Your first production as an actor with any theatre is a momentous occasion. That first production as an actor at the Commonweal is made that much more special in that you know you are about to become a part of a family and not just another collection of actors. In this edition of 25 Seasons—25 Stories, members of the Commonweal family of artists recall that special night when they took to the Lanesboro stage for the first time.
Mike Swan (r) with Gary Danciu and David Hennessey in “Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure”
Mike Swan (Apprentice): I have never had to play so many roles in one show. Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure stretched me further both physically and vocally as an actor than I had ever experienced before. It was simply a blast to see how far I could push myself.
David Hennessey (Resident Ensemble): Our Town, 1998. My main role was Editor Webb, but I also played Howie the milkman and did a lot of prep work for him. Of course we mimed all the props, so this Chicago suburban boy went to a nearby farm to learn how one leads a horse, so I could do it convincingly sans steed. (When I told that to area high schoolers in student workshops, they were very amused.) I also got an old-fashioned milk bottle and practiced taking it out and putting it back in a milk case. I did that over and over in my room between early rehearsals.
Diana Jurand with Amanda Rafuse in “Blithe Spirit”
Diana Jurand (Apprentice): My first show at the commonweal was Blithe Spirit. One key factor that influenced it was the director, Craig Johnson, because during our first rehearsal he said that the process should be fun and that if it wasn’t fun, to let him know and he’d fix it. That rehearsal process and show was the most fun I’ve had in a long time and I had the good fortune to meet some great people through it from the theater and the community.
Adrienne Sweeney (Resident Ensemble): My first role here at the Commonweal was Catherine in An Enemy of the People in 2001. Hal called me on Dec. 22 to offer me the role that started rehearsals the second week of January! I knew right off the bat that I was, ahem, not the first choice for the role and found out later that I was correct – the woman originally cast had to pull out last minute. In the theatre world, it’s foolish to hold on to any sense of false pride about casting – I was just thrilled to be playing a terrific part in an Ibsen play!
But the best memory I have of my first show at the Commonweal was made before I ever stepped foot in the theatre. I was driving down County Road 8, having never even been in Lanesboro. It was a frigid but sunny January day. And as I turned the corner and first laid eyes on the “magical hamlet,” I remember very clearly a little voice in my head saying “You’re home.” It was right.
Bailey Otto (Stage Manager): My first show at The Commonweal was A Doll’s House (2013). Opening night was a packed house, so I was holding the show until we had seated as many patrons as possible. Finally, I was given the OK to start. As I left to tell the cast to go to places, I heard Hal starting to give the curtain speech. I realized that Hal was speaking over the pre-show music, so I started sprinting to the cast. I hit the actor’s hallway, yelled, “PLACES!” to Daniel, and he told the rest of the cast to get in place. As I turned around, I crashed into Adrienne and both of us had a look of horror on our faces that the show was starting and I was not yet in the booth. I then dashed off to start the show. The show that followed ran smoothly and successfully, but that was a lot of craziness for my first Opening.
Jeremy van Meter with Carla Joseph in “Pillars of Society”
Jeremy van Meter (Resident Ensemble): I did go on in an understudy capacity in To Kill a Mockingbird in 2011, but my first official role with the company was in Pillars of Society in 2012. I recall standing in the wings backstage that night listening to the pre-show speech and thinking that an impossible dream was about the come true. I was about to share the stage not only with other amazing actors but with my equally amazing wife and partner, Catherine Glynn as well—a rarity I can tell you! That night was also the beginning of a long term commitment to a theatre company I had known of and respected for many years. I will never forget the power and value of that night.
Hal Cropp (Resident Ensemble): 22 seasons is a long time to page back through, but certainly several images remain from my first role at the Commonweal, Mr. Mushnik in Little Shop of Horrors. Arriving late at night, without benefit of the spectacular view descending into the picturesque landscape, breakfast with Waldo Bunge (Eric’s father), walking alongside the float holding Audrey II and all of the women of the play for the Buffalo Bill Days parade… the list could go on and on, but the two memories that remain as clear as day are the six little munchkins who attended at least ten of the performances that July and the choreographed routine that Catherine Docken and Alison and Kristen Bunge performed on the side of the hill at Waldo and Marilyn Bunges’ farm, performing the main theme from the show, playing the three Ronettes at ages seven, seven, and four. What a hoot!
Ana Hagedorn with Daniel Stock in “The Philadelphia Story”
Ana Hagedorn (Annual Member): Liz Imbrie (or more affectionately known as “The Camera Lady”) was my first role at the Commonweal Theatre in 2012. She was a strong, independent woman that brought sass, spunk and wit to The Philadelphia Story. I will admit the first time up on stage, I had the age old butterflies, but luckily the confidence and persona that we created in rehearsal kicked in, and I knew that I was in good hands. Liz had my back as much as I had hers.
Philip Muehe (Directing Apprentice): My first show here at the Commonweal was The Philadelphia Story. I was an intern at the time and was serving as the Asst. Stage Manager. Carolyn, the Stage Manager at the time went out of town so I got to run 2 previews, one being County Free Night which was completely sold out. Anyway, Hal was giving the pre-show speech and from the booth I realized the coffee table on the set was behind the sofa rather than the typical position in front of the sofa. I awkwardly walked down the stairs with every one watching and wondering what I was doing and moved it back to it’s proper place. I was completely mortified, but Hal visited me in the booth and we had a good laugh about it. That always helps!
“A Streetcar Named Desire” (2003)
Stef Dickens (Resident Ensemble): I should have realized when I joined the Commonweal in the cast of A Streetcar Named Desire in 2003 that it was foreshadowing for the slew of wacky, zany and unexpectedly numerous characters awaiting me in the future. I was an intern, and I played 3 roles in that production – the Nurse at the end who manhandles Blanche to take her to an asylum, the decrepit Mexican Woman, and a voice over of the character (as the script indicates) who is called “A Negro Woman”. I learned my own versatility and that there are no small parts, and still, to this day, we eerily quote: “Flooooorrrreeesss….Flooooorrreeeesss para los muertos….!!
Scott Dixon (Resident Ensemble): My first show at the Commonweal was the production of An Enemy of the People in 2001, directed by Kristen Underwood. One memory I have of the show is the night that Adrienne Sweeney was getting ready to make an entrance from offstage, grabbed the door handle and it came off in her hand! So, quickly, she dashes around to the other side of the set (which, in the old St Mane, was not that long a run) and made her entrance from the other side. For myself and the other actor onstage, however, it was quite a surprise to be expecting her to enter from the right and have her suddenly appear behind us. However, like the professionals we are, we stifled our giggles, and went on with the scene – with Adrienne holding on to the broken doorknob in her pocket!
Carla Joseph (Annual Member): My first show at the Commonweal was Little Shop of Horrors. My favorite part was that almost every night, the Ronnettes and I got to pick what dance moves that Stan Peal, aka Seymour, did during “Feed Me (Git It).” It was the last show, though, that we told him to surprise us and he did an amazing cartwheel! I’ll never ever forget that!
Gary Danciu (l) with Stan Peal in “Little Shop of Horrors” (2011)
Gary Danciu (Annual Member): I came to the Commonweal as an apprentice in 2011, and my first production was the musical, Little Shop of Horrors. This show is pure entertainment and I love to sing, so it was a great show to be apart of as I began my time at the Commonweal. I played the sadistic dentist and it was a pleasure to go out and disturb people and their families for four months. That is the one thing I miss most.
What stroll down Commonweal first show memories would be complete without yours? Have a great memory of YOUR first show at the Commonweal? Share it here or email firstname.lastname@example.org.