  

What’s next for me? Well, I’m moving to the Twin Cities. I don’t know just what that will hold, but I do enjoy new opportunities. I am so very fortunate that I had the chance to develop professional relationships there while being at the Commonweal. As I venture once again into the unknown and unpredictable, please know that I am grateful for everyone of you that has made my time here so very special, and who contribute to making Lanesboro and the Commonweal such remarkable places. I’ll see you all soon!

Thanks for everything Eric, we all will miss you. Don’t miss Eric’s swan song in Sanders Family Christmas. For Tickets —> Performance Calendar