All’s well that ends well for Park Square, Guthrie; Northrop’s Grand Reopening

It could have been a case of the bully vs. the littler guy, but according to Richard Cook, artistic director of Park Square Theatre, that’s not how it happened. It is, however, a huge snafu for which someone at Samuel French, publisher and licenser of plays and musicals, should be squirming.

Last month, Park Square announced its 2014-15 season, including the area premiere of “Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play,” which was to have been the inaugural event on its new Boss Stage. Meanwhile, the Guthrie was also in talks with Samuel French about “Mr. Burns,” with plans under way for a collaboration with San Francisco’s ACT that would bring the play to the Guthrie during its 2014-15 season, which has not yet been announced.

The Guthrie’s director, Joe Dowling, called Cook from London. “He was wonderfully gracious,” Cook said. Then Park Square’s agent at Samuel French called from New York, “mortified … but clear that this license needed to go to [the Guthrie].” Several conversations later, a swap had been arranged. The Guthrie would get “Mr. Burns,” and Park Square would get Amy Herzog’s award-winning “4000 Miles,” which Park Square had originally wanted but the Guthrie was planning for the Dowling Studio. Park Square subscribers looking forward to “Mr. Burns” will be able to see it at the Guthrie at a substantial discount, and Herzog’s play will be on a bigger stage.

So, how does Cook really feel? “It could have been a lot worse,” he told MinnPost on Thursday. “The Guthrie wouldn’t have had to do anything but keep the license and do their work, but Joe made a point to connect with me and Park Square. He felt badly about it. They’re letting us send our subscribers over to them and collaborating on marketing and PR in ways they wouldn’t have had to do. Both shows will have wonderful productions. The writers will benefit. This puts each of the plays and writers in stronger positions than they were going to have otherwise. Amy Herzog is an important writer Park Square has never produced, and I think it’s kind of cool.” 

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In January, the Knight Foundation announced a major investment in St. Paul: $8 million in new funding “to engage and enrich the city through the arts.” Of that, $3.5 was earmarked for five arts institutions – the Arts Partnership (Ordway), Penumbra Theatre, Springboard for the Arts, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and TU Dance – and the rest, a whopping $4.5 million (up to $1.5 million each year for three years), is literally up for grabs by anyone with a really good idea for an arts and culture project that makes St. Paul a better place.

The Knight Arts Challenge opens for applications on Monday, April 7. Artists, small arts organizations, and anyone interested in the arts and culture, put on your thinking caps. Don’t worry if you’ve never done this before; Knight likes to be surprised and delighted by nontraditional, out-of-the-box ideas. There are only three rules for the challenge: 1) your idea must be about the arts, 2) your project must take place in or benefit St. Paul, and 3) if you get a grant, you must find matching funds within a year.

The application, which will be available online starting April 7, is easy-breezy: a 150-word description of your idea. That’s it, for real. Lots of help is available from Knight Foundation staff, which will offer a week-long series of  community Q&A sessions at the Dayton’s Bluff Recreation Center, Bedlam Lowertown, Penumbra Theatre, and other locations starting April 13. Go here for a schedule. Read the FAQ. Read about other challenge winners in Miami, Philadelphia, and Detroit. (This is St. Paul’s first year as a KAC city.) The deadline for submitting an application is midnight Eastern time on Monday, May 5, so don’t dally. The money’s on the table.

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It’s National Poetry Month, the largest literary celebration in the world. Sign up for the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day and receive (duh) a poem every day by email. It will take just a moment or two and you’ll feel like a smarter, better, more sensitive person.

It’s National Jazz Appreciation Month. Celebrate that by going to see and hear jazz performed live. Check the Twin Cities Live Jazz Calendar on the Jazz Police website. The Dakota hosts Delfeayo Marsalis on April 10, Nachito Herrera on the 12th, Poncho Sanchez on the 15th, Ginger Commodore and Dennis Spears on the 18th, Steve Tyrell on the 21st and 22nd, and Joe Lovano’s Us Five on the 28th. Jazz Central in northeast Minneapolis features live jazz most nights of the week; here’s the calendar.

For jazz composers and other makers of new music: the American Composers Forum’s JFund (Jerome Fund for New Music) supports people like you with generous grants. About 10 are currently available: up to $7,000 for your time to create a new work, and up to $1,500 to help make it happen. FMI and application here. Postmark deadline Aug. 15, 2014.

