The curtain closes...

And so, as with all good things, the run of Over the Tavern has come to an end. I have been asked repeatedly how I feel about it, usually with something that goes a little like, “Wow! I’ll bet you’re ready for this to be done and for life to get back to normal, huh?”

Well, while I am thrilled that I now have the time to see my husband and my children—who I have missed whole-heartedly—and am excited to get my home back into some semblance of an organized routine, the answer has been a resounding, “No.” I’m not ready to go back to life as I knew it a few months ago.

First of all, there is that pesky “reality” to which I am returning. Let’s be honest, there has been a whole lot of reality that I have missed out on in the last few weeks…sort of like going on vacation. We are in the middle of a remodeling project that has kept my amazing husband—who is a saint, by the way—from doing much more than minimal housekeeping and childrearing duties in an effort to get the project finished as quickly as possible. Let me reiterate…he is a Superman in my eyes, but there is so much dirty laundry in our house right now that I’m surprised any of us have anything to wear. It’s true…running a household is much less fun in real life than it is on stage.

Second, as part of this experience, there are some things about me that have changed. I am in the process of going back to focusing all my attention on what I was doing before this experience without the distraction of the production process: work, being an organized wife and mother, finishing up our remodeling project, decluttering our house, and laundry…have I mentioned the laundry? But, I’m no longer the same person that I was when this process began almost three months ago. I spent many years building up walls in order to do what I do every day and those walls had to be broken down in order for me to do what I had to do on stage. Now, I am having some difficulty reconciling that Laura with this Laura that I have rediscovered.

Don’t get me wrong…I love my life. I love my job and my family. I just want to love them with the same fullness of joy I rediscovered from the stage—a joy that isn’t deadened by those walls that I worked so hard to build. And, I want to find a way to work performing back into my life on an occasional basis. As part of this process, I found parts of myself that had long been buried and I am not prepared to, nor am I willing to, bury them again.

Here’s my analogy: It’s as though, once upon a time, I had a great color TV that was stolen and I could only replace it with a black and white model. I still enjoyed watching TV and, initially, missed watching in color. Eventually, however, I got used to it and even sort of forgot what color TV was like. It was good enough; I was happy enough. I convinced myself that color was a luxury for other people and I didn’t truly need it to be happy. Then, one day, I came home to find a new color TV in the old one’s place and—oh, happy day!—it was bigger and in HD. At that point, I couldn’t believe I’d spent all those years watching TV in fuzzy black and white and couldn’t imagine not seeing things in full, high-definition color for the rest of my life. But, with this realization comes a new fear. What if this new TV disappears as well? What if I am forced to pull the old black and white out of the closet and fool myself into believing it’s good enough for another 14 years?

This leads me to other question I have been asked: “Will you be auditioning again?”

This role was a gift that has now disappeared and can never be replaced. What if I never, ever, in my whole life receive a gift like that again? And, now that I want it so badly, will I be able to stand the heartache of auditioning again?

And then, I realized why I stopped performing. It wasn’t just that my life was busy; I became afraid of auditioning and failing. They say it is better to have tried and failed than to have never tried at all. I think that it has been easy for me to believe that it is better to avoid getting my hopes get too high. It became easier for me to pretend I didn’t want to perform than it was for me to risk failing. This audition process was easy. I didn't know how badly I truly wanted this role or this show and, to be honest,  I never, in a million years, thought I stood a chance of getting them.

In preparing to wrap this up, I re-read my previous blog posts and a common thread was how much trouble I have making myself vulnerable. I don’t like to show chinks in my armor; I don’t like to open myself up to failure. And, I will be the first to acknowledge that that fear of failure pervades every part of my life.

Maybe that is the greater lesson in all of this—one that I never expected to learn. In trying to avoid failure, I have lived a life of endless anxiety and lost so much joy. Maybe now is the time in my life to look that fear of failure square in the face. Wouldn’t it be amazing if the profound changes I experienced throughout this process continued to reverberate through the other aspects of my life?

Here at Lyric Arts we hear time and time again about the transformative power of the performing arts from people who take part in our productions. After years of working to create that experience for others, why shouldn’t I allow it to work for me?

At the risk of being a cliché—something I never seem to fear—I chose to end this entry by quoting Elphaba from the Broadway musical Wicked:

Something has changed within me. Something is not the same. I'm through with playing by the rules of someone else's game. Too late for second-guessing. Too late to go back to sleep. It's time to trust my instincts, Close my eyes…and leap!

(Pretty good stuff, huh?)

