A few years ago a friend of mine suggested I propose teaching a course at the Guthrie for beginning actors all about playing the those tiny, almost inconsequential roles. Think "Guard 2" in Macbeth. We tossed around a few titles including Those Great Bits and No Small Parts, but the marketing department thought suggestive titles were a bit too cheeky and potentially unwelcoming. Pshaw. They countered with Best Actor in a Supporting Role, which made my job a bit harder, as it would seem that anyone taking this course would assume 1) that I have received such accolades, and 2) that by the end of the 6-week session they'd walk away ready to win an Oscar, Emmy, Tony, and maybe a Grammy just to complete the set.
Nevertheless, I set out to accomplish this mighty task. What I learned over the six-week course was that not only are small parts fantastic to play (think of the off-stage time you might spend learning a new skill--knitting, thinking, or other things we did before smartphones) but I also learned that small parts in plays, movies, and TV shows are the spices that give a piece its signature taste. We love watching for that one character who just makes us giggle. Or heartbroken. Or makes us wonder, "What is their life like?"
The upcoming performance of Romeo and Juliet by Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo allows us to view this classic piece of drama from the perspective of the Friar Laurence. If any of you out there were wondering what R&J would be like from the perspective of that unlucky Friar, John, who accidentally messes up the whole chicanery concocted by Friar Lawrence when he can't deliver the letter to Romeo because of a plague, I will let you know when my one-man show is coming up! But seriously, folks, I wouldn't miss this one.
We know the story of the lovers. But what do we know about a man who has dedicated his life to serving his God and his community, who ends up accidentally causing the deaths of the two young members of his flock in whom he places all his hope and trust when he marries them secretly? How does it feel to witness and be complicit in such a tragedy? How do we help those we see on a path of self-destruction to find goodness and virtue? How do we trust another has truly found love?
I invite you to find out. Enjoy the performance!
Stuart Gates is a graduate of the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater BFA Actor Training Program. He teaches acting at the U of M, Guthrie, Ashland Productions, St. Paul Public School Community Education, and all around the Twin Cities. An actor and director, his upcoming show, Rocket Man, begins performances March 16 at Theatre Pro Rata.
I do not think I have ever responded faster to an email than I did when I received an invitation to volunteer as a table pusher for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s upcoming performance at Northrop. Over the past few years, I have continually gained more and more respect for the dance company that values bringing artists, art, and audiences together to enrich, engage, educate, and change lives through the experience of dance.
As a sophomore at the University of Minnesota who is pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance, performances at Northrop have been some of the most moving experiences in my college career. Growing up in a smaller town, I did not have many opportunities to see professional dance companies perform live. That being said, I do my best to see as many performances as I can possibly go to. I itch to leave places feeling moved, changed, and inspired. That is why I am so excited to see Hubbard Street perform live.
This upcoming performance is one of the shows I have been looking forward to most throughout my sophomore year. I am not only in love with watching the company move with embodiment and precision, but I also respect where the company has been and where it plans to go. The company started off with four dancers, and now it has grown to become one of the most well-known professional dance companies in the United States. This could not have happened without the mission that the company started with and its consistency with that mission to use dance as a generous art from for everyone.
If I am being honest, I am a bit nervous about the job of pushing tables for the work One Flat Thing by William Forsythe. I say this half joking half not. However, my excitement far outweighs my fears. The opportunity to see the work by William Forsythe, Crystal Pite, Nacho Duato, and Lou Conte on these incredibly talented dancers is almost too good to be true. These artists create from different places but share the passion of creating work that truly speaks to inspire change. I could not be more excited to see their visions come to life on the Northrop stage.
University of Minnesota students, staff, faculty, alumni, and friends are invited to participate in these free events connected with The Big Game.
USE PROMO CODE: UMSB2018 to register for any of the events below. All registrants will first see WAITLIST status. Expect to hear if you have tickets within a week.
NFL HONORS RED CARPET LIVE AUDIENCE -- OUTDOORS
Northrop, University of Minnesota, Feb 3
On the eve of the Big Game, the NFL salutes its best players and plays from the 2017 season with NFL Honors, an invite-only awards program hosted this year at Northrop. Football fans of all ages are invited to watch and greet their favorite NFL stars and celebrities as they arrive on the University of Minnesota campus and walk the red carpet outside on Northrop Mall.
Be sure to bundle up in your favorite team apparel to show your team pride! Request your FREE tickets now! for an opportunity to appear on television and see the NFL's biggest stars and celebrities. USE PROMO CODE: UMSB2018.
“GOOD MORNING FOOTBALL” LIVE AUDIENCE
Minneapolis Convention Center, Super Bowl Experience, Jan 31 – Feb 3
Be part of the live audience for "Good Morning Football at The Super Bowl" as the Emmy-nominated morning sports talk show airs LIVE in Minnesota. Join hosts Nate Burleson, Kay Adams, Peter Schrager and Kyle Brandt for a week of shows filled with exciting guests, exclusive coverage of The Big Game events and, as always, plenty of early morning antics all leading up to the big game.