For nonprofit arts and culture organizations: Minnesota Citizens for the Arts is starting work on a “State of the Arts and Culture Report” to be released in January, 2015. This will update 2007’s “The Arts: A Driving Force in Minnesota’s Economy.” That report found that the arts and culture sector contributed $835 million annually to Minnesota’s economy. A second study, “Artists Count: An Economic Impact Study of Individual Artists in Minnesota” found that individual artists contribute over $200 million more, for a total of more than a billion dollars a year. Says MCA executive director Sheila Smith, “There has been a boom, a recession and a recovery since the last study in 2007, and we are interested in seeing how those changes have affected the arts & culture sector.” If you’re not already participating in the Cultural Data Project (CDP), please take this brief online survey and be counted.

The final production of the Minnesota Opera’s 2013-14 season, “The Magic Flute” opens April 12. Part live performance, part film animation, this fantastic new staging was co-conceived by Barrie Kosky, artistic director of the Komische Oper Berlin, and the British theatre company 1927. The Queen of the Night is a giant spider! But we already knew that. Nine performances; ends April 27. FMI and tickets ($20-$200). They’re going fast BTW; Wednesdays are your best bets, and the final weekend, which was added. If you want to learn more about Mozart’s masterpiece, the U of M’s LearningLife program is offering a short course taught by popular College of Continuing Ed professor Daniel Freeman on two nights, April 24 and May 1. FMI and registration ($80). The timing is a bit odd – why not early April, before the opera begins? But if you haven’t yet bought opera tickets and you sign up for the course before April 14, you’ll save 20 percent on your tickets.

We were excited about TPT’s announcement of a brand-new channel and programming focus: tpt PETS, a channel for dogs and cats, fish and ferrets. “We did an in-depth analysis of tpt’s viewing public and found that the majority of those tuning in were, in fact, pets,” TPT’s chief content officer Terry O’Reilly said in a statement released Tuesday. Turns out the whole thing was a cruel and heartless April Fool’s joke. Boris the dachshund is profoundly disappointed and may cancel his membership. Even funnier (sorry, TPT): the announcement from King’s College that boy sopranos in its choir would be replaced by altos on helium (because “the surgical solution was surprisingly unpopular”).

Our picks for the weekend

Tonight (Friday, April 4) through Sunday afternoon: Northrop’s Grand Reopening. After three years and $88 million, the anchor of the Northrop mall and symbol of the University of Minnesota has been reborn. It may look mostly the same on the outside, but the inside, except for the spiffed-up Memorial Hall, is utterly, radically, gloriously changed. For starters, there are now 2,700 seats, not 4,800, and 80 percent are within 100 feet of the stage. And what used to be one vast, square-ish balcony has become three stacked, shallow, gracefully curving balconies that embrace the space. State-of-the-art acoustics, elegant finishes, symmetry, accessibility, respect for history, tradition and the arts, and twice as many restrooms are just a few more reasons why Northrop is now a premiere Twin Cities destination. The American Ballet Theatre performs “Giselle” to live orchestra tonight at 8 p.m., tomorrow at 8, and Sunday at 2. FMI and tickets ($10-$125). Can’t make it this weekend? There’s already a lively schedule in place of dance, music, film, comedy, and speakers including novelist David Mitchell (“Cloud Atlas”) and former Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice.

Photo © Rosalie O’Connor
American Ballet Theatre in “Giselle.”

Tonight through Sunday at the Orpheum: “Once.” If you love Irish folk music and unconventional love stories, catch this hit Broadway musical before it moves on. Winner of eight 2012 Tonys, based on the 2007 Irish indie film whose song, “Falling Slowly,” won the Oscar, it’s a Girl-meets-Guy tale of the power of music to change lives. Everyone in the cast must already know that power, because they all play instruments (for real) and sing; this is a musical without a pit orchestra. Arrive early and get a close-up look at the stage and the set, a working-class Irish pub; audience members are invited up for a drink at the cash bar, and before long, cast members wander out and start singing and playing music. For a few shining moments, you’re part of it all. Five more performances, starting tonight and ending Sunday evening. FMI and tickets ($59-$139).

