Props Design with Lisa Imbryk

Props Design with Lisa Imbryk

Props Design with Lisa Imbryk

Lisa Imbryk is a guest designer for our production of Come Back by Neil Haven, and this is her first time working for the Commonweal. She holds a B.A. from Hamline University and an M.F.A. from the University of Georgia. She works as the Membership Coordinator at the Dakota County Historical Society and is a costume and props designer with a variety of companies around the Twin Cities. All photos in this post are by Lisa.

Ashley Graham on the set of Come Back. Bruce’s cage and the vacuum in the foreground, Erin’s shrine sits on the platform.

What were your first impressions and ideas for Come Back?

I love this show. It’s a lovely piece on found family, which is a concept very dear to me. I try to always read a show first just to read it, and then go through a second time to mine for design requirements and elements. The Bruce situation and collaboration was probably the first thing that jumped through on the second read, followed closely by “Oh my gosh, the wheel chair and the vacuum.” But I was invested in seeing this piece happen, so it was great.

How did those first impressions change as you collaborated with Adrienne (the director) and the other designers?

Annie’s [costume] design boards really drove how I thought about Erin, who is so present in the props in this piece. Making her this bright, attention-grabbing element was a little scary at first, but I grew to love the idea that you were always seeing her—in the packet, in the cage cover she made for Bruce, and in the things she gave Sky for this trip.

What props are mentioned in the script and what did you add?

The biggest departure from the script was with Nevada Ned, and that was a great result of Adrienne and Ashley’s [the actor playing Ned] process in the rehearsal room. All of his gags were pieces they developed from the lines, and I had a blast finding joke shop items and making Grandma’s coffin. Ashley is incredible, and can really work a prop, which is such a joy as a designer to get to support.

Where do the props come from? Did you make any of them?

It’s a big mix! Lots of things are sourced or borrowed from other theatres, or from stock at Commonweal, and my own collection. We also buy some pieces, and make others. I try to put a hand on most things that go on stage—Nevada Ned’s X-Ray specs were bought, but I gave them the feather eyebrows, and Bruce’s cage was purchased but I stitched the cover. The big builds for this show were the shrine at the end, the grinder, and the cake, which still makes me laugh every time I see it.

Come Back has a fair amount of contemporary paper props (brochures, maps, the “adventure binder.”) Care to elaborate on those specifically? It seems like a lot of detail went into them.

Those were a blast. I spent a lot of time trying to get into Erin’s head for most of them. I started the packet with two pieces—the map, and the letters—the one in the packet, and then one written into the play at the end. I went through the script and sat with the map and charted, based on highways, what the 15 stops they do make in the play are, and then I had fun imagining where the other 15 stops might be (I grew up in Eastern Washington State, so a stop at 10,000 Silver Dollar in Idaho on I90 was mandatory). 

For the letters, I first wrote out the one at the end in her handwriting. Then, I really put that character work for Erin into play, and wrote out what I thought I might write if I were her, to help me get in that head space. And then I decorated everything, because I felt like she would. I had some fun with little bits—the map says “Don’t panic!” on the front, and originally the paper bags said “You panicked, didn’t you?” on them, though it wasn’t readable and the bags do get used, so we let it go for the actual run.

What’s been the most challenging prop

The wheelchair. It was a scary thing for some moments. But, in a beautiful moment of synchronicity, Paul [Epton, lighting designer] found a lead on one, and I connected with a guy on Craigslist who had a dear friend who was moving into a hospice situation, and he had stepped up (as chosen family) to sell the items his friend no longer needed and get him taken care of, and that included the wheel chair. It was like it was meant to be!

Jeremy van Meter and Jaclyn June Johnson in Come Back

What’s your favorite prop in Come Back? 

“Dead Grandma” just kills me, as does the cake. I can’t choose children!

Come Back by Neil Haven is now playing at the Commonweal Theatre until November 14. For in-person and virtual tickets, click here.

A Return to the Commonweal

A Return to the Commonweal

A few weeks ago, Tim Sailer (apprentice class of 2010) returned to the Commonweal to serve as a member of the resident acting ensemble and the Assistant Director of Marketing. We chatted with Tim to hear what he’s been up to and what he’s looking forward to, now that he’s back in Lanesboro.

Tim Sailer with David Hennessey and Carl Lindberg in The Rainmaker (2009). Photo by Jason Underferth.

How did you get your start at the Commonweal?

I went to college in St. Paul, and during my senior year (2009), I attended the Twin City Unified Auditions. That’s when I met Hal Cropp and Scott Dixon. They were recruiting for the apprentice program and called me back to read for Jimmy in The Rainmaker. Not long after, I took a trip down to Lanesboro to see the first apprentice production (Steven Dietz’s Private Eyes) and fell in love with the town and the theatre. A couple months later, I graduated college and joined the second apprentice class. Playing Jimmy was one of my favorite roles to date.

