Despite a great deal of loss the past two seasons, leaders of the Minnesota State University, Mankato Department of Theatre & Dance still had a difficult decision to make on whether to go forward with Highland Summer Theatre 2021.
In 2019-20, they canceled 10 productions completely due to COVID-19. They returned in a limited way in 2020-21, cutting one show and dealing with limited seating capabilities for the others. Even though millions of Americans are now vaccinated and businesses are opening up, there was still uncertainty about patrons being comfortable enough to come back this summer.
“The thought of doing a two-show season instead of a [regular] four-show season was a nice compromise,” said Matthew Caron, who succeeded the retired Paul J. Hustoles as managing director. “It’s a way to remind people that Highland Summer Theatre still exists, even though it was canceled last year. But we’re still here, we’re still doing stuff. We’re not going full-bore back at it yet just because we didn’t know what the summer was going to be like.”
The thought of doing a two-show season instead of a four-show season was a nice compromise.MatThew Caron
Highland has traditionally been a nine-week, two play/two musical season, starting in late May and ending with the conclusion of the second summer session at the end of July. This year, the season has been cut in half with the comedy The Complete History of American (abridged) playing May 26-29 in the Andreas Theatre, followed by Some Enchanted Evening: The Songs of Rodgers & Hammerstein playing in the Ted Paul Theatre June 9-12. Caron and musical director Nick Wayne are splitting artistic director duties.
Some good news!
Good news was received on May 6 when Gov. Tim Walz relaxed capacity limitations. Because of that, the run of One Enchanted Evening in the Ted Paul Theatre will be sold at full capacity. Patrons who purchased season tickets expecting socially distanced seating are being contacted to check their comfort levels. But the season will still be two shows.
“We ended up landing on doing just two shows because our turnout for our [academic year] season was actually much smaller than we thought,” Caron said. With a strong history of season ticket sales, they had hoped to be able to fill their reduced capacity seating. That wasn’t the case.
We’re going to stay abreast of changes that are happening and adjust things accordingly.MatThew Caron
Although they were allowed to play at 50 percent capacity, the social distancing requirement actually reduced the number to about 35 percent capacity, he said. “One thing I think it’s important for our future audience to remember is that we’re going to stay abreast of [capacity] changes that are happening and adjust things accordingly,” Caron said before the May 6 revisions.
The Complete History of America
The Complete History of America (abridged) was first presented at Highland in 2005, featuring the same three-person cast as its sister production, The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged), had in 2001: alumni E. J. Subkoviak, Ben Thietje and Colin Woolston. The cast this time will include two women and one man.
“I think he just leaned into who is best for the roles, and the three actors here all have a magnificent comic timing and an energy on stage that will be able to play well off each other,” Caron said of director James Von Oort’s casting. “And the script itself doesn’t list any genders for any of the characters.”
The script uses witty repartee and lots of props, along with the ability to add time-sensitive political and cultural comments, to tell the history of America in 90 minutes. It’s perfect for this season, Caron added, because “it’s supposed to look like a couple of schleps just opened up a trunk and started doing something. So that one’s just going to be a lot of fun in its simplicity…” But having a minimal set doesn’t mean it won’t be engaging and clever.
Some Enchanted Evening
For Some Enchanted Evening, the songs of two great songwriters will be placed in a setting similar to an awards show, Caron said, with a glitzy feel created with lighting and paint treatment. Little true plot means these familiar songs come at a fast pace.
“Just because we’re doing it on a reduced budget, doesn’t mean that it’s going to be any less grand than if we had two, three, four or five times as much money,” he said. Production budgets that were reduced for the Mainstage season will remain lower for the summer, but doing just two shows also will decrease the overall budget.
I love Rodgers and Hammerstein. I’ll take any excuse to be able to work with the songs of Richard Rodgers! It’s the mashed potatoes and gravy of musical theatre songs.Nick Wayne
“I love Rodgers and Hammerstein,” said musical director Wayne. “I’ll take any excuse to be able to work with the songs of Richard Rodgers! It’s the mashed potatoes and gravy of musical theatre songs,” he added.
Wayne has been involved with the summer season since 2006. His favorite shows include Nunsense, Grease, Next to Normal, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Shrek, and Seussical. He was brought on as co-artistic director since Caron has only directed a couple of summer shows.
The smaller cast show that includes many solos and duets will benefit from earlier relaxed restrictions that allow a performer to remove their mask to sing or speak if they are at least 12 feet away from other performers and the audience. For the first time in a long time, the audiences will see a performer’s entire face, Caron said.
Wayne added: “This is unexpected because when we chose the summer shows we were planning on masks for everyone all the time. Now that restrictions have lifted slightly, it is nice to know that we have a show that features so many solos. We can safely pull everyone else off stage so that the soloist can just sing without worrying about a mask and all the challenges that come with masking voices!”
For the first time in a long time, the audiences will see a performer’s entire face.Matthew Caron
Another positive for this summer is that two corporate sponsors have returned to support the shows. The Minnesota State Mankato TRIO Programs is sponsoring The Complete Works, and OFC and Farrish Johnson Law Office are sponsoring Some Enchanted Evening. TRIO has sponsored shows since 1997; OFC has sponsored since 2002.
“Both Farrish Johnson and OFC want to be good community partners and felt our sponsorship would provide hope and support to our friends at MSU,” OFC representative Bobbi Nawrocki said.
Season tickets cost $35 and may be ordered now through May 28. Individual general admission tickets go on sale May 17. Cost is $17 for The Complete History and $24 for Some Enchanted Evening.
To receive a season brochure, you may email firstname.lastname@example.org