Tonight through Sunday at Plymouth Congregational Church: Bach Festival. Free events all weekend celebrate Philip Brunelle’s 45 years as Plymouth Church’s organist and choirmaster. 7:30 Friday: pianist Minsoo Sohn performs “The Goldberg Variations” on the church’s new Steinway. 7:30 p.m. Saturday: the “Hunting” Cantata 208 and songs from the Anna Magdalena Notebook, with classical guitarist Eva Beneke, harpsichordist Henry Lebedinsky, soloists Maria Jette, Jenny French, Lisa Drew, Dan Dressen, and James Bohn, and chamber orchestra led by Brunelle. 10:30 a.m. Sunday: the service includes Bachs Cantata 79, Gott, der Herr, ist Sonn and Schild. 4 p.m. Sunday: Christopher Houlihan performs festive organ works by Bach on Plymouths 89-rank Holtkamp organ. Each event will be hosted by Eric Friesen, former MPR announcer. 

Courtesy of the Illusion Theater
Gary Anderson as Clarence Darrow

Friday through Sunday at the Illusion Theater in the Hennepin Center for the Arts: “Naked Darrow.” Gary Anderson’s portrayal of attorney Clarence Darrow has been called “in the same league as Holbrook’s Mark Twain.” Written and performed by Anderson, this one-person play looks at Darrow’s private life, his cases, his causes – social injustice, racism, the death penalty – and his personal demons. This is not the same play the Park Square commissioned and presented in 2011 as a workshop show; the script has been revised and the production “re-envisioned.” Post-show discussions are led by local legal luminaries. 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Through April 12. FMI and tickets ($20-$40).

Saturday at the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts: a memorial celebration of Sage Cowles. Dancer, philanthropist, civic activist, and great supporter of the arts, wife to John Cowles Jr., mother of Jay, Fuller, Tessa and Jane, grandmother and great-grandmother, Sage Cowles died last November at age 88. She and her husband, who died in 2012, changed our cultural landscape; the Cowles Conservatory in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, the Cowles Center for Dance, the Jane Sage Cowles Stadium at the University of Minnesota (named for their softball-playing daughter), the Barbara Barker Center for Dance (also at the U) and the Guthrie, to whom they made major gifts, testify to their commitment and generosity. The Cowleses were one of MinnPost’s four founding donor families. Doors at 12:30 p.m., event at 1:30, reception immediately following in Mason’s restaurant. Her family will host.

Sunday at the St. Anthony Main Theater, part of the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival: “Le Chef.” A foodie film with Jean Reno! The commanding French actor (“Ronin”) stars as top chef Alexandre Legarde, beloved by his public, scorned by the penny-pinching, trend-following CEO of the corporation that owns his restaurant, threatened with the loss of a precious star from his rating if he doesn’t get with the times and learn molecular gastronomy. The rubber-faced Michaël Youn is Jacky Bonnot, an overeager young chef who knows Legarde’s food better than Legarde. A feel-good film with lots of laughs, tall white hats and silly situations. Premium tickets include admission to the Cinema Smorgasbord party at the Festival Pavilion across the way. 7:15 p.m.; second showing Tuesday, April 15, also at 7:30. FMI and tickets ($6-$12; premium $30-$40).

Photo by Marie Planeille
NPR calls Tinariwen “just about the best guitar-based rock band of the 21st century.”

Sunday at the Cedar: Tinariwen. NPR calls them “just about the best guitar-based rock band of the 21st century.” Because of political instability in their homeland of Mali, the Grammy-winning North African band recorded their latest album, “Emmaar,” in Joshua Tree, a desert park in southeastern California. They were joined by Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, Matt Sweeney of the band Chavez, Nashville fiddler Fats Kaplin and poet Saul Williams. Tinariwen’s music – Tuareg desert blues – somehow manages to be lush and gritty, exotic and familiar, haunting and celebratory, all at the same time. It insists that you move, so you won’t mind that this is a standing show. Tinariwen has played Bonnaroo and the Hollywood Bowl, so seeing them in a room the size of the Cedar is special. The English folk roots band The Melodic opens. Doors at 7 p.m., shows at 7:30. FMI, tickets ($32-$35), and videos to whet your appetite.

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