Finally, a huge thank you to the artistic staff (Joanna, Patrick, Brian, Shannon, Matt, and Bob) and the crew (Katie, Bob and Andrew) for making this such a magnificent experience.

And, to Justin, Molly, Noah, Alex, Alec, Valerie, Dan and Barb: I am missing the family we created together. Thank you all for never allowing me to take myself too seriously and for sharing your blood, sweat, and tears with me. No matter where we all go from here, please know (most sincerely) that you all hold a special place in my heart and that, should you ever need anything, you know where to find me.

"Over the Tavern" Review

A Step Back in Time

by Diane Aras

Be ready, to forget the 2012’s and go back to the 1959 era and laugh your way to learning how a young boy’s questioning religion can change his family for the better.

In Over the Tavern,  by playwright, Tom Dudzick, of Buffalo, New York, the author does a self  reflection of his life as a young Catholic boy living over a tavern; I believe the way the script was written makes life in a typical Catholic home in the 1959’s believable. Mr Dudzick in his script brings in various aspects of family life stresses with the interactions of his 7 on stage family characters and the presence of a grandfather that also has caused and still causes stress in their family life through his actions, though he is not a cast character, but still an intricate  part of the family.

Ed Sullivan, Jack Paar, Woody Wood Pecker, and the differences that religion posed in the era helped to bring us back to the time the family was living. The times when Catholics and Protestants were considered different and how it was believed that a nun could do no wrong.

Rudy, starts out the play, with letting us know that he is questioning why religion is so important when it has not made a difference in his life. He often prays for help in his life using the perfect inflections of a 12 year old boy; as a boy would he remembers the little things like asking to help his dad remember the spaghetti for dinner and to not be in a bad mood.

The way Rudy inflects his requests and questions life causes the audience to laugh and to have empathy with Rudy and his simple requests, which happen through out the play.

The director, Barbara Hynes-Tomczyk, did a wonderful casting job with selecting actors that were believable as a family. Barbara said to me “ Our Rudy is very talented” and I agree with her, if she did not have the right Rudy the rest of the family wouldn’t interact as well. I had never seen a production by this director and I was rewarded with seeing she had a keen eye for using the stage and moving us with the use of lights to where we should be looking. I never felt lost on where to have my eyes.

My husband, remarked several times on how Sister Clarissa, was just like the nun’s in his Catholic school. Ruler and all; he wished he would have had the guts that Rudy had to questions things back in his Catholic school life.

I loved how the play ends with the nun, telling Chet the father how she, a nun had made a mistake and that because of her mistake the family he had were paying today for it.  Chet seems to listen to the nun like a good Catholic boy, and goes home to be a different father, his first step taking the whole family out for a spaghetti dinner

About Diane: Diane is 59, and has been married to her husband, David, for 31 years. They have no children, but love their pets Sam, a Pomeranian; Bella, a King Charles Cavalier; and Niki, their tabby cat. David and Diane enjoy the theatre and professional plays. Her favorite show was Cats. They also enjoy theatres with child actors,  including Children's, Morristown Players, Crosstown Players and several plays at Lyric Arts.

Your one word reviews of "Over the Tavern"

The results are in. According to you, Over the Tavern is wonderful! We've created a word cloud based on your one word reviews of our current production "Over the Tavern."  All our fans who were able to join us for Opening Weekend had this to say:

There are just two weekends left. Don't miss your chance to see this amazing show!

Didn't get a chance to leave your review? Just tweet it to @LyricArtsAnoka with the hashtag #onewordreview.

What? It's opening night?

First of all, I think some apologies are in order. When I started rehearsing for "Over the Tavern" and said that I would blog my "actor's journey," I had grand plans. Truly. I imagined writing two blog posts a week, dissecting my character, profiling my fellow cast members, and talking about all the things I was discovering about myself in the process.

So, how did I do?

In reality, I haven't had time to update this blog since March 20. At that point, I was discovering that I was panicking and figuring out how I was going to get through the panic. I decided to put my head down and work...and work, I did. Over the last three and a half weeks, my cast mates and I have worked very hard to put a show that we can all be proud of. In that, we have absolutely succeeded...at least we have from my perspective. Last night, in front of a small, invited preview audience, we witnessed this show truly blossom and come to life for the first time...and it was amazing.

What have I learned about myself in the process? I have learned that no matter how much I try to tell myself something to the contrary, I am a performer at heart and from the depths of my soul. No other creative outlet fulfills me the way that acting does and throwing myself back into the fray like this has, without sounding too melodramatic, brought me back to life.

