Theater Latté Da spent part of this week with a film crew from New York Public Media (WNET). They were there to film Peter Rothstein’s award-winning “All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914” for national broadcast on PBS in 2020.
For three days, invited audiences watched as the performance started, stopped, resumed, stopped, and started again. Cameras (we counted six) were moved and repositioned. Makeup was fixed. Hushed voices conferred. The lights were brighter than usual, and the actors weren’t miked. A scene would be in progress when a disembodied voice interrupted to say “Hold.” Everyone froze in place. Then, after whatever needed doing had been done, “OK, actors, from the top” or “Please pick it up from the line about the Pope.” (The disembodied voice was Latté Da’s stage manager, D. Marie Long.)
Performed without intermission, “All Is Calm” is 90 minutes long. On Wednesday afternoon, we were there for two and a half hours, including a 10-minute intermission. There were cookies and hot cider in the lobby. We were told to turn our cellphones off. To refrain from coughing and moving around in noisy coats. To hold our applause until the very end, then give it our all.
We’re not 100 percent sure, but we think Laila Robins was in the audience, two rows ahead of us. There may have been other actors in the house.
Watching a film being made is a glimpse into what can be a tedious, laborious process. Actors make the same moves, put on the same expressions, say the same lines (and in this case, sing the same songs) over and over again. At least this was linear; the sections weren’t moved around, placing the truce before the boys marched off to war.
During pauses, some of the cast broke character and relaxed. Riley McNutt called out “Hi, Mom and Dad!” Sasha Andreev made certain every bit of his uniform was perfectly in place. Andrew Wilkowske cracked his knuckles. Some actors did facial stretches and vocal exercises. Then Long’s voice rang out and they snapped back to it.
We felt lucky to be there. We’ll never tire of the opening scene, when Andrew Hey steps out of the darkness and stage haze singing “Will Ye Go to Flanders?” And then, with a low hum, the rest of the cast emerges. It’s powerful, and we saw it three times in a row. The lush arrangement of “Stille Nacht (Silent Night)” that starts the Truce section, with voices twining in harmonies, becomes more beautiful with repeat hearings. The part where the soldiers bury their dead, singing “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen (Lo! How a Rose E’er Blooming),” and some drop to one knee, becomes more devastating.
We can all see the results around this time next year. Meanwhile, if you want to catch one of the final live performances, call the box office at 612-339-3003 for any available seats. Closes Dec. 29.
“Subversive Sirens” filmmaker among Jerome grantees
In August 2018, the Subversive Sirens, a Minnesota-based synchronized swimming team “committed to black liberation, equity in swimming/aquatic arts, body positivity in athleticism, and queer visibility,” competed at the Gay Games 10 in Paris. They won a gold medal for the Team Free Combo and a silver for Duet.
Serita Colette, Tana Hargest, Signe Harriday, Zoe Hollomon, Nicki McCracken, Suzy Messerole and Jay Hyun Shim aren’t through with the spotlight yet. On Wednesday, the Jerome Foundation announced the grantees in its Film, Video and Digital Production program. Among them is filmmaker Xiaolu Wang, who received $30,000 for “a documentary following the inner lives of seven community leaders who venture into the world of synchronized swimming as an act of political warfare.” Wang’s film will trace their journey of empowerment and celebrity through the 2018 Paris Gay Games, the 2019 International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics (IGLA) Championships and the 2022 Gay Games in Hong Kong.
Wang is one of five Minnesota Jerome winners. These are the other four:
Kiera Faber: $21,540 for “The Garden Sees Fire,” an animated narrative inspired by the frontier writings of Conrad Richter and her family’s struggle with bipolar disorder.
Alison Guessou: $30,000 for “Happily Married After,” which takes on the perfections and imperfections of marriage and individual vs. societal expectations.
Catherine Licata: $23,360 for “The Lobby” (working title), a narrative short film about a hotel housekeeper who tries to improve her life with a self-help audiobook.
