It is not often that we within the Commonweal Theatre Company publicly “toot our own horn.” We are happy, for the most part, to let the quality of our work speak for us. Today is not that day. Today we have officially announced that the Commonweal is the recipient of the 2017 Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and Propel Nonprofits Award for Excellence. Woo-Hoo, indeed!
Presented each year since 1987, the Mission and Excellence Awards recognize and honor the contributions of Minnesota nonprofits in the areas of Innovation, Advocacy, Anti-Racism, Responsive Philanthropy and Excellence (for large and small organizations). All nominees met a rigorous standard of evaluation in a wide range of areas, including board governance, financial management, civic engagement and, of course, artistic excellence. The Commonweal is the winner of the award in the category of small organizations and is, in fact, the first professional theatre in the history of the awards to ever receive that distinction from the council. As we sit on the cusp of a 30th birthday in 2018, this award comes at a very appropriate time in the life of the theatre and reaffirms our mission of providing live, professional theatre of the highest quality possible and to enrich the common good while doing so.
Commonweal Executive Director, along with Development Director Scott Dixon and members of the Commonweal Board of Directors will accept the award this Friday night, October 13 as part of MCN’s Annual Conference at the RiverCentre in St. Paul. In speaking with Hal about the award he said, “We are deeply honored to receive this award which recognizes not only the fine work that the professional artists of the Commonweal have put onstage for nearly 30 years but also the administrative excellence that the company has brought to serving our mission.”
The award comes with a modest cash prize, a one-of-a-kind glass sculpture and a professionally produced video highlighting the company, who we are and what we do best. This video is ours to use as we see fit in the promotion of the company and the ideals to which we strive. As with all accolades that we receive, we are fully aware that we could not do what we do without the support and love of the people who join us for performances and quickly become a part of the “family.” We share this award with you and look forward to celebrating with each and every one of you in the coming months and years as the fruits of this award ripen.
Ghost-Writer: A Rare Experience in the Hurly Burly of 2017
by Michael Bigelow Dixon, director of Ghost-Writer
We live in amplified times: the endless 24/7 news cycle, the infinity of social media, even Mother Nature is increasing her volume to 11. Exhausting, yes, but within this avalanche of events and commentary are voices of the people caught up in political intrigues, social justice movements, and humanitarian efforts—and their actions provide the defining stories of our age … or so it would seem.
There is another kind of story, though, that focuses on the internal life of people who find themselves grappling with questions of meaning, relationships, and actions that can’t be reduced to a headline or meme. Their struggles are filled with ambiguity, complexity, and mystery, and their stories are necessary for our times as well, because real progress results not from amplification—who can shout louder than anyone else—but from introspection, reflection and honest self-assessment that leads to actions consistent with values.
Michael Hollinger’s Ghost-Writer offers this second kind of story. Our protagonist, Myra Babbage, must come to terms with her creative powers as she completes a novel supposedly authored by a deceased novelist. Set in 1919, a year before women won the right to vote in the United States, Myra’s struggle embodies the politics of her time. Her personal crisis regarding creative agency is further complicated by love, loyalty, and a deep dedication to the art form of writing. As one might expect of a play in which a writer works in a room alone—along with ghosts and memories that inhabit the space—this is a quiet play, and the action of explaining her strange circumstance leads to her final breakthrough—or is it breakdown—or both?
Ghost-Writer celebrates the importance of a thoughtful inner life and the quiet that’s required to reflect and then move forward. Such an experience seems all too rare—and therefore all the more valuable—in the hurly-burly of life in 2017.
Before I moved to Minnesota to join the Commonweal company of artists, I was a free-lance actor in Chicago. I was blessed to be onstage many times with many different companies in my 9+ years there. One of the productions that I was cast in with Infamous Commonwealth Theatre, Cloud 9 by Caryl Churchill, was nominated for and received the After Dark Award for Outstanding Ensemble for the 2005-06 season. Not only was I a part of the ensemble accepting the award, but I was chosen by my castmates to give the acceptance speech at the ceremony. Of course, I promptly forgot those words after giving them but I did not, and will not, forget the emotion of that acceptance. And that is the key word—acceptance. In receiving any kind of award, there is an accompanying feeling of acceptance. That I have not simply won an award but through that award, what I am and what I do have been noticed and respected. For an artist, and more specifically a theatre artist, that response can be life-changing. In the actor’s life, there are recurring questions—”Why am I doing this” and “What is the point?” For a fleeting moment, accepting an award on a large scale like that of the After Dark in Chicago sends those questions packing. And it feels good. The acceptance and the acknowledgment that what I do is important and vital and will never be forgotten is invaluable. I recall that production of Cloud 9 quite well along with the amazing artists I created it with. With or without the award, I have that memory and that experience. That it was rewarded, publicly, is the icing on the cake.
It is now award season in the arts and theatre world in the state of Minnesota. This Monday evening, The Ivey Awards will be distributed at The State Theatre in Minneapolis. The Iveys celebrate the finest in the immediate area of the Twin Cities but several of our Commonweal “family members” have been honored with an Ivey in the past.
Craig Johnson received an Ivey in 2011 for his direction of Street Scene with Girl Friday Productions. Commonweal alum Kirby Bennett (Sylvia) is Girl Friday’s Artistic Director. Craig was honored again in 2013, this time for his acting work in Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde. Craig’s most recent CWL credit is as director for this year’s When We Dead Awaken.
Miriam Monasch was awarded an Ivey in 2012 as the director of Our Class at the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company. Miriam directed Steel Magnolias for us this year and has stepped in to understudy in the role of Ouiser on several occasions for the production.
Jeffrey Hatcher was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2013 ceremony. Jeffrey has adapted eight of Henrik Ibsen works for the CWL.
Tod Petersen and Ryan Lee (Woody Guthrie’s American Song) will both be performers at the 2017 ceremony.
Finally, it is award season in our own neck of the woods as nominations for the 5th Annual Ardee Awards have been announced. The Ardees are sponsored by the Rochester Arts and Culture Trust and celebrate the best artistry in our region. In 2013, we received the inaugural Ardee Award for Outstanding Greater Rochester Arts Organization. This year, the CWL has been nominated in the category of People’s Choice for our version of The Elephant Man. Seven other events were nominated and those seven will be narrowed down to three through online voting. Those three are then the events for final consideration. We would deeply appreciate your vote, even if you were not able to experience this gorgeous piece of theatre. You may see the other nominations and cast your vote by visiting https://rochartstrust.org/. Voting ends Sept. 22 and the ceremony is Oct. 17.
Our true reward is our work and sharing that work with you. It is an honor to tell amazing stories day after day in an amazing place like Lanesboro, MN. Thank you for sharing our stories with us and truly accepting what we do.