At Lyric Arts, I talk about the transforming power of the performing arts all the time. I can give so many examples of Lyric Arts actors who have told me about the ways in which this theater has changed their lives. I tell their stories over and over again. But, in the last two months or so, I have truly lived it. I have spent so many years pushing that part of myself to the side that I had lost all connection with my creative soul. In rediscovering this forgotten, but essential, part of my being, I have found a joy for life that I forgot I had. Not to say that I wasn't happy before, but I am lighter. I am happier. I laugh more easily.

And now, it all comes to this...opening night. This is my 83rd opening night here at Lyric Arts, but I can promise that for me, it will truly be like no other.

(More to come, I promise...)

Lyric Arts' Managing Director Laura Tahja Johnson is playing the role of Ellen Pazinski in Over the Tavern which runs through April 29, 2012. Tickets on sale now online or through the box office at 763-422-1838.

Meet Laura Tahja Johson performing as Ellen Pazinski in Over the Tavern

Lyric Arts had a chance to interview Laura Tahja Johson, who is performing as Ellen Pazinski in Over the Tavern. Read on to hear what she has to say about her experience thus far! LA: Tell us a little bit about why this particular show interested you?

LTJ: I love this sort of “slice of life” play. It’s truly like being a fly on the wall. I will say it over and over again, but I love this script, in particular. It’s smart and sweet and honest, which is an excellent combination, in my mind. I love the relationships between the characters and how they all grow and change over the course of the play.

As a "good Catholic girl," I love the way that the Catholic Church is almost the show’s eighth character. The playwright employs just the right amount of  humor and  irreverence in questioning the Catholic Church and the very notion of religion in a way that never becomes condescending or mean-spirited.

LA: For those who unfamiliar with Over the Tavern can you tell us about the show?

LTJ: Over the Tavern is about the Pazinskis, a Polish-Catholic family living above the bar they own and run. It’s a big family—mom, dad, and four kids aged twelve and up—crowded into a very small apartment. While the story centers on twelve-year-old Rudy and his coming-of-age journey, this is also a play about family—moms, dads, kids, brothers, sisters, husbands, and wives.

LA: Talk about the character that you play in Over the Tavern. How have you developed this character?

LTJ: I identify very closely with Ellen Pazinski, so developing the character has been more of a look inward than it has been a creation of someone who is outside myself.

Ellen Pazinski is a hard-working wife and mother of four with a very busy life. Besides taking care of her home, children, and husband, she also works in the bar on occasion. As a mother of six-year-old twins who also works full-time, I can completely relate to that aspect of her life.

What was truly amazing to me is the fact that Ellen is so much like my own mother and so, by extension, also like me in many ways. I really understand where she is coming from. She is what my friends and I used to call a “cream puff”—hard on the outside and squishy in the middle. She’s a strong woman who is tough when she needs to be, but she has an enormous and incredibly tender heart. She loves her husband truly and deeply and is fiercely protective of her children—good Lord, don’t even think about messing with her kids.

I love Ellen’s sense of humor and admire the fact that she is quite progressive for a woman for her time, her upbringing, and her situation. In addition, she is someone who will truly stand up for what she believes in. In fact, she’s kind of a rebel.

LA: Why should people come and see Over the Tavern

LTJ: Why shouldn’t people come to see it? The script is fantastic and the characters are all beautifully written. It is hilarious, heart-warming, and heart-breaking. Even though the show is set in 1959 and has a shimmer of nostalgia, it depicts a real family; they love each other, they have good days and bad days, they yell, they fight, they hug, they kiss, they cry.  In fact, many of their problems are the same problems you would find in any family in modern society and the show deals with them in a very truthful manner. Anyone who has been a parent or a child can relate to this show.

There are moments in Over the Tavern that I still can’t help laughing at, even after hearing them over and over again. In addition, there are moments that give me a lump in my throat every time I watch them.

LA: Talk about your fellow cast members, how do you see their characters developing? Any that you are particularly amazed at?

LTJ: This is truly an ensemble show and I am lucky to be working with an amazing cast of actors. It has been such a treat to watch these very talented children build their characters. Alec (Rudy) is truly the sweet soul of this production and really carries much of the show on his very small shoulders.

Alex (Georgie) has such a difficult role in playing a severely autistic child who mostly communicates in noises and one syllable words. That sort of role would be tough for an adult to pull off and he is doing a fantastic job.

Maia (Annie) and I have a lot of chemistry together on stage as women which will be fun to explore as we come closer to opening night. It has been such a pleasure to watch Noah (who I have known since he was very young) and his character (Eddie) transition from a child to a young man over the course of the rehearsal process.

Valerie is a powerhouse. She has an amazing ability to transform herself into Sister Clarissa. I am wowed by her on a nightly basis.

