Ruthanna Emrys is an author based in Washington, DC. Ms. Emrys recently had an opinion piece circulate through National Public Radio about how reading horror stories can actually help us to survive and make sense of our own horrifying world. We are all about the power and value of a good horror story right now at the Commonweal as Scott Dixon’s new adaptation of Dracula: Prince of Blood makes its way to the stage later this month. The timing of this article could not be better because, honestly, who doesn’t appreciate a good tale of things that go bump in the night?!
Reading Horror Can Arm Us
Against A Horrifying World
by Ruthanna Emrys
Jeremy van Meter as the Vampire Lord in Dracula: Prince of Blood
Tom Lehrer famously said that satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize. And yet here we are, still struggling to exaggerate the follies of power until power can’t get around us. Horror has much the same resilience. As terrifying as the world becomes, we still turn to imagined terrors to try and make sense of it. To quote another favorite entertainer, Neil Gaiman, “Fairy tales are more than true: Not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” Horror, descended from those tales, tells us about more monsters — and more strategies for beating them.
The banal evils of the world — children shot, neighbors exiled, selves reframed in an instant as inhuman threats — these are horrible, but they aren’t horror. Horror promises that the plot arc will fall after it rises. Horror spins everyday evil to show its fantastical face, literalizing its corroded heart into something more dramatic, something easier to imagine facing down. Horror helps us name the original sins out of which horrible things are born.
In this edition of Drama Unfolds, we learn more about Colleen Barrett. Colleen is an actress living and working in Minneapolis/St. Paul but graciously accepted our invitation to “drive south” to join the cast of The Clean House in the role of Ana. We are thrilled to have her as a guest/seasonal actress this year and sure hope you get the chance to meet her and see her gorgeous work on stage.
A Most Important Part of our Theatre Company
by Colleen Barrett
Describe yourself in a sentence.
—A work in progress.
Where is your hometown?
—I was born in Seattle, WA. Lived in Des Moines, WA, St. Paul, MN, New York City, Milwaukee and Saigon, South Vietnam. My parents emigrated to America in the early 1950’s. I hold dual American/Irish citizenship.
From your short time as a guest actor at the Commonweal, what have you learned about the company?
—Passionate, engaged and dedicated people who excel at whatever they put their hearts and minds to.
Where do you live when not in Lanesboro?
—I commute back to a suburb of Minneapolis.
What is the best part about that place?
—We don’t have any airplane noise and there are tiny bright green frogs that attach themselves to the glass windows at night in summer.
As a child, did you have dreams of what you wanted to be when you grew up? What were those dreams?
—No. I didn’t dream. We had a tough time and we were very poor. I started working to help my family in 5th grade. Seven of us lived in a two-bedroom apartment and my Mom babysat two other little boys Monday to Friday 7am to 5pm on top of her five kids. Dad worked as a mechanic for Northwest Airlines on swing shift. We had a lot of serious challenges when I was growing up. I was supposed to go work in a civil servant job – but I always knew I didn’t belong there. I’m too quirky.
Do you recall the moment or set of circumstances that led you to the stage?
—Sr. Raphaella cast me as the Mother in the play Cheaper by the Dozen in 8th grade at St. Philomena’s Grade School in Des Moines, WA. She didn’t audition us, she just assigned us our parts. I was very quiet and shy. When I came on stage in the school cafeteria for the first performance I felt completely at home.
Tell us something about you that might be surprising.
—I’ve worked tons of jobs. Kitchen assistant in a retirement home; burger stand; record shop; chairlift operator near Mt. Rainer; janitor; follow spot operator; manager of a high-end women’s clothing store in NYC; assistant buyer on 7th Ave in NYC; studied dance in NYC for 5 years; terrible waitress; dresser for the Men’s Chorus on Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables at the Ordway; a slimer on a fish processing boat in Alaska; flight attendant for 2 regional airlines; over 20 years experience as an on-camera talent and voice actor in the midwest.
You love theatre. Why?
—The professional theatre world called me and I knew that I loved acting with a passion but didn’t know how to pursue it. There wasn’t a clear pathway when I was growing up. I just kept stumbling along trying to learn what I could and to study with people I respected.
Why did you take the role of Ana in The Clean House?
—I knew and respected The Commonweal Theatre’s work. Many actors I admire have worked for the company. I have also had the good fortune to work with Adrienne Sweeney in the past and jumped at the chance to work with her again.
I found Sara Ruhl’s writing a river of inspiration about the complexities of love, memory, time, parents, children, husbands and wives, lovers of any age, siblings, myth and “things that come in unannounced.” How could I say no to two beautiful roles? I get to play two women who are so very different from me and are passionate and romantic! I am a “mature” actress and who knows if I will ever be offered the chance to play those kinds of roles again!
I’ve lived long enough to know that when the Fates offer me a gift… I’d be foolish to say no.
Seeing Colleen take the stage in The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl is just one of the many things to do in Lanesboro. Hungry for another idea? Go for a hike, tackle the high ropes course or simply get back to nature on the beautiful grounds of Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center.
This season is one full of farewells. This week we at the Commonweal we prepare to say goodbye to Megan Pence as she moves to Tallahassee, Florida to become a Seminole and begin work on her Master of Fine Arts Degree in Directing. Words cannot express what Megan has meant to this company nor how proud we are of her and happy we are for her. In this edition of Drama Unfolds, Megan reflects on what she will miss the most about life at the Commonweal—friendships.
A Friendship Built to Last
by Megan K. Pence
When I first came to the Commonweal as a Directing Apprentice back in 2011, I imagined that I was going to come to Lanesboro, do some stage managing and assistant-directing work, direct the apprentice capstone project and be on my merry way. Never have I ever been so glad to be so wrong.
The Commonweal—between its ensemble of incredibly talented artists and its beautiful community of patrons—have taught me so much over the past seven years. I have never experienced a professional theatre company where the artists would not only interact with their patrons but would create deep, lasting relationships with the people who see their shows. And now as I prepare to leave, that synergy of artist and audience, those relationships—friendships, really—are among the things I will miss the most.
And speaking of friendships, I cannot begin to say how much this ensemble has taught me, about my art and about myself. I am a very different artist and person than when I first arrived, and the gift of growth that the Commonweal has given me is immeasurable.
Since I am much better with other’s words than my own, I will leave you with these from Woody Guthrie from Woody Guthrie’s American Song (one of my favorite shows here!):
I have heard a storm of words in me. But I know these words are not my own private property. I
borrowed them from you, the people that I owe. I borrowed words from you same as I walk
through the high winds and borrowed enough air to keep me moving. I borrowed my life from the
works of your lives. Your works and my works hold hands, and our memories never will separate.”
With love and gratitude for being a part of my story.
Afar, but not apart,
Megan’s legacy lives on with the run of her directorial swansong, The Clean House, running in rep with The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee through September 24th, and then with Dracula: Prince of Blood through October 22.