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Goodbye…For Now

by Gary Danciu

Gary DanciuAs someone who loves stories and telling stories, it’s always been hard not to look at my own life through a narrative lens. My life will have had a beginning, middle and an end. I’ll look back at my life and see the different chapters and characters that made up my story. My time with the Commonweal has been a significant and important chapter, and I know that it will remain that way for the rest of my life. After six seasons with the Commonweal, I have decided to bring this chapter to its end. I did not make this decision lightly. I came to the Commonweal as an apprentice in May of 2011, a year after graduating college. This past August, I decided it was time to move on and find new theatrical experiences in the Twin Cities.

I remember my first day in Lanesboro quite well. A few company members greeted me warmly at our artist’s residence and then I attended the opening night of Sylvia. At the opening night party, I was introduced to the variety of interesting characters that inhabited the company at the time. Little did I know, that I would meet many more characters and that my time in Lanesboro would extend all the way to December of 2016. During my time with the Commonweal, I have been given incredible opportunities to grow as an actor and a person. I performed in sixteen productions, served on the design team for nine productions and received experience in all aspects of the company’s administration.  I’ve worked with dozens of talented artists over the past six seasons and I have forged life long friendships. To be honest, when I first came to Lanesboro in 2011, I wasn’t sure if I had what it took to make a life for myself in the theatre. I knew I had talent and a passion for theatre, but I just couldn’t imagine myself going off on my own and really making it happen.  My experiences here and the people who I have worked with have all helped me to imagine that reality. I now know that I have the tools and confidence to move forward.

League of YouthWhat I have valued most at the Commonweal is the chance to feel a part of a greater team and community. Throughout my life, I’ve always had the good fortune of doing what I love in service of something bigger than myself.  At the Commonweal, I’ve always been made keenly aware of the effect my work has had on our audience. I’ve always known what my work and the work of my colleagues means to Lanesboro. There are good days and bad days at the company (as there are everywhere), but I have found every experience, good and bad, to be educational and valuable. Wherever my path leads, I hope to eventually find that sense of connection and community that has been so deeply satisfying during my time here.

I’d like to take this opportunity to express my overwhelming feeling of gratitude to all of you who have made my time here in Lanesboro such an unforgettable and wonderful chapter of my life. I’ve been thinking a lot about all the people I’ve gotten to know over the years, artists I’ve worked with, patrons, and the people of Lanesboro. I also want to thank my parents for all the trips they made the see me perform and for all of their love and support from afar. You have all played a part in my journey, and I hope in some small way I was able to do the same for you. Even though I am moving on to the next chapter, the Commonweal and Lanesboro are places I will proudly and always call home.

The Many Faces of Gary’s Commonweal Career:

A Living Theatre

by Brandt Roberts (Commonweal Resident Ensemble Member)

vaudevilleOnce upon a time, there were theatres and opera houses in nearly every small community in this wide country of ours.  Vaudeville shows, symphonies, magic acts, acrobats, circuses and touring companies gave the teeming masses a balm to contend with life’s travails. Live entertainment was the rage and had been for centuries. These performances gave men and women an escape, an entrance into the world of their imagination where they could view humanity in its heightened form: distilled to its essence.

But those days came to an end. Thomas Edison invented a way to capture life in celluloid. No more would a performance exist solely on the stage. Now stories could be confined to film for the world to see at its leisure. It became cheaper to ship cans of celluloid than to ship train cars of actors. And so, the live performance halls were converted into cinemas.

cansIt was the age of Hollywood. Movie stars graced the silver screen and millions of viewers across the country idolized these monochromatic giants.  Edison’s little contraption had unwittingly changed the face of theatre. No more could plays be performed as naturally or realistically as the public demanded. Film was able to capture the real world far better than any stage set. The audience had become accustomed to their new viewfinder world.

So the stage was set for Avant-garde, Surrealism, Absurdism, and many other “isms.”  Theatre became an experimental playground, more so than it had ever been in its three thousand year history. It had to reinvent itself.

Over the years, people have professed to me that theatre is dying. From within the profession and from without. With the advent of film, television, radio, YouTube, iPhones, and the like, how does the modest theatrical performance stand a chance in our world of mass media? The answer—easily. Within the phrase “theatre is dying,” there is the implication that it is something that is alive, something that can die. Film, on the other hand, is already “lifeless.” Trapped within celluloid, the film La Voyage Dans La Lune will be the same today as when it was released in 1902; only the audience has changed. When people say that theatre is dying, they are referring to popularity and not vital signs. But is theatre truly out of fashion?

In the southern region of America, there does seem to be a decline. A few years ago, I toured the northern part of our country with a theatre company. Within these small towns in the north, old vaudeville houses and single screen cinemas, which were closed due to the onslaught of multiplex theatres, had been renovated into live performance spaces. So why not renovate old theatres in the south? Well, the demographic in the south has a hard time supporting a theatre because generally speaking, the demographic are not live theatregoers. Some of this has to do with income. A lot of the areas in the north that have renovated theatres also have a wealthy demographic with a philanthropic soft spot for the arts.

dream-celebration-107So why do we need theatre? We have film, TV and the Internet.  And besides, theatre isn’t financially practical. We need it for one very strong reason.  Human beings are social creatures. We thrive off of human interaction. If a baby is raised in isolation it will develop severe social and mental disabilities. The same can be said of an isolated society. Besides the audience breathing together, you have the actors on stage breathing with each other but also, breathing with the audience. The audience affects the action on stage.  They are active participants in the experience, not passive bystanders. They are not isolated but intimate.