As the apprenticeship was winding down, I became more interested in the marketing side of the administrative work. Adrienne Sweeney offered me a job as a marketing assistant in addition to being part of the resident acting ensemble, where I spent the next year and a half.

Tim Sailer at the American Shakespeare Center's Blackfriar's Theatre

As Cassius in Julius Caesar at the American Shakespeare Center. Photo by Tommy Thompson.

What have you been up to these past ten years?

In the summer of 2011, I moved to Houston, TX to get my MFA at the University of Houston’s Professional Actor Training Program. It was two years of honing technique, developing a process, and learning about the business. During my final year, I received a contract to work at the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, VA. There, I spent five years with the company—performing in their resident and touring ensembles. I played more than 50 roles across 35 plays. Some favorites include Cassius in Julius Caesar, Jack in The Importance of Being Earnest, and Mirabell in The Way of the World.

Later, wanting to shake things up, I took a more nomadic actor life, accepting contracts all over the country. I spent a summer back in Houston with the Houston Shakespeare Festival, a couple summers with the Texas Shakespeare Festival, and an educational tour of Macbeth with the Utah Shakespeare Festival.

Right before the pandemic hit, it seemed like I was going to set down roots in the Twin Cities, but that didn’t…pan out.

How was it that you ended back at the Commonweal?

Well, for one, I was offered a job! But even before that, I’d always felt this pull toward the Commonweal. The theatre and the town has a strong hold on me, which I hadn’t realized until recently.

I’ve learned that as much as I love acting, I don’t know that I love the hustle of acting, which is what most of the job is for so many artists. Most of my career has been following the work—bouncing from contract to contract with not much more than I can fit in the seats of a sedan. I’d been hoping for a long time that I could pivot to nestling in a more major market. But there were always logistical and financial hurdles in making that move.

Additionally, most of the acting contracts I’ve taken have been in smaller towns—destination theatres that are well outside of metro areas. I love that kind of work in those kinds of places. I feel strongly that all communities, no matter their size, deserve access to incredible storytelling by incredible artists.

With Laura Depta and Jerome Yorke in Picasso at the Lapin Agile (2010). Photo by Jason Underferth

What are you looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to acting on the stage again.

I’m looking forward to telling marvelous stories with this ensemble—both on and off the stage.

I’m looking forward to becoming a member of this community in one of my favorite places.

Tim will be back onstage at the Commonweal in our new adaptation of A Christmas Carol.

“Thanks for the Light”: A Fond Farewell

By Philip Muehe


If you see Adrienne, you know Philip is usually close behind!

September 1st I will leave the Commonweal and officially become the new Managing Director of the Rochester Repertory Theatre Company. It’s actually quite strange to say out loud to people. I have told many friends, family, and patrons about the news. While I have been met with nothing but support and well wishes, moving on from a place as special as this has been difficult in ways I didn’t anticipate.

As I sit down to write this blog post, I am reminded of how much my time at the Commonweal has changed me as an artist and person. My personal journey with the company—from patron at a student matinee, to summer intern, to apprentice, to company member—has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. After graduating, I knew I wanted to find a place where I could grow, to make mistakes, to challenge myself in new and exciting ways. As fate would have it, I found the Commonweal.

Cast & friends of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (2018)

Cast & friends of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (2018)

The 2014 Apprentice Class with Philip Muehe

Philip and the rest of the 2013-2014 Apprentice Class (Mike, Diana and Julia)


The first night of my apprenticeship, I unpacked my stuff and headed over to see our production of A Doll’s House. I sat in the front row, and was thrilled to watch it all unfold. The work onstage was extraordinary, and I was so proud and excited to finally be working here full time. David Hennessey, who played Dr. Rank, uttered “Thanks for the light” to Nora before his final exit. That line has always stuck with me. While my own exit from the Commonweal is hopefully not as final, I leave with the same magnitude: immensely thankful and deeply optimistic.

I’ve had some of the most difficult and rewarding artistic experiences of my life here in charming Lanesboro. Receiving my first professional directing gig, learning how to sound design, exploring my passion for marketing and developing new skills as a producer and arts manager unlocked new potential in me. One reason I am equipped enough to handle this new position is because of what I’ve learned here. My coworkers are more like my extended family. Through laughter, personal struggles and heartbreak I have come to lean on them and look to them for insight and a good venting session. I’ll also miss our incredible patrons, who have watched me grow as an actor and director; who waited with anxious hugs for me after a show; who supported us and kept us employed during a pandemic. They are the life of this theatre, and we are so lucky to have them in our corner.

The past five years have meant more than I can really put into words. The friendships, artistic opportunities and growth I was lucky enough to experience have paved the way for this new adventure. I will always look back fondly on my time here. The love and support I’ve felt from my coworkers and our patrons has meant the world. I feel very fortunate to have put so many smiles on your faces. But trust me when I say, you all have put so many more on mine. Until next time, thanks for the light.

All My Love,



Best of luck on this new adventure Philip! We will miss you, and don’t be a stranger!