Guthrie brings its show to town

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 11, 2000

While attorney and actor Craig Johnson was learning how to "wake up his voice," Wendy Lund was making last-minute preparations to help three fairies fly.

Thursday, May 11, 2000

While attorney and actor Craig Johnson was learning how to "wake up his voice," Wendy Lund was making last-minute preparations to help three fairies fly.

Email newsletter signup

Meanwhile, Nancy Grunewald and Karyn Schneider worried about "roadies."

In a silent classroom at Austin High School, rows of mirrors reflected makeup, hairpieces and towels with monograms designed by AHS special education students.

What does it all mean? Answer: the Guthrie Theatre is in town.

Today, area middle-school students saw the very first performance of "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" in Knowlton Auditorium at AHS. Tomorrow, area high-school students will see a performance. Both performances are made possible by the Austin Education Foundation.

Then, Friday and Saturday evenings, the public will be able to view the William Shakespeare classic.

This marks the last stop on a tour by the Guthrie Theatre Company before the actors conclude their tour at the Fitzgerald Theatre in St. Paul next week.

The actors and technicians have been on the road for three and a half months visiting 15 cities. The purpose of the tour was, in part, to bring the acclaimed Guthrie Theatre’s art to Greater Minnesota.

The company has performed in former vaudeville houses, community theaters, high school gymnasiums and state-of-the-art college auditoriums.

Technical director Wendy Lund and her crew of 13 behind-the-scenes technicians make the classic fairy tale happen every night with the valuable assistance of two stage managers.

It took the crew 20 hours to unload and set up the stage, plus lighting and sound equipment for the three-hour-long play in Knowlton Auditorium.

There is a flower that is an integral part of the scenery on the stage. It is 18 feet tall and 24 feet wide and has moving petals.

"It’s very important to the progress of the play," Lund said, but so are the fairies, which it is Lund’s job to fly. "Two will drop down from above and another one will fly across the stage."

Does Lund know her job? Answer: 12 years of experience, including working rock concerts, country music extravaganzas and Gov. Jesse Ventura’s inaugural ball extravaganza say so.

Theater electrician Mike Frohling and audio engineer Ryan Richards are other behind-the-scenes magicians who will help their crews transform Knowlton Auditorium into a lush, sensual fairy kingdom populated by fairies.

"There are 150 conventional lights and 29 moving lights, plus two spotlights, so it’s quite a production," Frohling said.

Matt Tucker will operate the light board along side Richards at a control panel befitting a NASA launch site.

The technicians say the Knowlton Auditorium stage is just the right size for excellent performances from a technical viewpoint. They also like the adjoining gymnasium back stage where gear from three semis is stored during the Guthrie Theatre’s visit to Austin this weekend.

Guthrie workshops, too

Clara Westberg, the theater company manager, and Robert Berkdahl, a cast member, visited the Paramount Theatre Wednesday afternoon for one of the workshops done in each city for aspiring actors.

Wednesday’s workshop was entitled "Creating A Character."

"The workshops involve a lot of interaction," Westberg said. "We’ve done them at every stop on this tour and they bring young people and adults, community theater regulars to high-end workshops on college campuses."

On this day, the workshop has attracted a small group of high school actors, plus Riverland Community College students and Johnson, an Austin attorney, who is a regular in Summerset Theatre productions.

They are on the stage at the Paramount Theatre, where Berkdahl is helping them loosen up with physical exercises and in order to wake up the voice oral exercises, too.

Berkdahl started acting for fun in grade school. When he was a sophomore in high school, the acting bug duly bit him and its grip has become a "passion," and his career.

Already Berkdahl and the other actors have made friends. Their dressing room at AHS includes monogrammed towels from special education students, complete with pictures.

It is that kind of personal touch, the Guthrie Theatre’s Austin visit may be remembered for.

‘Everybody has been great’

Hormel Foods Corp. picked up the tab – all $55,000 of it – for the theater company to come to Austin.

All proceeds from the public performances will be shared by the Austin Area Commission for the Arts, Women’s Auxiliary to the Austin Symphony Orchestra, Austin Symphony Orchestra, Zonta, Northwestern Singers, Matchbox Children’s Theater and Austin Area Arts Center.

Wednesday afternoon, two of the local arts organizations’ representatives, Karyn Schneider and Nancy Grunewald, told how the organizations were helping the Guthrie Theatre Company in Austin.

Last night, the Hormel Historic Home board of directors hosted an invitation-only reception for the Guthrie visitors at the home. The Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau assisted.

Tonight another reception will be held at the Austin Area Arts Center and still another will be held Friday night at Holiday Inn of Austin hosted by Hormel Foods.

The group of 20 actors and 18 crew members will be the toast of the town three nights running.

Mark Bliese, AHS Knowlton Auditorium stage manager, recruited members of the IATSE union at Rochester to assist when more electricians were needed.

The city of Austin sent five workers to AHS to help, G&G Heating and Air Conditioning loaned a Genie lift, Culligan Water Conditioning brought water, Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Austin served pop and food came from Subway of Austin, Hy-Vee Food Store, Cash Wise Foods and Apollo Superette, while the U.S. Postal Service in Austin loaned carts to transport the items.

And 15 award-winning Green Mill pizzas from the Holiday Inn helped refuel cast and crew this week.

"Everybody has been wonderful," Grunewald said. "They have done so much to make this a success. At Austin High, the students and faculty gave up their home ec classrooms and the gymnasium and the teachers gave up the faculty lounge. The custodians have been helping in every way. It’s been great."

One important task needs attention, according to Grunewald and Schneider.

"The kids had a great time unloading the equipment when they got here Tuesday," Schneider said. "They’ll have a great time loading up Saturday night, too. That’s when we need volunteers."

Right after Saturday night’s performance, the cast and crew will be served supper. Then, the work begins dismantling the stage set and loading the equipment into the semis.

"All they have to do is be able to lift 50 pounds," Grunewald said.

"It will be just like you’re a roadie with a rock ‘n’ roll band and taking down the set after a concert," Schneider said.

For more information about helping Saturday night, call Schneider at 437-9336. Couples, individuals and organizations are invited to participate.