New Season…New Faces

24 Feb

The Curtain goes up on Season 26 at the Commonweal in 6 weeks. As you’ve come to expect, there are 5 fantastic productions on the slate for 2014. With this new season, comes two new faces to the Commonweal team and we could not be more excited to welcome them. You’ll be seeing so much more of them over the course of the year and we are certain that you will appreciate them as much as we do. This week’s introduction is…………

Ryan Lee: Box Office Manager

Ryan Lee - The Newest Member of the Commonweal Family

Ryan Lee – The Newest Member of the Commonweal Family

Last year was an incredible year.  I released a new album, toured around the Midwest playing shows, launched the charity-based house concert idea that had been on my mind for quite a while, and spent time in Honduras teaching music to kids. After 14 years of, recording, promoting, and performing, 2013 was probably the “best” year I’ve had as an independent musician. 

But halfway through the year, I began to realize that being a solo singer/songwriter/musician in the full-time “push-push-push” capacity that I’ve been so committed to just wasn’t working for me anymore.  I do love writing songs, recording, singing and playing live.  But, the main thing that hit me was that I was lonely.  I missed the daily social aspect of working on a team, having people with whom I can connect,  share ideas and stories, and check in with on a regular basis.  I am such a people person, yet found myself alone most of the time.  My favorite part of any gig has always been taking that set break and going out into the audience to meet, chat and make friends with the people. 

Ryan with husband Tod Petersen

Ryan with husband Tod Petersen

I also missed the theatre.  I went to school for acting, and did some theatre post-college for a bit, until I caught the songwriting bug and decided to focus on music.  But last year, I watched my husband Tod (who is an actor) have a very busy, socially rewarding time in the theatre, while I longed for company in my little singer/songwriter bubble. 

 Enter Lanesboro, where I now reside…and The Commonweal Theatre.  Tod directed a show down here several years ago, and has since maintained a friendship with the core artists that “keep the wheels spinning”.  He says he’s held a “strong flirtation” with The Commonweal ever since he left, hoping to work here again in some capacity.  RyanLast summer, we came down here to visit, enjoy the bike trail, and see a couple of shows at the theatre.  I met everyone pulling the strings of the company, and instantly fell in love with this little town.  We walked the trail and were reminded again that ever since we left the North Woods of WI,  we have been trying to get back…Out of the chaos of the city and back to nature, simplicity and quiet.  A couple months later, I auditioned to be a part of The Commonweal’s 2014 season, and lucky for me, they offered me 2 roles, as well as the position of Box Office Manager!  Tod is doing a show in Mpls, but will join me down here in 6 weeks.  He will be directing a show for The Commonweal this season, and will be involved in other capacities as they unfold. 

So I’ve been here for a little while now, learning my new job and getting into the swing of things.  I am so grateful and thrilled to be here.

A Play Has Been Chosen

12 Feb
by Diana Jurand
Diana Jurand (r) with David Hennessey, Julia Masotti and Mike Swan

Diana Jurand (r) with David Hennessey, Julia Masotti and Mike Swan

It was early August, a month after the deadline to select the Apprentice Capstone show. All four of us (Julia Masotti, Philip Muehe, and Mike Swan, and myself) plunked down in the Artists Residence and gave ourselves a two hour block to make one of the biggest decisions of our Apprenticeship. Our task was not to simply pick a show we liked; we had to carefully decide what message we wanted to send to the Commonweal family. We had to determine what our final choice would offer artistically, emotionally and culturally and why its message was important to us.

We decided we would first pare down the lengthy list. On the table were Proof by David Auburn, The Fox by Alan Miller, Bash by Neil LaBute, And Baby Makes Seven by Paula Vogel, No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre, and Tigers Be Still by Kim Rosenstock.   

The first shows off the docket were the Labute and the Vogel pieces due to the fact that they are solely one act plays. The next piece drooped was No Exit.  This is a stately drama and we could have done all sorts of interpretive work placing it in modern times, but we felt we could make a more daring and uncommon choice. 

Proof was the next in our deliberation. This piece came with the necessity of using an actor from the Resident Company and, early on, we were not assured of that. Additionally, neither Julia nor I felt strongly about the female characters. Being that this project centers on passion, we knew it had to go. 

The decision between our top two (The Fox and Tigers Be Still) wasn’t as easy. I encouraged a reading, aloud, of both plays to gauge our level of interst.  There is no question that Tigers Be Still is a higher quality script than The Fox.  Each play contains themes which are important to us at this time in our lives. Ultimately it came down to choosing the play that encompassed those themes within the form of a comedy. 

