As proclaimed by governor Mark Dayton, Sunday was Children’s Theatre Company Day in Minnesota, and alumni and fans of the beloved Minneapolis arts institution gathered for a 50th reunion over the weekend that culminated with a party and program at Target Field. As CTC kicks off its 2015-2016 anniversary season, MinnPost talked with some of the theater’s alumni about what many call the “magic of CTC.” In words and photos:
Kathie and Jerry Drake. “I came to the theater in 1966; my first show was ‘King Arthur and the Magic Sword,’ ” said Jerry. “I got married to my wife [around the same time] and that was 48 years ago. My favorite roles were Fagin in ‘Oliver Twist,’ Long John Silver in ‘Treasure Island,’ Mr. Toad in ‘The Wind in the Willows,’ and playing the wicked stepmother in ‘Cinderella’ with Wendy Lehr eight times. And my wife has worked with me in the theater; she started out in the ticket office, she was the house manager, she worked in the costume shop, she played clarinet in the orchestras, and we raised three children (including Hold Steady drummer Bobby Drake) in this hectic life we lead.”
“Our kids grew up in the theater,” said Kathie. “They know what hard work is as a result, and devotion, dedication. It’s been our life.”
Myron Johnson. “I started there when I was 7. I started the very first year. It was bare bones. It was a little theater that sat maybe 30 people on benches, and it was in an old abandoned firehouse on Seven Corners. Before the theater got moved to the art institute, it was called The Moppet Players.
That was the ’60s. I grew up there. It’s a long story, but the short answer is that Children’s Theatre saved my life, really. It was a place for me to be. I think a lot of us in the early days came from broken homes or difficult situations at home, and it gave us a place to learn and grow. I was just there yesterday, and it was just tearful that it’s still there, and it’s growing bigger and bigger and bigger. I go back to when there were three of us. Three kids, and the rest adults. Now there’s hundreds of kids learning and growing there.”
Victor Zupanc. “I’ve been music director/composer here for 25 years. I’m doing a job that doesn’t exist in American theater; no theaters have a full-time music director – not the Guthrie, or [Chicago’s] Goodman, or any of the big theaters. This theater, because there’s so much music, they’ve always had a full-time person, and now it’s me. The fact that I can actually do what I love to do, and pay the bills and raise and support a family by just making music, that was always my dream. Every show is so different; I do five or six shows a year here at CTC, and one show might take place in China, and another in India, and one in Africa, and one in New Orleans. So it’s all of those things that I have to immerse myself in and learn and study, and that’s been huge. I’ve just learned so much about the world.”
Annie Enneking. “I started at Children’s Theatre in 1980 and graduated from the conservatory school in 1985, and have continued up until presently, working on the stage or being a fight choreographer, so I’ve been with the theater, and teaching there, since 1980. I loved ‘The Secret Garden’ very much. That was all about a young girl coming into the flowering of her own heart, and that was a beautiful time to be the age I was, and doing that part, because that’s what I was doing as a human being, too. For a long time, we had the run of the joint; we would stay the night and go into this old place called the Black Box Studio, and we would dance and improvise and talk and make things. We were creating all the time; we were in this environment that fostered the creation of new material, and we would take risks and try things. It was an incredibly fertile time. I feel like I lived there, and I have wonderful, amazing friends who I love very much.”
Minnesota Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith presents CTC artistic director Peter Brosius with a plaque proclaiming Sunday, Aug. 9, 2015, as Children’s Theatre Company Day in Minnesota.
Peter Brosius. “I’ve been artistic director at CTC since 1997. I think what’s amazing for Minnesota to know is that Minnesota has the leading theater for multigenerational audiences; that Minnesota, for 50 years, has set a standard – in terms of education, and community partnership, our work with early childhood (education), our work with critical literacy, our work with new plays … The plays we create — and we’re doing five new ones this year – have a life across this country, and changed the field, and are seen by thousands. So what Minnesota has supported makes a difference not only in the Twin Cities every day, but across this nation.