When you have a conversation with someone, you want that person to respond to you. Think about live performances as a conversation. It is an organic experience. The performance you see will never be seen again! Differences in the actors, audience, temperature, weather, politics and region all have an effect on the product. It is alive.  A performance is born and dies every single night.

So, why do we need theatre in a small town? Because the residents of an area know what stories need to be told to their community. No one else will tell the tales that need to be told. It is a theatre’s job to build worlds that are only open to a few. Isn’t it great to share a once in a lifetime opportunity with other people in your community?

Brandt Roberts


Arts foster this in our children and our children’s children. Art is the foundation of a successful culture and as long as there are humans who will listen to a story, there will be theatre. Theatre doesn’t need a set or a stage, elaborate lighting or costumes. It doesn’t need a camera, electricity, a computer or a satellite. It just needs a storyteller and an audience. The only difference between a story and a play is when the storyteller becomes a character. It is odd to admit it, but we all act. Each and every day you play a different character: a wife/husband, a carpenter, a teacher, a father/mother, a child, a doctor, an athlete and a lawyer… the list is infinite. You may say these are just social roles, but do you not behave differently depending upon these roles? And are not the characters in a play called “roles” for a reason? As Sir Laurence Olivier said, “Surely we have always acted; it is an instinct inherent in all of us. Some of us are better at it than others, but we all do it.”

Theatre cannot die.  It is a part of who we are.

If I Live To Be 100

Compiled by Jeremy van Meter


Courtesy of Paul Mobley

The actors currently onstage in our version of Pride’s Crossing are nowhere near turning the age of 100. Many of those same actors do, however, portray characters that are quite close to reaching that milestone. Statistics tell us that as time passes, we human beings are living longer and that our expectations of reaching the century mark should be higher. It’s a question that few of us truly stop to consider, “what if I live to be 100?” I’ve asked Pride’s Crossing cast members Hal Cropp, Ben Gorman, and Adrienne Sweeney to recount their own process of building a character in their 90’s. As a 47-year-old currently playing a man in his mid-90’s, I have also contributed.

Also—be sure to click the link at the bottom of this page for a portrait study of centenarians courtesy of and photographer Paul Mobley. You will be pleasantly surprised!

Hal CroppHal Cropp: One of the most amazing things I’ve discovered in bringing Wheels Wheelock to life is how much he hangs on to the events of his youth. While it doesn’t make me feel wonderful to say it out loud, Wheels has grown into someone who has hung on to the real and/or perceived slights in his relationship with his wife Pinky. He bristles whenever she reminisces about past loves, be they Chandler Coffin or Alfred Nightengale. I can only hope that, should I reach Wheels’ age, I am able to release whatever slights I might still be carrying and truly live in the moment.

Ben GormanBen Gorman: As I tried to create my version of Pinky Wheelock, I find myself assuming postures and taking on affectations of which I can’t quite be sure of the source! Am I “making them up” from whole cloth, or accessing memories of observations made over a lifetime of interacting with my fellow human beings? I do trust my instincts and ideas, so I can only hope they produce a veracity in performance that the audience can observe—once they get past the jarring fact that a man, without benefit of makeup and only suggestions of costume, is playing a woman, that is! I’ve decided the Pinky has a sunny disposition and that she’s a very positive person. And her physicality—at about 90 years of age—includes a few basic characteristics: a very curved-forward spinal stoop (which is quite uncomfortable to portray for extended periods!), a sort of retracted left arm—bent at the elbow, hand to the chest. Overall, there is a slight delay in her reactions to events—not so much as to delay the pacing the director needed for the scenes Pinky is in, but enough to suggest the slower reactions of advanced age. And with her impish sense of humor (she does a striptease after all!), she’s a joy to play.

Adrienne SweeneyAdrienne Sweeney: The most notable part of this process for me has been meeting with women in their 90’s. The thing that I have come away with, the thing that has really hit me, is the need to let senior adults live their own lives and make their own decisions for as long as realistically possible; to not rob a person of their autonomy just because they hit a certain age. Every single person I have met and talked with is so unique—had their own lives and styles of being in the world. That’s the biggest thing I’ll take away from this process…to really embrace each and every person as the individual they are. Also—if I live to be 90 I am quite sure I’ll be as ornery, stubborn, fiercely loyal and loving as Mabel. I sure hope so!

Jeremy van MeterJeremy van Meter: My only living grandparent, Dorothy Van Meter, turned 94 this year. One of the characters I portray in Pride’s Crossing is Chandler Coffin. At the beginning of the play, his age is defined as a “few years older” than Mabel who is 90. I have chosen that age to be 94. Other than some mental fragility, my Granny Van Meter has no physical ailments. Through the creation of Chandler, I have made the full realization that reaching 100-years-old does not relegate one to one’s bed. My Chandler at 94, is only “slightly” older than the Chandler of 30-years ago—perhaps a bit slower and more stooped over. There is a vibrancy to him that, as I look forward to my own advancing life, I am planning on and hoping to embrace and cultivate.

If I Live To Be 100

Pride’s Crossing with its delightful and multi-layered characters is onstage now at the Commonweal through November 13. Please come and share some time with us!

Commonweal Theatre Company, 208 Parkway Ave. N, Lanesboro MN 55949   
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