Promo Poster_ResizeIn the end of all of our consideration, the reasons we chose Tigers Be Still are these:

  • Ain’t nobody got time to see a drama in the middle of winter in Lanesboro.
  • Comedies are hard. Let’s do something hard.
  • Depression and feeling stuck is a common human experience and ones that we have all experienced at some point. Tigers Be Still reminds us that community, wherever you are, is important. Sometimes you get in a funk, and sometimes it cripples you, and when that happens it is a wonderful thing to lean on the people in your life for support. 

At the end of our meeting, we were all aboard the Tiger-train and while 100% enthusiasm may not have been rallied in that early decision making process, it sure is now. We are anxious to begin the rehearsal process and share with you a show that resounds with us all.   

The 2013-14 Apprentice Company’s production of Tigers Be Still will run for 2 weeks only. Performance dates are March 20-23 and 27-30. Click through to for more information and to make your ticket reservation. 


Wrapping Up Season 25

13 Dec

This Season of Celebration has indeed been one to remember. Along with a slate of fantastic productions, the memories made through special festivities and events will last another 25 years. We keep saying this, but it is hard to believe that the milestone year is coming to an end. We know you have your highlights…here are some of ours. 

From left to right; Hal Cropp, Jeremy van Meter and Carla Joseph in "Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure."

From left to right; Hal Cropp, Jeremy van Meter and Carla Joseph in “Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure.”

Hal Cropp (Commonweal Executive Director)—I have three memorable highlights from our 25th season. The first is the reunion presentation for the 25th Season Gala, with the return of many alumni, revisiting favorite scenes from our history from Crimes of the Heart to Talley’s Folly, Steel Magnolias and beyond. The second was the sheer joy of playing Sherlock Holmes opposite my stellar cast mates, most notably my Irene Adler, Stef Dickens, and my ever-steady Watson, Jeremy van Meter. Finally, reconnecting with my Jewish heritage while taking my Christian cast along with me to The Last Night of Ballyhoo. What an ideal season and a great way to celebrate 25 years!

Scott Dixon (Resident Ensemble)—My favorite memories from 2013 will definitely include working with our amazing 2012 Apprentices in their production of Miss Julie, and the great fun working with the very funny and talented Amanda Rafuse and Catie Glynn in Blithe Spirit

Janet and Janine Holter

Janet and Janine Holter

Janine Holter (Million Dollar Club Member)—My favorite memory of the 25th season was Blithe Spirit specifically the performance that was dedicated to my Mother, Janet Holter. My Mother and I enjoyed many performances at the Commonweal prior to her passing away in 2012.  Being the quiet and unassuming person she was, I am certain she could not have imagined that she would be honored with a performance dedicated to her!  The highlight of the evening was to share with Mother’s family the Commonweal experience.  From all parts of Minnesota Janet’s siblings, in-laws, nieces, nephews and children were able to become part of what Janet enjoyed each summer.  The program dedication brought tears, but the performance of Blithe Spirit brought nonstop laughter.  Thank you, Commonweal, for sharing your talent in honor of my Mother, Janet Holter.  She is smiling.

We welcomed back all of our cherished friends:

Ana Hagedorn (Annual Company)—This year has taken me on a whirlwind of an adventure on stage! I will always cherish the amount of creativity, dedication and artistry that came with creating Miss Julie from the ground up. Speaking of that show, I have to mention the talent of the 2012 Apprentice Company. We really kicked some Strindberg butt together! I also couldn’t have asked for a better bunch of ladies to share the dressing room with during Blithe Spirit. As a cast we were directed to have fun and that is exactly what we did both on and off stage. Lastly, one of the nearest and dearest to my heart is all the camaraderie and support that blossomed during The Last Night of Ballyhoo. Without that we wouldn’t have the laughter that brings us to tears nor the breathtaking story we share on stage.

Ibsen Fest Celebrates A Doll's HouseDavid Hennessey (Resident Ensemble)—I will remember three highlights from our 2013 season. First, our insanely program-packed opening weekend: A Doll’s House, Ibsen Fest, Ibsen Road Scholar, and an encore performance of the apprentice play, Miss Julie,  and our 25th Season Gala party and retrospective, complete with encore performances by many wonderful Commonweal alums.
Second, the Commonweal’s receipt of the first annual Ardee Award for Outstanding Greater Rochester Arts Organization. 

Finally, an early performance of Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure, which tested the concentration discipline of me and my scene partners.   Just before I was to enter as Moriarty, a simulated smoke bomb—consisting of a sharp blast of corn starch—was to blanket the stage in fog.  But a slight miscalculation showered much of the powder directly on me instead toward the stage. I had to play the scene as if nothing had happened, though my face and hair were covered in white dust which must have detracted from the sinister goals of the evil Professor.  It’s a good thing that Hal and Stef did not laugh when our eyes met, because I would have followed suit if they had!

