The Professional Theatre Makers of Tomorrow

The Commonweal Theatre currently has much to celebrate. The 2018 season is the company’s 30th and the current apprentice class…now company…is the 10th of its kind. Just think, approximately 40 young theatre artists committed to the Commonweal and enriched Lanesboro as a community on their way to becoming the next generation of theatre-makers. Where are some of those young artists now? Where are the current crop of artists going when they leave us in April? Well, we just happen to have answers to those questions.
Sarah Hawkins on stage

Sarah Hawkins on stage

Gary Danciu: Gary was a member of the 2010-11 Commonweal apprentice class and then remained in residence with the company through the 2016 season. Gary is now living and working as a freelance actor in Minneapolis and is currently in the cast of Hamlet with Wayward Theatre Co. The element of the Commonweal apprentice program that Gary appreciated the most were the “extensive performance opportunities onstage” and forging many great relationships that he continues to enjoy today.

Sarah Hawkins Moan: Sarah is a graduate of Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN and came to the Commonweal apprentice program in 2008-09. Within a few years following her apprenticeship, Sarah went on to Masters Degree work in acting at Wright State University in Detroit. Sarah still calls Detroit home and is currently teaching theatre on the college level along with being a freelance actor and director. From her time at the Commonweal as an apprentice, she was able to “beef up” her non-profit resume while learning the unique challenges of operating a small, professional theatre company.

Tim Sailer

Tim Sailer: Tim was a part of the 2009-10 “boy band” apprentice company when the team was made up of all men! Tim has been a consistent member of the company of artists at The American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, VA. While being in residence with the Commonweal, Tim loved seeing how the theatre “becomes a touchstone for a community of people–both the locals and the tourists.” It made him realize “how important it is for smaller, rural communities to have regular access high-quality, professional art.”

Mike Swan: Mike spent 2013-14 as an apprentice and remained with the company as an ensemble member through the 2014 season. Mike is now a tour manager for the National Theatre for Children and freelances as an actor in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. The thing Mike values the most from his apprenticeship is the capstone project. At the end of their tenure, the group chooses a play to fully produce on their own which “caps” their time with the company. “Having the opportunity to produce a show of our choice from the ground up,” says Mike, “was very unique. That process was one of the most valuable and rewarding educational experiences I’ve ever had.”

Ana Hagedorn: Ana was in the 2012-13 apprentice class and stayed on with the company in residence through mid-season of 2015. Ana is an M.F.A. candidate at SMU in Dallas, TX, and is set to graduate this spring with that degree. The reason she chose to apply for the program is her belief that the best way to learn about acting is to have strong mentors and an artistic home where you are given support to do the work. “We learn acting by doing,” she said, “and being part of the Commonweal Theatre, I learned from a group of artists that supported me and allowed me to grow.”

Daniel Stock on stage

Daniel Stock on stage

Daniel Stock: Daniel came to the theatre as an apprentice in 2010-11. Upon completing his apprenticeship, Daniel joined the resident ensemble, ultimately becoming the box office manager and creating many memorable roles as an actor onstage…there’s no forgetting his King of Bohemia in Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure. Currently, Daniel is finishing up his graduate degree work from the University of Georgia with a residency at Milwaukee Repertory Theatre. What made the program most valuable for Daniel: “getting to work on different skill sets such as dramaturgy, prop design, sound design, etc., in a safe and supported professional environment was also very rewarding.”

Where Are They Going?

Amanda Pyfferoen: Amanda is a current apprentice and is now in the director’s chair for Salt-Water Moon, the 2017-18 capstone. She is currently applying for internships with larger theatre companies to gain an even more intensive focus of study as a director.

Patrick Vaughn: Also a member of the current class, Patrick is one of two actors featured in Salt-Water Moon and will travel overseas for a six-week summer intensive workshop with the Moscow Art Theatre.

There ya have it! That’s just a handful of updated information but, rest assured, the influence of the Commonweal as a company and as a community spreads far and wide across the nation. And our commitment to the young theatre artists of the world remains as strong in its 10th year as it did in its first.
Tickets are now on sale for the 10th Apprentice Company Capstone Production Salt Water-Moon! Purchase yours today by clicking RIGHT HERE.
See you at the theatre…Jeremy.

Auditions, aka Actor Job Interviews

by Jeremy van Meter

When I lived and worked as an actor in Chicago, I was quite familiar with the concept of “auditioning” for a role. In fact, it became a weekly practice and I do think that I came to be good at it. I am now in my 7th season at the Commonweal where those of us in the ensemble do not audition for the roles we play. It’s been seven years since my last audition and, oddly enough, I miss it. And for the past two years, I have found myself on the other side of the auditioning process by joining Commonweal Executive Director Hal Cropp at actor auditions at Park Square Theatre in St. Paul, MN and the much larger national general auditions for actors, dancers and singers at Playhouse on the Square in Memphis, TN.

Playhouse on the Square

Playhouse on the Square

These “cattle-call” general auditions can be daunting prospects. At the Park Square auditions, actors are granted two minutes to present two theatrical monologues of contrasting nature. At the Memphis auditions, otherwise known as the Unified Professional Theatre Auditions, actors have 90 seconds to present both a monologue and 16 bars from a musical theatre piece. That’s right, it’s basically a 90-second job interview amongst stiff competition. With Memphis and St. Paul combined for a total of eight days, Hal and I saw over 950 artists of all ages audition for theatre work.

