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Playwrights’ Center announces 2021-22 season; Crooners presents ‘Rondo ’56’: Remembering St. Paul’s Black Main Street’

ALSO: “E.A. Hoppé and the Ballets Russes” at TMORA; Brass Messengers at Lyndale Gardens; Fortune’s Fool Theatre’s new storytelling anthology; and more.

Ruth Easton New Play Series playwrights, left to right: Carson Krietzer, Gina Femia, TyLie Shider, Gracie Gardner and Ray Yamanouchi.
Ruth Easton New Play Series playwrights, left to right: Carson Kreitzer, Gina Femia, TyLie Shider, Gracie Gardner and Ray Yamanouchi.
Courtesy of the Playwrights’ Center

The Playwrights’ Center has announced its 50th season, no small feat for a nonprofit arts organization even in the best of times. PWC serves, supports and champions playwrights, launches careers, promotes new plays to production at theaters across the country, provides grants and fellowships, collaborates with theaters locally and nationally, and maintains a membership of thousands of playwrights worldwide.

It enters its second half-century during a pandemic while bursting the seams of its longtime home (42 years) in Minneapolis’ Seward neighborhood, preparing a new home in St. Paul’s Creative Enterprise Zone, and making itself more accessible to infinitely larger audiences.

For its 50th season, PWC will present the 17th year of its Ruth Easton New Play Series (staged readings of new plays), the second year of In the Lab (experimental new works), its 38th PlayLabs Festival (new plays, each with two public readings and time in between for rewrites), the second year of Artists in Conversation (built on its earlier and popular Public Discussion series), and a partnership presentation with Trademark Theater. More than a dozen events, all free. The only thing you need to attend is a ticketed reservation.

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Or just stay home. Almost everything will be recorded and made available online a week after the live performances, viewable by anyone from anywhere. The hybrid approach builds on lessons learned during the pandemic.

Producing Artistic Director Jeremy B. Cohen said in a statement, “As I reflect on the Center’s past 50 years and its support for artists like Daniel Alexander Jones, Lee Blessing, Carlyle Brown, Sheila Callaghan, Laurie Carlos, Karl Gajdusek, Marcus Gardley, Idris Goodwin, Sarah Gubbins, Jordan Harrison, Jeffrey Hatcher, Craig Lucas, Martyna Majok, Melanie Marnich, Qui Nguyen, Kira Obolensky, and August Wilson, I think about the common threads.

“Through their work — with their incredible talent — each of those playwrights shared an honest view of the world in all of its beauty, filled with all of its challenges. The artists this season and the stories they are telling, continue this tradition. They pick up the mantle, fostering a more empathetic and imaginative world.”

Here’s a look at 2021-22.

Ruth Easton New Play Series (Oct. 2021-Feb. 2022): Oct. 5 and 6, “Timebomb” by Carson Kreitzer. A climate change comedy. Nov. 2 and 3, “This Happened Once at the Romance Depot Off the I-87 in Westchester” by Gina Femia. A tender story that takes place in a sex shop. Dec. 8 and 9, “Whittier” by TyLie Shider. A multimedia docudrama set in Minneapolis’ Whittier neighborhood days after George Floyd’s murder. Jan. 18 and 19, 2022: “Decoys” by Gracie Gardner. Two men duck hunt together over a lifetime. Feb. 8 and 9: “Tha Chink-Mart” by Ray Yamanouchi. A play inspired by the playwright’s own adolescence growing up Asian American.

In the Lab (March 2022-May 2022): March 11: “Traces” by Rachel Jendrzejewski. An immersive, experimental work with audio devices for audience members. A collaboration with New York’s WaxFactory. March 18 (online only): “Things with Friends” by Kristoffer Diaz. An audio experience about a dinner party in a disaster.

PlayLabs Festival (April-May 2022): April 25 and 30: “Dirty Laundry” by Mathilde Dratwa. A play about the absurdity and messiness of life and death. April 26 and 30: “The Percey Meacham Dance Experience” by Darren Canady. A play set in a Black dance company undergoing change. April 29: “Trapt” by Stacey Rose. A playwright and her son, who supplies the beats and lyrics, explore the world of trap music. May 1: “PlayLabs Festival Fellow Showcase,” with excerpts from new plays by 12 playwrights.

Partnership Presentation (Nov. 2021): Nov. 22 (online only): “5” by JuCoby Johnson. Two best friends run a convenience store in a changing neighborhood when a real estate developer stops by with an offer to buy the place. Presented in partnership with Trademark Theater.

Artists in Conversation (dates TBA). Theater artists’ behind-the-scenes thoughts on process, the craft, the field and the world.

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Learn more about the plays and playwrights on the PWC website. Tickets are available now to in-person readings and online video streams.