We renewed our commitment to a valuable lesson:

Diana Jurand (Apprentice Class)—The highlight of this season for me was working on Blithe Spirit with a wonderful and eclectic cast. I have to summon up one night in particular when Edith (my character) was about to enter with Madame Arcati (Nancy Huisenga) and instead of saying her usual line, Nancy shouted out, very enthusiastically, the words “DING DONG!” and then immediately shot a look at me, and clapped her hands to her mouth in horror. I essentially did the same back at her but had to immediately step on stage. I entered to unfortunately meet eyes with Amanda Rafuse who was trying very hard to stifle a laugh, which only made me nearly burst out into laughter, which she saw, and in turn was even MORE challenged to stay in character. It was all I could do to keep my composure until I finally made my way off stage and ran to the dressing room to find Catherine Glynn to share with her my peals of laughter and to explain what she had heard over the monitors. 

Julie Warner (center) with the cast of "Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure."

Julie Warner (center) with the cast of “Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure” following her walk-on role performance.

Julie Warner (Core Million Dollar Club Member)—It was a dream come true. Taking a bow on the Commonweal Theatre stage with friends whom I consider my family was a thrill of a life time. I was lovingly supported by my family and friends sitting in the audience, a humbling and yet honoring experience. I played the role of a postman in Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure coming onto the stage and saying a line…or two. My family has been coming to the Commonweal Theatre for twenty three years and we are so proud of how far the company has grown not only in space and talent but in integrity, warmth and love. I am pleased to have been a part of their history.

Gary Danciu (Annual Company)—The highlight for me this season was performing as Joe Farkas in “The Last Night of Ballyhoo.” I’ve never played a character where if I met him on the street I would like him so much. I look forward to performing in this show every night, and it’s a great a way to end this season. The play’s message of self acceptance is very important to me and it is an experience that I am going to cherish well after closing.

We remembered stories from years past:

All in all, Season 25 at the Commonweal has been everything we expected and much more. If you’ve been with us from the beginning or if 2013 was your first experience, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for sharing some time with us and making the year so memorable.

Oh yeah, there was also ALL of this…….

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25 Seasons—25 Stories: Commonweal Pets

10 Dec

Our special Season 25 series of stories and videos would not be complete without featuring the other members of our family. Those of the more furry nature. 

Annual Company Member Gary Danciu goes behind the scenes to find out what it’s really like to live with an actor. 


27 Nov
by Jeremy van Meter

GratefulAs I sit in the office of a theatre company within a small Minnesota town, I am grateful to be here now. I am thankful for my situation and that my path has brought me to a place of security and satisfaction in so many things. There is a strong sense of gratitude in my home and the person with whom I share that home.

As I think about this season of thanksgiving and because of the play currently onstage at the Commonweal, “The Last Night of Ballyhoo”, I’d like to share the thoughts of Rabbi Ted Falcon on the idea of being grateful and giving thanks.

The following is courtesy of The Huffington Post Online:

“Jewish tradition urges us to begin with thanksgiving, and bring that to the world.

It was Meister Eckhart, the great Christian mystic, who said, “If the only prayer you say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” The gratitude we bring to the world has the power to transform that world. When gratitude begins within ourselves, it is a truly powerful spiritual path.

Try using the words “thank you” when you rise and when you go to sleep. Repeat them silently and gently as a focus for meditation. Greet each perception, each sensation, each thought and each feeling with “Thank you.” It’s a Thanksgiving Day mantra for every day.” — Rabbi Ted Falcon

We here at the Commonweal have much to be grateful for. There is thanksgiving among us for “new beginnings and the birth of nephews”; “cherished time with a very special person on his way out of the world”; “hot coffee and dark chocolate sea salted caramels.” We are thankful for our homes and the unconditional support of family and friends, an artistic home that continually inspires and that each breath we take is done in a place where the air is clean and the sky is blue.

We are also thankful for the support of you—our great friends who have come in the door of the Commonweal this year. There have been special memories made this 25th year at the Commonweal and we are grateful, now, to have shared those with you.

Happy Thanksgiving and may all of you begin and end each day with thanks.

The Creation of a Character

13 Nov

Every process is different as each character is radically different from the next. In this edition of commonREEL, cast members from The Last Night of Ballyhoo describe the ways in which their characters have proceeded from the page to the stage. 

The Last Night of Ballyhoo begins previews this Friday and opens officially Saturday, November 23. 

25 Seasons—25 Stories: First Show Memories

24 Oct

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 (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 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 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 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)

“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 (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 


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