By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
Wonderlust Productions experienced a swirl of growth and activity in 2016. The theater group received a grant from the Mardag Foundation that allowed them to lease rehearsal space at 550 Vandalia St. in the Midway. As company manager Deb Ervin said, “It really was time to get out of our kitchens.”
They had a successful run of their most recent work, the “Adoption Play Project,” at Mixed Blood Theater in Nov./Dec. The play was funded by a Metropolitan Regional Arts Grant and explored the many facets of adoption with stories gathered from more than 200 voices in the adoption community.
Along with Ervin, co-artistic directors Alan Berks and Leah Cooper created Wonderlust Productions three years ago. The Wonderlust mission is to forge new ways of seeing common experiences by creating plays that transform the past into a better future.
Their method? To listen, to wonder, to create, and to repeat.
“We don’t write plays from our own agenda,” Berks said. “Our plays are a retelling of stories that have been shared by others. Our goal is to work in communities that may have been overlooked or misunderstood and to bring those stories to life. ‘The Adoption Play Project’ was a perfect example of that.”
Photo left: Wonderlust Productions illuminates shared stories through live performance, mixing community members from across generations, ethnicities, and perspectives with an ensemble of professional actors, designers, writers, and directors. Pictured are two of the three founding members: Alan Berks, co-artistic director, and Deb Ervin, company manager. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)
The company is already gathering stories for their next play. Generously funded by the Knight Foundation, the “Capitol Play Project” will look at the day-to-day business of how government works.
Anyone who has experienced the Minnesota State Capitol in a meaningful way is welcome to participate in a story circle. Have you been a lobbyist, a custodian, a protester, a teacher who led grade school field trips, or a nervous college intern? What brought you to the State Capitol Building either recently or long ago?
More than a dozen story circles were held over the summer. There will be three more open to anyone with a story to tell on Mar. 2 and 7 from 6:30-8:30pm, and Mar. 4 from 11am-1pm in Room 317 of the Capitol Building. Learn more about the story circle process by visiting wonderlustproductions.org/story-circles.
According to Berks and Ervin, “Wonderlust projects take anywhere from 12 to 24 months to develop. After a theme is chosen, like the state capitol, we look for community partners and hold story circles where people can share their experiences. That’s the foundation. Next, we host workshops to experiment with text and movement, draft a script, and present public readings of the work in development. Finally, we hold auditions, rehearse, and stage a world premiere of our new play.”
“It’s a gratifying, time-consuming, and transformative process for people who participate in any of the steps along the way,” Ervin said,
Berks anticipated that “once the story circles are completed, we’ll start writing the first draft of the script in March. Open auditions will be held this summer, and the play will be cast with a mix of community members and professional actors. Our intention is to perform the play at the Capitol in Nov./Dec..”
Why a capitol play project? “We hear a lot about politics, sensationalism, and conflict,” Berks said, “but on a practical level, somehow things have to get done. The building is used, maintained, and appreciated by ordinary people every day. The way our capitol building is accessible to the public is unusual. There are spaces within the building that can be reserved for free on a first-come, first serve basis. It’s meant to be a building for everyone.”
Berks concluded, “Leah, Deb, and I make plays because we believe this way of working has the potential to change people’s attitudes and behaviors. We have an ambitious growth plan for Wonderlust Productions, and lately we feel like we’ve been running at a sprint. But at our core, we love theater because it gives us the chance to ponder—to be filled with wonder.