Fans cans expect an immersive experience, where audience members will be involved with the show, swag/merch giveaways, a light breakfast AND each fan attending will receive TWO tickets to the Super Bowl Experience. Request your FREE tickets now!USE PROMO CODE: UMSB2018.
“PLAYERS ONLY” LIVE AUDIENCE
Minneapolis Convention Center, Super Bowl Experience, Jan 31 – Feb 3
Be part of the live audience during the “Players Only” segments of the Super Bowl Experience. Join NFL Network's biggest stars as they take viewers inside the most important game of the season, giving fans in-depth analysis and unique player perspective from the locker room to the field.
In advance of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's 40th anniversary performance Jan 27, I had the pleasure of talking to dancer, choreographer and teacher Lou Conte, founder of the Lou Conte Dance Studio and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, both of which have been important Chicago cultural organizations that have gone on to achieve world-wide fame. A wonderful storyteller, Conte talked about the company’s early years, and the changes that the organization experienced over the decades. Serving as artistic director for 23 years, Conte got to know hundreds of dancers, and his eagerness to find new choreographers to continually challenge his dancers is one of the things that has helped shape Hubbard Street’s repertory and establish its reputation as one of America’s most influential contemporary dance companies.
Below are some highlights from our discussion as well as audio files from the interview:
Lou Conte’s early years and his love of dance: Growing up in the tiny town of Du Quoin in southern Illinois, Conte saw his first dance show at an early age, and immediately asked his parents for tap lessons. “It was thrilling for me,” Conte said. Those first dance lessons were 30 minutes long during his elementary school lunch hour with Mildred Hall.“She would hold my hand and teach me the steps and then go to the piano and accompany me.”
At age 12, his family moved to Taylorville, Ill., and he was lucky to find teacher in nearby Decatur named Fred Hensey who wouldn't let me take tap unless I started ballet classes. He studied with Fred until age 17. "He was a wonderful teacher," he said.
Entering Southern Illinois University at Carbondale as a Zoology major, he discovered dance teacher Marie Hale and that sealed his fate. Conte started taking class from her and became good friends with her and her husband. She had studied with Christine Du Boulay and Richard Ellis in Chicago who later became Connte's first big-city teachers.
Hale told him, “‘You should quit zoology and go dance.” So he did. His coal miner father wasn’t thrilled with the prospect but he still supported his son, advising him: “You have to do in life what you want to do.”
Through his 20s, Conte danced professionally and had all kinds of dance jobs, including Broadway shows, national tours, summer stock, club reviews. He also choreographed and taught during this time.His travels took him from Florida to New York City to Milwaukee and eventually back to Chicago. By age 27, Conte had set his sights on dancing with The Joffrey Ballet, because, “….they were performing ballets that were so different from the modern stuff” he was used to dancing. He admits he had a difficult time keeping up with the younger dancers. After a 13 month European tour, Conte was ready to return home: “I felt really American. I missed my culture.”
How Lou Conte Dance Studio formed: Back in Chicago, Conte had the chance to play the Rabbi in “Fiddler on the Roof” when the original actor had a heart attack. While it wasn’t a “dance” role, his background enabled him to learn all of the staging in one day, and his reputation inspired some of his fellow actors to ask for tap lessons. Conte taught them in the basement of the dinner theater where the show was running. From there, he went on to open the Lou Conte dance studio on Hubbard and LaSalle streets and the enrollment kept growing. He recounts with pride the time The Second City Improv group (where famous comedians such as John Belushi, Fred Willard, John Candy and Dan Aykroyd all once worked) wanted to put a tap dance bit in their show and came to the studio for lessons. One of those Second City actors was Bill Murray.
The origins of Hubbard Street: As his dance studio continued, Conte wanted to find work for local dancers and to showcase their work. "The company started as a real simple program with four women performing for senior citizens," Conte explained. "Those four women got paid from Day 1. That employment thing was the genesis."
The original group of four got so many requests to perform that a second group of four women was needed, and then two male dancers were added. “It sort of grew out of the need to figure out what we were going to do next,” Conte said. Thinking he’d call the troupe The Lou Conte Dancers when filing for their non-profit status to take advantage of some new arts development funding in Chicago, he had to think fast when lawyers advised that the non-profit performing group needed a name that was different from the for-profit studio’s. “I just looked out the window and saw the street sign that said ‘Hubbard,’ and that was it!” Conte, along with Hubbard Street’s first executive director, Barbara Cohen, and the newly formed board made a commitment to try the process of employing dancers for one year and see how it went. "I think that's important to not have a grand plan. We just did it." Conte said.