Peter Nelson: $30,000 for “White” (working title), which weaves together five narratives of individuals reflecting on their whiteness.
Now at the Gremlin Theatre: “Dog Act.” On the Twin Cities’ landscape of theater companies, Fortune’s Fool is small but, um, dogged. They have produced plays now and then over the past 14 years, and their choices have been interesting: “YARRRH! The Lusty, Busty Pirate Musical,” by theater co-founder Daniel Pinkerton, Harold Pinter’s “A Slight Ache” and Caryl Churchill’s “The Skriker,” to name a few. This year it’s the Midwest premiere of Liz Duffy Adams’ “Dog Act,” a postapocalyptic vaudeville about a human (Zetta, played by Ariel Leaf) and a human undergoing a species demotion (Dog, played by – we kid you not – Joe Wiener), singing and dancing across the wasteland to a command performance for the King of China. It’s not “The Christmas Carol,” but that’s kind of the point. Ben Layne is the director. FMI and tickets ($20/18). Closes Dec. 22.
Now at the Bell Museum: “Wicked Plants: The Exhibit.” Based on Amy Stewart’s best-selling book “Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities,” this traveling show includes plants that stink, burn, and even kill. Housed in a derelict Victorian-era home, the family-friendly exhibit blends history, science and storytelling. FMI. Included in museum admission ($12-free). The Bell will be open late next Wednesday, Dec. 18, so you can see the show, stroll the famous dioramas, maybe do some stargazing (weather permitting) at night. FMI. 5-8:30 p.m. Closes Jan. 5.
Monday at the Film Society’s St. Anthony Main Theatre: “National Theatre Live: Present Laughter.” Andrew Scott (the “Hot Priest” in “Fleabag,” Moriarty in “Sherlock”) stars in Noël Coward’s comedy about a star actor undergoing an identity crisis. Matthew Warchus directs a performance filmed live at the Old Vic in London. FMI including times, tickets and trailer. Also Dec. 18 and 21.
Holiday picks: Music all over
Friday and Saturday: Border CrosSing: “El Mesías.” Ahmed Anzaldúa leads his Border CrosSing choir in a bilingual version of Handel’s Messiah combined with “Navidad Nuestra,” a cantata by Argentine composer Ariel Ramirez. Friday at Church of the Ascension in Minneapolis, Saturday at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in St. Paul. 7 p.m. both nights. FMI and tickets ($15-25).
Friday through Sunday: VocalEssence: “Welcome Christmas.” Philip Brunelle and G. Phillip Shoultz III lead the VocalEssence Chorus & Ensemble Singers in a joyous program of Nordic and American Christmas carols; the world premiere of “Nordic Christmas,” a suite of Norwegian carols arranged by Kim André Arneson; and two new carols by winners of VocalEssence’s 22nd annual Welcome Christmas Carol Contest. 7:30 Friday at Plymouth Congregational Church, 4 p.m. Sunday at Roseville Lutheran Church. FMI and tickets ($20-40). Tickets to both are sold by the Minnesota Orchestra.
Saturday at Crooners: Maud Hixson and Rick Carlson: “Happy Holiday: The Songs of Irving Berlin.” Berlin famously penned “White Christmas,” so of course you’ll hear that. But it’s not all he wrote, and in their trademark style, Hixson will introduce and sing other songs to make you happy, nostalgic or thoughtful, Carlson will accompany her on the Steinway, and you’ll enjoy an evening of cool, sophisticated music. In the Dunsmore Room. Two shows: 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($20).
Monday at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres: JazzMN Orchestra: “Let It Swing: JazzMN Plays the Holiday.” Under new artistic director J.C. Sanford, JazzMN and guest vocalist Yolande Bruce (Moore by Four) will swing in the holidays with songs for the season. Many of the arrangements are those presented by Ella Fitzgerald, Stan Kenton, Eartha Kitt and other jazz legends. Choose concert only ($38/$33) or concert and dinner (add $15). Dinner seating at 5:30 p.m., concert at 7:30. FMI and tickets.