Summer Shakespeare troupe shines light on emerging talent

Many theater officianados have heard of the Public Theater in New York.

But have you heard of the Public Theater of Minnesota?

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Nathan Cheesman, Ross Destiche and Briana Patnode in the 2011 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Photo by Andy Blenkush

In its third year, PTMN has been keeping a low profile while building a grassroots following in the west metro presenting summer productions of Shakespeare in Wolfe Park.

Now it’s preparing for its first season of indoor professional productions in 2013.

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Opening night of Romeo and Juliet in Wolfe Park

Photo by Mark Hauck

Artistic Director Mark Hauck comes with strong credentials – he founded the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona. But Hauck took a five year break from the theater business, instead teaching it to Hopkins High School teenagers.

Working at the high school and outside the cocoon of the arts world I started discovering anew how important the arts are for everyone. The act of art-making–creating something “special” and sharing it with someone–is fundamental to our health as individuals and as a community.

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Jason Rojas as Oberon and Joshua Walker as Puck in the Public Theater of Minnesota’s 2011 production of Midsummer Night’s Dream

Photo by Andy Blenkush

Currently PTMN is performing Romeo and Juliet at Wolfe Park, and Hauck expects more than 2,000 people will attend the show by the end of its run.

Key to our success is the New Artist Company concept behind the summer productions. We hire 10-12 talented young artists (under age 24) from theater training programs. The combination of youthful energy, talent, evolving production values (as a our small budget allows), and a pleasant relaxed setting has proven magical for audiences and artists. We are thrilled that members of our New Artist Company have gone on to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Acting Company, The Guthrie Theater, and other well known theaters.

The ultimate vision for the organization, said Hauck, is to have three companies, one comprised of theater professionals, another by community members and a third made up of emerging artists ages 15 – 25.

The vision was in many ways inspired by the Citizens Theater of Glasgow, which has built a reputation for artistic excellence and community based programming by embracing the gifts and passions of artists of many ages and across the spectrum from amateur to professional.

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Phil Eschweiler as Bottom and Anthony Simone as Peter Quince in the 2011 PTMN production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Photo by Andy Blenkush

According to Hauck, working with young artists is key to creating civic-mindedness and to fostering a greater passion for art-making.

Our summer audience so far has trended a little younger–something we want to encourage. The connection between young artists and their peers or near peers is exciting to watch. For years we theater folks have talked about “greying” audiences and have tried to devise marketing and pricing and programming schemes to attract younger playgoers. Why not support highly visible work by young artists? What new understanding can they bring to the work?

Hauck says the company is still working on finding its new indoor performance home. Romeo and Juliet runs through July 22 at Wolfe Park in St. Louis Park.

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