“We’re working for the most important audience there is, because the work we do, if we do it well, will have an impact on their lives forever. Because theater is a collaborative art form. So it may be the scenery, it may be the music, it may be the text, it may be the choreography, it may be the lighting … you don’t know. So, we develop our new plays for years. Workshop after workshop, reading after reading, and conversations and testing and testing. We know, if we do it right, it will lodge in your memory for the rest of your life, and whether that will turn you into someone who goes to museums, or paints, or draws, or goes to concerts, or picks up a guitar, or loves theater, or writes a novel, or just supports the arts, we know it can make a difference. So we take it really seriously.”
Maya Gabriel and Audrey Ann Thompson. “It’s the only place on the planet that nurtured children and helped them develop a strong sense of self. We were all special kids,” said Gabriel.
“I’m still a kid,” said Thompson. “I have remained a child, asking the questions, questioning authority, new flavors, food, life – it saved my life. I could’ve made so many other choices and being there taught me who I’m not. I’m not a follower; I don’t do trends.”
James Williams and Marion McClinton. “I’ve directed two shows here,” said McClinton. “It’s one of the best children’s theaters in the country. The work, and working with kids, is very important to me. You give them a strong taste of what theater is. The magic of it. For me, when I was young, it was a place where I saw plays. Those plays were very imaginative, and made me want to be in theater, and I remember the direction by John Clark Donohue was stellar and enthralling – and much more so than a movie, because it was right in front of you, live.”
“I’ve done one show here, and I’m about to do another,” said Williams. “I did a show called Beggars’ Strike in 2000, I believe it was, and I’m in the upcoming ‘Akeelah and The Bee.’ What I remember most about my first times to the theater is that I found it difficult to believe that this was for children, because it was such a fantastic, high-quality production. I came from St. Louis, Missouri, when I was 19, and there was nothing like this.”
Rana Haugen. “I started at CTC when I was 5 years old, and I was there a decade. It was my childhood, it was my life, it was my family, it was where I got to experience myself as an artist. Still to this day, I’ve traveled and done a lot of regional theater in many different cities, and I haven’t experienced that quality of work. I live in Los Angeles, and I was acting for many years and now I’m home-schooling my son and writing. I ran a nonprofit for years working with gang members and using theater as an opportunity to have difficult conversations.”
Alix Kendall. “I was at Children’s Theatre from 1974 to 1979. I went to regular school, then I was part of the Urban Arts program, and I was in every summer school production. It’s great training for life, and for television it’s pretty obvious – improvisation, vocal training, stage presence. It probably provided a lot of confidence building. I took some fantastic dance classes, everything from modern to mime to jazz to African to ballet; I had some great instructors. It was fantastic. I’m here with a group of women I’ve stayed connected with all these years.”
Scott Yamauchi. “I was at CTC from 1970 to 1973. I was in the school, and in some of the plays, and then I did sound and lighting tech. It helped me open up. I really didn’t find my voice until I went there. I had my voice, I just couldn’t find it. The Children’s Theatre Company allowed me to express myself, without judgment. The entire staff treated us with respect and worked with us whether we had a little bit of talent or a lot. And they encouraged growth.”
Dane Stauffer and Maria Meade. “I was what you might call a ‘kinetic’ student,” said Stauffer. “I moved around a lot. ‘Dane is a smart kid, but has trouble sitting still.’ So in a very basic sense it gave me and a lot of us an opportunity to learn our craft in an apprenticeship situation, where the arts became a means of educating us, rather than a fringe add-on to education. I’m also an educator, and I think it really made an impression on me that I really think more kids than not learn in ways that are different than how we currently teach kids. It gave me the desire to learn again, as opposed to just being rebellious. Most kids have some idea what they’d like to do early on, but it gets drummed out of them. And we had a chance to start learning our craft young, and a lot of leaders in the arts in this city and in the country grew up in this theater.”
“My first theater experience was seeing The Moppets, and Myron Johnson was Jack in ‘Jack the Beanstalk,’ and then I kept going to see shows there and it was my dream to be at the Children’s Theatre,” said Meade. “It’s all I wanted in the whole world. I was opened up to a world of hipness, coolness, magic. I wanted to be on that stage so bad.”