Justin (Chet) and I have spent a lot of time working together on developing our characters and our relationship as a married couple. It is interesting how much the development of my character goes completely hand-in-hand with his and vice-versa. We came into this process almost completely as strangers and have had to become friends very quickly. Justin has been tremendously supportive as a scene partner, for which I have been very thankful.  Plus, he is one heck of an actor. He brings something new to the table every night and has been an absolute pleasure to work with. I am looking forward to seeing where the mutual development of our characters takes us.

LA: What do you feel are the "wow" elements of Over the Tavern?

LTJ: Again, the script is really amazing. I think audiences will really be wowed by the emotion and truth contained in the story and the separate journeys made by each of the characters. Everyone will be able to relate to someone.

LA: Tell us what is something that you are particular excited about this show coming to together? For example, a certain scene, costumes, set, lights, etc?

LTJ: The set is amazing and Brian [Proball, the set designer] is a genius.  I can’t wait to see what the finished product will look like. My initial costume fitting was so much fun. Shannon [O’Black, the costume designer] pulled some great vintage and vintage looking pieces—I’m really looking forward to seeing how the costumes come together for my character and for the rest of the cast.

LA: Do you have any rituals or things you do to prepare to go on stage when you are performing?

LTJ: For me, getting into costume and make-up is an essential part of my mental preparation. Each piece of clothing, brush of make-up, or curl of hair that I add is another layer of the character that I add to my physical presence in the process of “becoming” the character.

On the other hand, as it has been about 14 years since I was last on stage in this sort of capacity, I don’t really have any rituals anymore. I am, however, looking forward to creating some new ones. I think deep, relaxing breathing will figure heavily into the nightly line-up.

LA: Why do you choose to spend time at Lyric Arts? 

LTJ: Most people can’t wait to get out of the office after a long day at work. Even though I work at Lyric Arts during the day, I couldn’t imagine going anywhere else to audition. It is the most welcoming theater community of which I have had the opportunity to be a part. Lyric Arts is a truly magical place in my mind.

LA: What is your favorite way to spend your free time? As your character in the 1950’s, how would you spend your free time?

LTJ: Much like Ellen, I don’t have a lot of free time. What time I have I spend with my husband and my children. I enjoy reading and love having a good laugh with a friend or two. I wonder if Ellen knits…

LA: What is your dream character to play on stage?

LTJ: That is a difficult question. It has been a long time since I thought of myself as an actor. I would love to play Miss Hannigan in “Annie” or Mama Rose in “Gypsy.” I love broad comedy and character roles. I also love playing “real women” in real situations especially if they tend toward being a little on the tart or brassy side. Ellen Pazinski is the perfect combination of both sides of that coin so, in essence, she is sort of a dream role.

LA: Please tell us a little bit about yourself?

LTJ: I am originally from Duluth but now live in New Hope. I am married to a truly amazing man named Tony, who some of you might know as Father Flynn from our production of Doubt: A Parable or as the Emcee for our annual Cabaret Fundraiser. We are parents to the aforementioned six-year-old twins, Margaret and Eleanor. I have been involved in the performing arts for as long as I can remember as a singer, dancer, and actor, and eventually as a director and choreographer. Even though I spend most of my time at a computer as Lyric Arts’ Managing Director, my heart will always be on the stage.

Meet Maia Walter who is performing as Annie in Over the Tavern

Lyric Arts had a chance to interview Maia Walter, who is performing as Annie Pazinski in Over the Tavern. Read on to hear what she has to say about her experience thus far! LA: Tell us a little bit about why this particular show interested you?

MW: From the second I read the excerpts on the website, I found that I felt really connected to the character of Annie. She and I seem to experience the same things (dissatisfaction with weight, general lack of boys, lack of good judgement at times, etc.), but it's like we're two different shades of the same color-- we react to these things much differently. I rarely cry and Annie... well, she's sort of a human faucet. I was also very interested in the subject matter of the play, being a pretty devout Christian and never running out of questions.

LA: For those who unfamiliar with Over the Tavern can you tell us about the show?

MW: In a nutshell, the Pazinski family is primarily crazy and secondarily Catholic. They're all getting along just “fine” (according to dear father Chet) until the youngest, Rudy, starts to ask... questions. -cue the frightening music!-

LA: Talk about the character that you play in Over the Tavern. How have you developed this character?