Apprentice Capstone - Salt-Water Moon by David French

2017-18 Apprentice Actors Megan Hanks and                                      Patrick Vaughn

You may ask yourself, “The Commonweal has a resident ensemble of actors, why in the world would Hal and Jeremy sit through all those auditions?” It is at those general auditions that we “fill out” the rest of the company for the season. Our apprentice class of young actors, now in its 11th year, is pulled from those auditions. Any “seasonal” actors that we hire for one or two productions a year are artists that we have seen at those auditions. It is an extremely grueling and exhausting task, especially in Memphis, but it is also exhilarating to see how much talent is out there and how many people are choosing to follow a life in the arts.

And so even as our current company of apprentice artists is busy creating the world of Salt-Water Moon, their own capstone project, the artistic staff at the Commonweal are making offers to the next group of young theatre-makers who we hope will join us to play with us onstage and to learn all that it takes to operate a small professional theatre company. They are the future and all of them got their jobs in 90 seconds!

See you at the theatre!

An Auspicious Change of Plans

If you are not aware, the plans for our apprentice company capstone production for 2017 changed quite rapidly at the end of last season. Suddenly, rather than having two young actors in the program preparing to mount their production of choice, there was one actor forced into an extremely difficult decision. Lewis Youngren rose above many challenges and is now reaping the benefits of his efforts in his run of I Am My Own Wife at the Commonweal. For this edition of Drama Unfolds, Lewis has provided his thoughts about, reactions to and thanks for the last three months. 

An Auspicious Change of Plans

Lewis Youngren in I Am My Own Wife

Lewis Youngren in I Am My Own Wife

This experience of choosing, producing, and performing in a one-person show has been an extraordinary milestone in my life as an actor and human being, alike. To be able to, night after night, tell a story as remarkable and astounding as I Am My Own Wife is a privilege; an honor.

This journey, like most (or at least the ones most worth taking), has not been without its own set of challenges. The biggest of those challenges was probably the sudden change of plans. Going from doing a two-person show to a one-person show was a very intimidating hurdle to jump. All of a sudden, my workload doubled in size. Thankfully, I had a team of wonderful collaborators who held me up and worked together with me to divide and conquer the massive to-do list. Choosing a new show was a little nerve-racking, but it also turned out to be a lot of fun. I read a lot of scripts that I otherwise may not have. I feel that your repertoire can never be big enough, so if nothing else, it was a small victory to add some new material to my collection. However, nothing was standing out to me as the “right choice.” A lot of the scripts I read were comedies, and don’t get me wrong, I love to laugh and bring joy to people but a comedy wasn’t the kind of story I wanted to tell. My feelings were rooted in something deeper, something poignant, something raw. That was when I remembered a title I had come across in undergrad, I Am My Own Wife—the title was about the extent of my knowledge with it. So I read it. Before I hit the end of Act I, I had been through almost the entire spectrum of emotions. I had laughed, I had cried, I had gasped and I had scowled. Needless to say, I was exhausted just reading it.

I Am My Own Wife by Doug WrightThis script, this story and this person stirred something in me; something I hadn’t felt with the other plays. Not only did I immediately connect to the story, but I felt that people needed to hear this story right now. Here. This specific moment. Today. You. Us. Them. In this world. In our town. In the surrounding towns. THIS is the story I wanted to tell.  That’s pretty much when my decision was made. I am happy to say, with confidence, that it was the right one.

Another challenging, but the most rewarding and impactful part of this process, has been creating this entire world of characters. From Charlotte, to Tante Luise, to Ziggy Fluß, to the Stasi Agent, I have found a little piece of myself in each of the 35 characters who inhabit the play. These characters aren’t like other characters you meet from other stories. These characters existed. They were real people. They had histories. Of course, the job of the actor is still to create and portray the character, but there has to be, in my opinion, a deeper level of honesty and reality present when portraying a historical character. Lewis Youngren rehearsing I Am My Own WifeThat way, the person doesn’t become completely lost in the interpretation, but the actor also gets the freedom to craft them into something unique; into something they want them to be. Doing this 35 times seemed impossible, especially with the timeline we were working with. Lucky for me, I had Amanda Pyfferoen (dramaturg/stage manager) and Philip Muehe (director) in the rehearsal room with me. Whenever I had a specific historical question or came to a creative road block, they were right there with the knowledge and spark of creativity that the situation needed.

I am extremely grateful and humbled by this entire experience. Thank you to everyone who has turned this dream into a reality. I cannot express in words how much you all mean to me. Your time, efforts, talents, and determination are evident through this beautiful piece of theatre we have crafted together. Thank you to the people who have come to witness this story and those who have yet to attend this weekend. Your love, support, and willingness to join as an integral part of this live performance is admirable and greatly appreciated.

This has been a wild ride. I’m not ready to say goodbye to this one yet, but all things, good or bad, must come to an end. Thank you for allowing me to share this story and for being a part of this incredible journey. I leave you with the words of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf…

“You must save everything. And you must show it—auf Englisch we say— ‘as is’. It is a record, ja? Of living. Of lives.”

As of March 30, there are four performances remaining in the run of I Am My Own Wife. Ticket reservations are recommended and may be made by calling 800-657-7025 or online by clicking here