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Park Square and SteppingStone partner to create ‘theatre for life’

ALSO: Carlyle Brown’s “Acting Black,” on Zoom; Michelle Kinney’s August Wednesdays Residency at Icehouse; and more.

Mark Ferraro-Hauck
Mark Ferraro-Hauck, SteppingStone’s artistic and executive director, will serve as interim executive director.
Courtesy photo

In recent years, Park Square Theatre has gone through some rough spots. Facing funding shortfalls and running two stages in St. Paul’s historic Hamm Building, it canceled productions, eliminated the key position of artistic director and created a new management structure, a cohort of “artistic associates.”

Meanwhile, SteppingStone Theatre for Youth put its 100-year-old, 20,000-square-feet Greek Revival-style building up for sale.

On Tuesday, the two announced a next step in tandem: They’re forming a partnership, mostly based at Park Square. Operating as separate legal entities, sharing management, mission and a new tagline, “your theatre for life,” they will create a new regional theater for all ages.

They already agreed on at least one thing: that “theatre” should be spelled “-re.”

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Park Square doesn’t have “for youth” in its name, but it has a deep and abiding commitment to young people. More than 30,000 teens attend its student matinees each year. Together, Park Square and SteppingStone anticipate serving an audience of 125,000, with more than 70,000 young people attending performances and educational programs.

Each has a history of championing and commissioning new work. Both have partnered with artists, theater companies and schools. Park Square’s mainstage subscription program will continue. SteppingStone’s annual productions by and for young audiences will move to Park Square’s stages during the school year.

SteppingStone Executive Director Mark Ferraro-Hauck will become interim executive director of the new company. Park Square Executive Director Michael-jon Pease has accepted a new position as executive director of the Saint Paul Parks Conservancy that will start in September. He will stay on as a part-time consultant through the transition.

Park Square already had three artistic associates in place: Ellen Fenster, Rick Shiomi and Kim Vasquez. Vasquez will also be the producing director of the Park Square’s mainstage. A fourth artistic associate will be announced soon.

Michael-jon Pease
Photo by Amy Anderson
Michael-jon Pease, Park Square’s executive director, will begin a new career as executive director of the Saint Paul Parks Conservancy.
Park Square Board Chair Paul Mattessich said in a statement, “This step not only protects both Park Square and SteppingStone during the current pandemic and forced theater ‘intermission,’ by bringing together their assets and skillsets, but re-establishes the Hamm Building … as a thriving, diverse performance center that can help rebuild downtown’s economy once the pandemic is over.”

Ferraro-Hauck said, “We are joining the best of our programming in order to serve the community better, expand and efficiently use resources, and create a more inclusive and equitable place for young artists, schools, and local families … Now, both organizations will be more responsive and sustainable as we serve adults and young people.”

The picks

Pick up Carolyn Holbrook’s new book and you won’t want to put it down until you reach the end.
MinnPost file photo by Ibrahim Hirsi
Pick up Carolyn Holbrook’s new book and you won’t want to put it down until you reach the end.
Today (Wednesday, Aug. 12) at 4 p.m. on Zoom: Carolyn Holbrook: “Tell Me Your Names and I Will Testify” book launch. Pick up Holbrook’s new book – the story of her life, the hard times and the good times – and you won’t want to put it down until you reach the end. A writing teacher and a prominent Black woman in the Twin Cities literary community, she writes with clarity and forthrightness about her experiences, her choices, her struggles and successes. How exactly did a pregnant 16-year-old, incarcerated in the Minnesota juvenile justice system for driving a getaway car, end up where Holbrook is today? At the launch, she’ll be joined by three of her granddaughters, reading excerpts. Register here. Can’t make this event? Catch Holbrook on Tuesday, Aug. 18, at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 19, at 8 p.m., or Wednesday, Aug. 26, at 7 p.m. Register at the links.

Tonight (Wednesday, Aug. 12) at 7 p.m. at Icehouse: Michelle Kinney’s August Wednesdays Residency. Icehouse’s outdoor courtyard has never been more important than it is now, when it can host live music with socially distanced seating. Pianist, composer and improviser Bryan Nichols is hosting and programming (and performing) on Monday nights in August. Wednesdays belong to Michelle Kinney, a composer, cellist and improviser who memorably curated a performance by Minnesota musicians at the Walker’s Henry Threadgill festival in February 2019. Tonight’s Icehouse show is two sets: Leila Awadallah (mover), Tarek Abdelqader (drums), Jarelle Barton (Guzheng) and Kinney (cello), followed by the Alma Engebretson Trio with Abdelqader on drums and Ivan Cunningham on alto sax. FMI and tickets ($12 cover/general admission; reserved tables, add $50 toward food and beverages). Scroll through the events calendar to see what else Kinney has planned for August.

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Tonight (Wednesday, Aug. 12) at 7 p.m. on Zoom: Trina Fernandez: “2020 Quarantine: 100 Days of Space.” For many of us – for all of us? – the pandemic has meant the loss of time and self. Artist Trina Fernandez has documented every five minutes of her own isolation; her photographs number more than 50,000. She describes her project as “an archive of my time spent, a study of the impending and hidden horror of COVID-19, and proof, that even hidden away, I still exist.” Presented by SooVAC, this virtual event will feature a slideshow from Fernandez’s quarantine and a conversation about our hopes, fears, and desires for connection. FMI and link to Zoom meeting.

African-American playwright Carlyle Brown will be in residence at the Illusion Theater.
Courtesy of the artist
Carlyle Brown’s powerful solo show was created to build awareness of how Black artists are treated, and to inspire open and honest conversations about racism, diversity and equity.
Thursday through Saturday (Aug. 13-15) on Zoom: Carlyle Brown’s “Acting Black.” Presented as part of Illusion Theater’s Fresh Ink New Work Series, Brown’s powerful solo show was created to build awareness of how Black artists are treated, and to inspire open and honest conversations about racism, diversity and equity. A filmed version of Brown’s 60-minute performance will be immediately followed by a live discussion led by Brown. “Acting Black” dates from 2015, but its relevance has not diminished one whit. 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are required to watch and participate. Free. A $15 donation will be appreciated.

Friday (Aug. 14) at 9 p.m. on your TV (TPT) or PBS Video app: “Great Performances: Much Ado About Nothing.” Tony winner Kenny Leon (“A Raisin in the Sun”) directs a lively performance of Shakespeare’s uproarious comedy. The Free Shakespeare in the Park production was filmed at the outdoor Delacorte Theater in summer 2019. The all-Black cast includes Margaret Odette, Tiffany Denise Hobbs, Olivia Washington and Danielle Brooks. Here’s a short promo.

Saturday (Aug. 15) at 7 p.m. online: Christopher Jackson: Live from the West Side. Jackson starred as George Washington in “Hamilton” on Broadway. For that, he earned a Tony nod. He’s also a Grammy- and Emmy-winning songwriter and composer. Streamed from New World Stages, an off-Broadway venue in New York City, this live performance will feature Jackson performing songs from his favorite musicals, pop standards, and originals, backed by a live band. It’s being made available to nonprofit arts organizations across the country, including Hennepin Theatre Trust, as a virtual benefit. Tickets include access to the livestream and 72 more hours of on-demand viewing of a video recording. FMI and tickets ($40/household).