MW:A lot of people may question my sanity after this, but here goes: I talk to Annie. See, I have a really overactive imagination and I write a lot, so I'm constantly developing characters and allowing them to “live” in my mind. When their motivations confuse me, or I'm not sure what they would do in a certain situation, I just ask them. Think “imaginary friends” in a teenage brain. So Annie and I have had plenty of “conversations,” mostly about why the heck she cries so much, or why she likes being Catholic, or how she can tolerate and even enjoy those horrible yellow logs they call Twinkies. To quote the immortal Sheldon Cooper... “I'm not crazy, my mother had me tested.”

LA: Why should people come and see Over the Tavern

MW: Because I'm in it. I'm kidding. Kind of. People should come and see Over the Tavern because I'm told it's good for your longevity to laugh, and because it is just so full of heart. I think every audience member will find a character to relate to in some way, no matter their religious history or their family life. The modest setting and repeated references to the 1950s make it especially charming. It will be hard to find someone who can honestly say that they did not enjoy it, I think. Also, if people don't come, I might cry. Just sayin'.

LA: Talk about your fellow cast members, how do you see their characters developing? Any that you are particularly amazed at?

MW: I'm seriously amazed at everyone and how, despite their differences with their characters, they have made them so honest and so delightful to watch. Alec's portrayal of Rudy is lovable and fun, not just because he's an adorable kid, but because he is so good at portraying a wide range of emotion. It very much amuses me to see Noah walk onstage and become Eddie, because I know how different he is from his character, and it's pretty incredible how convincing he is. I think I can speak for all of us when I say we can't get enough of Alex's “s*%#.” The way Valerie plays Sister Clarissa is so different from what I imagined, but what she does with every line delivery is so cool I can hardly remember my first impression of the holy Sister. And though I've never gotten the chance to say it to them before, I think Laura and Justin do a beautiful job acting like a husband and wife, whether they're disagreeing or dancing and enjoying each other. Some of the best scenes in the play include those two interacting exclusively with each other. They are too cute.

LA: What do you feel are the "wow" elements of Over the Tavern?

MW: The way it is written is so sincere, but it will definitely keep the audience laughing. It's sort of an ideal balance of softness and strength. No, wait, that's Angel Soft toilet paper... Well, I think the set is pretty fantastic, too. It gives a feeling of claustrophobia in a good way, with this huge family in a tiny apartment.

LA: Tell us what is something that you are particular excited about this show coming to together? For example, a certain scene, costumes, set, lights, etc?

MW: Oh, I'm definitely excited to rock the uniform. I also enjoy interacting with the family around the dinner table. The thing I'm most excited for has to be my longest scene, because it's my first time legitimately crying in a play. Exhausting, but so fun.

LA: Do you have any rituals or things you do to prepare to go on stage when you are performing?

MW: Native American acting dances around small indoor fires. Kidding. I usually listen to music, whatever suits me that day. Maybe I'll carry out one of those aforementioned conversations with Annie. On days when I'm especially out of focus, I run lines like a madwoman. Truth be told, I'm deathly afraid of forgetting a line during a performance.

LA: Why do you choose to spend time at Lyric Arts? 

MW: Small theatre rules, man. It's so satisfying to perform for a group of people that you know you'll definitely run into in public or something, and they'll recognize you and comment on the play and for about five minutes you feel like some kind of celebrity and then your whole day is made. Everyone who works at Lyric Arts and the fellow actors (in our case, some of us are both) are so kind and incredibly fun to be around. It's a very positive and safe environment where you can grow as a person and as an actor. The building is ridiculously cool, too.

LA: What is your favorite way to spend your free time? As your character in the 1950’s, how would you spend your free time?

MW: I really like reading, writing, blogging, singing, and being with friends. I know Annie likes being with her friends too, but they probably aren't pulling out their phones every five minutes. They probably talk about cute celebrities and complain about teachers. I think Annie likes dancing and going to movie theaters.

LA: What is your dream character to play on stage?

MW: It's a tie between Ariel of The Tempest and Lady Macbeth of Macbeth. I once did a monologue as Lady Macbeth for drama class at school-- turns out being evil and slightly crazy is really fun.

LA: Please tell us a little bit about yourself?

MW: I'm Maia Walter. I don't like my middle name, I write almost a thousand words a day, I read about as much as I breathe, I'm very smart, and I'm told I'm funny. Being onstage is my drug and Chipotle is my addiction. Sometimes I'm very annoying. Airplanes are horrible. If you take me into public, there's a good chance I'll embarrass you. I talk to strangers. I hug every dog I meet. I'm horribly irresponsible. I would tell you the name of my home planet, but it would require a second tongue to speak it. And my mom is fantastic.

LA: Any other area that you would like to comment on?

MW: If you happen to be sitting in the theatre, glance upwards. Don't those catwalks look fun?