The entire 2021-22 season will take place at PWC’s current 2301 E. Franklin Ave. space and online. When the move to the Creative Enterprise Zone was announced in December 2020, it was hoped that the buildout (by HGA) would be completed during the 50th anniversary season. That won’t happen. When we asked for an update, PWC responded:

“We are not immune to the realities of the world we all live in. We recognize the many issues caused by this pandemic: the impact it has had on supply chains; even the challenge of gathering with our partners through the planning process. The effect has been a minor shift in dates but we are moving robustly through the design phase. And we are looking forward to our future in Saint Paul, in a home that will support the needs of artists and the community for the next 50 years and beyond.”

The picks

V is for virtual, L is for live and in person. Before buying tickets to an in-person event, be sure to check the COVID protocols.

The Brass Messengers
Courtesy of the artists
The Brass Messengers
L Tonight (Wednesday, Sept. 15), 6:30 p.m.: Illusion Theater: Live at the amphitheater at Lyndale Gardens: The Brass Messengers. In the final event of Illusion’s surprise summer series, the Brass Messengers — first formed from the Heart of the Beast Mayday Parade — will bring you to your feet with their own original version of Minneapolis street music. 6400 Lyndale Ave. S. Free.

L Tonight (Wednesday, Sept. 15), 7 p.m.: University Club of St. Paul: “Lincolnland All-Star Review.” Baker-poet Klecko will read from his latest book, “Lincolnland,” and his even later latest book, “3 a.m. Austin Texas,” copies of which will be available. He’ll share the spotlight with John “Caveman” Knowles on banjo, Scott Deno on guitar, poets Tim Nolan, Clarence White and Thomas R. Smith, Pi Press books critic Mary Ann Grossman and best-selling author Leif Enger (“Virgil Wander”). Here’s our Q&A with Klecko, if you missed it last week.

Mary Roach
Rain Taxi
Mary Roach
V Thursday, Sept. 16, 5:30 p.m.: Rain Taxi Review: Mary Roach in conversation with Erik Larson. In the lead-up to its in-person Twin Cities Book Festival on Saturday, Oct. 16, Rain Taxi will present a series of live online events. This is the first: a conversation between New York Times best-selling author Mary Roach, aka “America’s funniest science writer,” and fellow New York Times best-selling author Erik Larson (“The Devil in the White City”). Free with registration.

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L Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 16-18, and Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 23-25, 7:30 p.m. at the Crane Theatre: Fortune’s Fool Theatre: “You Who I Always/Never/Once Loved.” A new and original anthology of stories about love gained, lost and evaded, written and performed by a diverse cast of fine Twin Cities storytellers. For many of us, love has taken on special meaning and poignancy during the past 18 months. Separated from (or trapped with) our loved ones, we have asked, “What is love?” and “Who/what do I love?” Each week will feature a different group of eight storytellers; each story will run about 8-10 minutes, with live, original music by Aaron Henderson in between. FMI and tickets ($15).

L Friday, Sept. 17, 7 p.m. at The Museum of Russian Art: Opening reception for “E.O. Hoppé and the Ballets Russes.” Between 1911 and 1923, celebrated British photographer Emil Otto Hoppé photographed the dancers of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Organized in collaboration with the E.O. Hoppé Estate Collection, this show is a rare opportunity to study these celebrated portraits at close range, taking in their beauty, costumes and sheer sensuality. The show will open to the public on Saturday, Sept. 18. The opening reception will show off TMORA at night, when it is especially magical. FMI and tickets ($13 adults, $11 seniors, $5 students; members and children free).

The co-hosts of “Rondo ’56,” left to right: Dan Chouinard, Thomasina Petrus, T. Mychael Rambo and Charmin Michelle
Photo by John Sularz
The co-hosts of “Rondo ’56,” left to right: Dan Chouinard, Thomasina Petrus, T. Mychael Rambo and Charmin Michelle
L Friday through Sunday, Sept. 17-19, at Crooners on the mainstage: “Rondo ’56: Remembering St. Paul’s Black Main Street.” As if Crooners doesn’t already have enough happening on its three stages (plus its cozy after-hours bar, with piano), it’s adding musical revues to the mix. “Rondo ’56” is a portrait of St. Paul’s vibrant, tight-knit Black neighborhood in the years before the freeway cut it in two. Written in 2010 by Dan Chouinard with help from the Minnesota Historical Society, Rondo elders and performers, substantially updated in collaboration with co-hosts T. Mychael Rambo, Thomasina Petrus and Charmin Michelle, this will be a night of stories and songs by Louis Jordan, Nat King Cole, Dinah Washington and more. With Chouinard on piano, Daryl Boudreaux on percussion, Jeff Bailey on bass and Walter Chancellor on saxophone. FMI including times and tickets ($30-35).