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‘Our House: The Capitol Play Project’ will showcase local talent

Posted on 09 January 2018 by Calvin

Article and photos by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
“Welcome to the People’s House!” is the opening song of the upcoming Wonderlust Production’s newest work. Our House: The Capitol Play Project is a two-act play about the Minnesota State Capitol that will be performed at the newly renovated Capitol building Jan. 19-28.

The play explores the world of the Capitol through story, song, and movement. While half a dozen of the 18 cast members are professional actors, the rest are a cross-section of the Capitol community and the community at large—giving voice to stories told by politicians, staffers, civil servants, building maintenance crews, security officers, lobbyists, researchers, reporters, and citizens. In short, welcome to the people’s house.

As the play opens, a wild-card governor has just been elected, and the regular order of business at the Capitol is thrown into chaos. A chorus of seasoned employees tries to get their way, while an idealistic new employee finds herself at the center of unexpected controversy. Misunderstandings and mistaken identity lead to a crash course in the realities that both constrain and inspire the people who have devoted themselves to public service. Inside the marble halls, the atmosphere is brimming with idealism, cynicism, absurdity, significance, and shifting power.

Photo right: Andy Dawkins (far left), retired legislator and cast member, rehearsed for the upcoming performances of Our House: The Capitol Play Project. Dawkins learned about the play from reading an article in the Midway Como Monitor last winter. Other cast members left to right are Delinda “Oogie” Pushetonequa, David Zander, and Gabrielle Dominique.

Wonderlust Productions has been creating plays in the Twin Cities since 2014. The method they use for crafting their scripts involves holding story circles months in advance of when the play is first performed. In the case of this play, 20 story circles were held, and hundreds of stories were collected. From those threads, an early version of the script emerged, and two rounds of auditions were held.

As with all Wonderlust Production plays, this show reflects a broad community perspective. Contributors to the story circles spanned ages from 20 to 80 years and included voices from varied ethnic and racial communities. This project is the culmination of a three-year effort to tell, not one definitive truth of the Capitol, but an amalgam of stories that rest beneath the sensational news headlines and partisan divides.

Photo left: Ginger Commodore, long-time Twin Cities performer and one of the cast leads, practiced the show’s closing number in the Capitol rotunda.

Hamline-Midway resident Andy Dawkins came to an audition at Wonderlust’s workspace in the Midway (550 Vandalia St.) last year and was cast as Cass Gilbert, the Capitol’s formidable architect, and as Good Dave, a lobbyist who works hard on behalf of education issues. In real life, Dawkins is a retired, longtime St. Paul DFL legislator, and an avid baseball player.

Dawkins practiced law for many years in addition to being a legislator, and has not been in a play since the 8th grade. “I’ve been surprised by how much goes into producing a play,” he said, “all the behind-the-scenes stuff, not just memorizing lines but remembering cues. It’s a ton of work. We rehearse five nights a week and Saturdays too, but it’s been worth it.”

He continued, “I was an insider at the Capitol for a lot of years, and I felt like I had meaningful memories to share in the story circle I attended. There was more of a bipartisan spirit during my time as a legislator than there is now. The Democrats held the majority for the first seven years that I was there, and we had a Democrat as governor. The next eight years that I served, the Republicans were in power. We did a lot more talking across the aisle then; I think I had as many good friends in one party as I did in the other.”

Dawkins concluded, “Seeing Our House: The Capitol Play Project will give viewers some insight into the way state government works. We need to be more transparent at the Capitol, to really invite people in so they can start to think about what’s going on there—so that we can ‘do government’ better.”

Photo right: Co-director Leah Cooper worked with the acoustic challenges of the the play’s final song—set in the Capitol rotunda. The unsupported marble dome is the second largest in the world, after Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

The Capitol Play Project will have six performances during the last two weekends in January. The play features a live four-person band and several musical numbers. All of the shows except Jan. 26 are matinees and will be performed during public hours at the Capitol. The play travels throughout the building—comfortable walking shoes are recommended.

Accommodations will be made for those with limited mobility. The performance on Jan. 27 will be ASL interpreted.

All tickets at the door are free but subject to availability. There are only 100 seats for each performance. To guarantee your seat, reservations are available online and cost $25. The Fri., Jan. 19 preview is pay-what-you-can. Visit www.wlproductions.org or call 651-393-5104 for reservations, discounts, and more information. Performance times are 2pm on Fri., Jan. 19; 12:30pm on Sat., Jan. 20 and Jan. 27; 1:30pm on Sun., Jan. 21 and Jan. 28; 7:30pm on Fri., Jan. 26

Photo left: Real-life Capitol staffers Cindy Farrrell (far left) and Ned Rousmaniere (far right) watched rehearsal in “the vault.” Former legislator Andy Dawkins and stage manager Kari Olk also looked on. The vault is one of the newly restored spaces in the Capitol, and will house the play’s first act. The play will travel to several different locations in the Capitol during the second act, adeptly lead by three actors in the role of tour guides.

Our House: The Capitol Play Project is co-written and directed by Alan Berks and Leah Cooper from the words of the Capitol community. It features original music by Becky Dale, vocal coaching by Elizabeth Grambsch, choreography by Leah Nelson, and design by Heidi Eckwall, Andrea Gross, Zeb Hults, Peter Morrow, and Abbee Warmboe.

Editor’s Note: Margie O’Loughlin, the author of this article and long-time reporter for the Midway Como Monitor, is part of the cast of Our House: The Capitol Play Project.

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