Hennepin Theatre Trust is presenting a three week engagement of Standing On Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays that opens tonight at our New Century Theatre and runs through June 16. After its one-night-only Minnesota debut in November, Guest director Wendy Knox of Frank Theatre returns to helm an amazing cast of six Twin Cities actors in this collection of “mini works” about relationships. The pieces also help raise awareness about the on-going battle for marriage equality and Minnesota’s upcoming vote on a constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage. We sat down with Wendy to pick her brain about why Standing On Ceremony is such an important work and how she approached the show artistically.
Q. How does your work at Frank Theatre lend itself to a Hennepin Theatre Trust presentation like Standing on Ceremony? Why did you want to be a guest director for this work for the second time in Minneapolis?
All of Frank’s work is targeted at asking questions of the world we live in, so while I’m a guest director on this production this is right in line with what we do. I believe theatre helps us understand the world and how we humans interact. Frank Theatre tackles a wide variety of subject matter—in the last year we looked at the rise of Nazism and discrimination against Jews in Cabaret, we examined the devastating impact of war on our soldiers in Ajax In Iraq and most recently, we explored the impact of the BP oil spill on the small fishing communities in the Gulf in The Way Of Water. Standing On Ceremony affords us yet another opportunity to delve into another critical social issue.
When Hennepin Theatre Trust did the one night only reading here last November that I directed, it was extremely well received. Unfortunately, it was one night only, so only about 200 people saw the show. The response to that performance definitely led us to conclude that a longer run would be a great idea. We’re hoping more people can see the show, and keep the conversation going until November.
Q. As a director, are there specific things you need to do to adapt all the different playwrights’ works to the cast you have? How much of a challenge is it to make it a cohesive performance?
The real challenge is in casting actors that can tackle the different roles provided by 11 different scripts but thankfully, we have a fabulous pool of acting talent here in the Twin Cities, and we have a great cast for this show whose range of talent, individually and collectively, is broad. Laura Adams, Aimee Bryant, Shanan Custer, Jim Lichtscheidl, Shawn Hamilton and Mark Rhein are a great group of actors who have appeared on nearly every stage in our community, from the Guthrie to a rundown warehouse where Frank has staged some of its works, and they bring the piece to light in a beautiful way.
The piece was constructed around the theme of marriage so even though there are significant stylistic differences in the writers and their points of attack, the main theme is what makes the piece hang together. Some of the pieces are hysterical, some are very touching, but they all explore some aspect of what marriage means and that provides the hook for all 11 works to hang together.
Q. Do have a favorite playwright or work among the group – why?
Well, I love our local boy Jeff Hatcher, but I have to say that I love the variety in Standing On Ceremony. I love that one piece is screamingly funny, and the next one is so tender that it moves you to tears. Most of the pieces are short, well-written works that hang together well as a whole.
Q. How do you direct works like this where most of the staging and props are in the imagination of the audience?
As I was considering directing this production for the Trust, one of the first questions was how to stage it, and early on I realized that attempting to put a fully produced set/costumes/props on stage for each play would be a disaster. The plays are really the centerpiece of the work, and they need to move quickly and fluidly from one to the other. Lighting and sound can create enough of an atmosphere to help set the plays in a location, and then, well it’s a good thing to have a great group of actors!
Q. What role do the arts have to play in politics – in particular how does this work advance the discussion regarding the constitutional amendment to limit marriage equality?
I confess that I was slow to get on the bandwagon about the marriage issue, but when they actually voted to put an amendment to the state constitution on the ballot, in effect codifying bias and legalizing discrimination against gay couples, well, that got me fired up. And I do think it’s shaping up as one of the most important civil rights battles of our time. Standing On Ceremony explored the issue of marriage from different perspectives. Although we may be preaching to the choir with this production, it’s critical to be asking people to move outside their comfort zone and have conversations with people who may not share their viewpoints on the issue. And most importantly, people need to get out and vote. We’re hoping that this production helps keep the issue front and center for discussion and we’re grateful for Hennepin Theatre Trust’s willingness to present this work.
Wanna go? Standing On Ceremony: The Gay Marriages Plays runs through Saturday June 16 at our New Century Theatre in City Center. All tickets are $25 general admission seating. Click here for a complete list of performance dates and times or to purchase tickets online.
Student/educator rush tickets will be available for all performances one hour before the show at the New Century Box Office. Rush tickets are $15 each, cash only, limit 2 per valid school ID.