A Milestone Season of Professional Live Theatre

30th Season Milestones

by David Hennessey

Scott and Stela read Love Letters to start
A notable year. Then others joined hearts
’Neath Salt-Water Moon.
Thereafter, we soon
Met three unsung women who learned to chart

Faraway stars: staring up at the night
We bathed, awestruck, in swirling points of light!
A fun change of pace
Brought the cut-throat chase
Of kids seeking spelling trophies. The sight,

In Clean House, of messes we can’t control—
Including sickness that will not let go—
Taught us gently how
To live in the now.
After years of writing, with heart and soul,

His masterful Dracula, Scotty thrilled
As we staged it with full suspense and chills.
Standing ovations,
Public sensation!
He basked in the glow of visions fulfilled.

When the day finally came he had to leave,
We celebrated him more than we grieved.
We dedicated
Our last show slated
To A Wonderful Life the heavens retrieved.

That Dracula script? It’s now winging high
In our lobby, soaring to Silent Sky.

Click any image below to view the full photo.

And what a season it has been! Your love and support have guided this company to the end of our 30th year producing professional live theatre in Lanesboro. This year, we logged a record number of season pass holders, welcomed well over 1,500 first time patrons, surpassed our fall donation campaign efforts and saw more than 21,000 people walk through the doors and take a seat in the theatre. On that strength and with renewed spirit and energy, we forge ahead to 2019 and our 31st season. Thank you for a fabulous year — if you like us, talk about us and we look forward to sharing more compelling stories with you next year. 

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you at the theatre—Jeremy. 

The Puzzle that is Scenic Design

When Scenic Design Becomes a Puzzle

by Justin Hooper

The Clean House set 2018
The set of The Clean House designed and built by Justin Hooper

Okay, here’s a little fact that I have never before admitted—I don’t consider myself to be a much of an artist. Most scenic designers that I know grew up sketching and painting. In school, they excelled in classes related to the arts. They are the individuals who utilize the artistic right side of the brain. I have always desired to be one of these people. I am not one of these people. I’m just really good at faking it.

I’m a math guy. I like numbers. They are concrete. Understandable. And I LOVE puzzles. When I read a new script. I look at it as a puzzle. There are a lot of factors that must be considered in order to create a successful scenic design and I find it easiest to begin by stripping them down to their simpler, more understandable numerical form. How many doorways are referenced in the script? How many windows? At most, how many people will need to be sitting on furniture at any given time? I create a sort of equation of all the items necessary to allow for the written action of the play. Over the years, I have gotten pretty good at finessing this equation. Distance between doorways, for example, can sometimes be very important, especially within a farce. If specific comedic timing is required for a character to enter, take a certain amount of steps while speaking a line in a particular rhythm, and then exit through a different doorway, this information must be taken into account. I often have to try walking these traffic patterns out myself, script in hand, in order to be comfortable enough to propose the spacing to a director. The flies on the wall in my scenic studio get a unique one-man show each time I find myself designing a farce. (Please come see Commonweal’s upcoming production of Boeing Boeing to see if I get the math right!)

The set of Dracula Prince of Blood designed and built by Justin Hooper
The set of Dracula Prince of Blood designed and built by Justin Hooper

Only when I have an idea of what the play requires structurally do I begin to take the “art” of the show into account. This is where I really begin faking it.  I am fortunate enough to have perfectly timed the beginning of my design career to the beginning of the accessible internet. A little trade secret—if you are creating a design for It’s a Wonderful Life, Radio Play, for example, it is quite simple to google “Art Deco, New York, Radio Station” and pick architectural details which you find personally appealing and easy enough to build within your scheduling and budgetary restrictions. I try my best to link many of the artistic decisions I make to subtext within the script (create little Easter eggs, if you will) but I will certainly admit that I often end up merely proposing things that I think would be personally rewarding for me to build. After all, I like building things. I’m a math guy. 

At this point, I meet with the director and try my best to use artistic terminology to describe my choices. He or she then volleys back a myriad of questions and suggestions and I return to the drawing board to rework my equation. This may sound like a negative aspect of my job—I assume that people who don’t work in an artistic field would loathe a situation in which they had just completed multiple days of work only to have their boss hand their work back to them with another several days’ worth of edits—but this is actually the part of the job that I appreciate most. It is this part that allows a left-brained math-loving guy like me to fulfill his artistic dreams. 

It's a Wonderful Life A Live Radio Play set at the start of the show
It’s a Wonderful Life set at the start of the show

Theatre is a collaborative art. Dozens of people work together to create the final product of the show itself. A scenic design is not a stand-alone art piece. It is a vehicle used to supplement the story of a play and it’s desired effect; whether that be to move an audience to tears, provoke deep thought on a subject, or to simply give them a fun night out on the town. On any given project, I find it best to use my fellow artists as a crutch; a sounding-board for my artistic ideas. I then try my best to incorporate their suggestions. I am humble enough to understand that I don’t always know what is best for the art of the show. The best collaborators are the ones who listen to criticism and adapt. The goal is to create a final product that is cohesive and everyone on the team can be proud of. In my experience, the audience usually agrees.

Justin expertly designed the last three productions of the 2018 season and will be back for more in 2019. We enjoy Justin’s work quite a bit around the CWL and hope that you all do, too. 

To see Justin’s current work on the CWL stage, get your tickets today for 
It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play playing through December 22. 

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you at the

Divine Intervention On the Air

A Supernatural Redemption

by Philip Muehe

In the selection process for directors of productions for this year, Commonweal Executive Director Hal Cropp asked me to undertake a daunting task: a radio play version of one of the most beloved and famous Christmas movies of all time—It’s a Wonderful Life. There was no doubt in my mind that the Commonweal would gather immense talent for both on and offstage roles. However, conveying this story without making a carbon copy of the film was a trepidation I had from the start.

I spoke about these concerns to fellow company member Brandt Roberts late in 2017, as I was just starting to gather my initial thoughts. At the time, I didn’t know he would end up being in the production, but he is a resident expert on all things from days gone by, especially entertainment. He mentioned how radio storytelling is essentially a dead or dying art form. It’s not something we get exposed to very often. I couldn’t help but feel a pull to my own personal favorite Christmas story, A Christmas Carol. That’s when it all clicked…ghosts. The supernatural. Divine intervention. Mere humans have always been guided throughout the ages by spirits from beyond and the idea of extending that to It’s A Wonderful Life made perfect sense. Our modern-day George (in this adaptation named Jake) would stumble into an abandoned radio station, clearly at the end of his own rope much like George is in the story. The spirits of the building then bring the station back to life where they invite him to do this play with them. Through the redemption of George Bailey, the character he is reading, Jake himself is redeemed.

My major concern with the radio play aspect was that it removed most of the stakes from the story. If the action taking place wasn’t really happening, it becomes passive. It becomes actors reciting famous lines behind microphones with sound effects. And while that carries a certain charm of its own, I didn’t want the Commonweal experience to be a passive one. I wanted this story right in the laps of the audience; to be lived fully onstage and have real consequences for the characters involved. The concept we came up with bookends the show really well, and provides an “in” for fans of the film on all levels.

Of course, once I brought this into the rehearsal room the cast helped shape it into something better than I imagined. It wasn’t always easy, but to me directing has always been about discovering things together. No one has all the answers but I do believe that as creators, finding those answers is simpler when tackled as a team. I’m thankful for this amazing group of artists who trusted me, and for our audiences who are embracing this version so warmly.

It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play is now playing through December 22. 
GET TICKETS —> Performance Calendar

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you at the theatre—Jeremy.