How Conte fostered relationships with other choreographers: The company found early successes with Conte’s choreography and their jazzy style was popular. Eventually, though, they needed some fresh ideas and the dancers were ready for new challenges. “Fundamentally, I was burning out,” Conte said. Branching out to include works by outside choreographers was a huge step for the company. One of Lynne Taylor-Corbett’s early duets was a major success for Hubbard Street and they went on to present five of her pieces in all. “What she contributed to the company was really important,” Conte said. In 1989, Twyla Tharp was looking for a company to do her early works and chose Hubbard Street. “She gave us a lot of credibility,” he continued. With the acquisition of Tharp works, Hubbard Street’s finances ramped up, as did its reputation. Conte also mentioned works by Margo Sappington and Daniel Ezralow as important milestones for the company.
Conte’s connection to “A League of Their Own”:Conte is credited as choreographer for the 1992 hit “A League of Their Own,” starring Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell.
“Madonna wanted Twyla Tharp to choreograph the movie,” Conte explained, “but when Twyla wasn’t available, she recommended me.” While viewers may not recall a major “dance number” in the film, Conte worked with the actors to create a jitterbug scene as the female baseball players get ready to go out on the town for a night. “It was a great experience for me,” Conte said. “Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell … they added so much of it for me.” He particularly remembers Madonna as “Very serious, very focused.”
Why Conte left the company in 2000: Through the 1990s, touring across the United States, Europe and South America was a large part of the company’s success, but Conte said that touring changed drastically at the end of the decade. “I was really tired of being away from home all the time,” he said. “I wanted to take some time off, and once I did, I just never went back. I think I left at the right time, when the company was in good shape.” He heaps praise on Gail Kalver, his executive director during those years, for “Keeping it all together.”
What Conte thinks of the current Hubbard Street Dance Chicago company and the pieces they are bringing to Northrop Jan 27: First and foremost, he adores this current company of dancers. “They’re so talented and so good and they get along so well! This particular group right now seems the strongest.” The 40th anniversary performance at Northrop opens with William Forsythe’s One Flat Thing, reproduced, which Conte admits he “didn’t quite get” at first, but now he says he’s grown to love. He’s excited about Crystal Pite’s work, and calls her, “…another innovative, creative person who works well with the company.” Pite’s A Picture of You Falling completes the first half of the program.
Act two opens with Nacho Duato’s Violoncello and Jardi Tancat and Duacho’s work always has a beautiful sensuality to it. Conte’s own Georgia and The 40s round out the night and give it a rousing finale. “Georgia was the last piece I choreographed for Hubbard Street,” Conte reminisced, while The 40’s was an earlier hit. “I can’t believe how audiences still respond to that piece…how it’s still going strong,” Conte said. Just like the company he created, I thought. And thank heaven for that!
It was a night of celebration in the Harris Theater, which is Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s home theater. My coworkers Daniel, Miranda and I were in our seats and could feel the excitement buzzing -- everyone was ready for the opening night of Hubbard’s 40th anniversary season. The curtain opened, and off we went on a journey through Hubbard Street’s past and present with a collection of pieces from Hubbard Street through the years.
In the first half of the evening, we were presented with One Flat Thing, reproduced choreographed by William Forsythe. The movement was thick in nature, complex and intricate by design, and expertly performed by the Hubbard Street dancers. Just the image of 20 metal tables perfectly aligned on stage is striking, but then the dancers maneuver, jump, slide and glide over them, and I was immediately sucked in.
The second half continued further back into the earlier days of Hubbard Street, with an energetic and contagiously joyous The Golden Section, choreographed by Twyla Tharp. With the dancers dressed in golden ‘80s work-out gear complete with golden leg warmers and tennis shoes, they shimmy, shake, and high kick with full-on energy and enthusiasm. I could not stop smiling the entire time -- both because of the incredible athleticism, as well as the classic ‘80s vibe.
Next we arrived at the pieces choreographed by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s founder, Lou Conte. A throwback to Hubbard’s earlier days, Georgia was a sweeping, nostalgic duet performed to Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia on My Mind,” sung by Willie Nelson.
Finally, with The 40s, Hubbard Street truly knows how to go out with a bang. This piece was full of stylized movement, black and white bowties, Broadway flash, and jazz hands -- all executed by some of the best contemporary movers around. You’ll be toe-tapping and smiling the whole way through, and I guarantee you leave with a pep in your step.
The whole evening was celebratory -- recognizing 40 years of an amazing leader in the contemporary dance world, but also a look at dance in general -- how it’s evolved, grown, shaped, and moved us. You will not want to miss these pieces and more performed by Hubbard Street Dance when they return to the Northrop stage in January. There’s a little something for everyone, and a whole lot of dance to celebrate.
Forty looks good on you, Hubbard Street. You certainly age well. Here’s to many more!