“The Art of the Entertainer” Finds New Life

By Brandt Roberts

My last entry on this blog was while I was directing the apprentices in their capstone production of The Fox. Shortly thereafter, the world changed. The Fox was cancelled after two public performances due to the pandemic and Commonweal quickly found itself in the midst of a lockdown.

As the months have gone by, we saw show after show in our season become postponed or canceled. That’s when the Commonweal began to pursue alternative programming. One result of this endeavor is The Root River Anthology, a radio play by Catie Glynn. It is a beautiful and poignant story. I cannot recommend it enough – it’s actually still available to stream on our website until June 30th!

A few weeks ago, Adrienne Sweeney asked if I would be willing to remount my one-person show, The Art of the Entertainer, as an online offering. I was intrigued.

Soon Philip Muehe and Josiah Laubenstein were brought on to direct and film
the piece respectively. We began brainstorming how to adapt the play for video and
explored embracing the new medium. I had written the piece twelve years ago as a
vehicle to celebrate theatre, while also parodying various genres. An original goal of
the piece was to have audience volunteers come up on stage, alas that is hard to
achieve on film. However, I realized that the audience gets to experience the stage
through me. They are unseen spectators of the character’s clumsy journey. We also
realized the medium itself could be an entity within the film. That potential has been
exciting to explore within the process, and I cannot wait to see the end results.

An interesting fact: I have produced this piece four times over the past ten years. Each incarnation has been unique with different scenes, songs, sketches, etc.The Art of the Entertainer is a vaudeville piece after all, and this film is just another
manifestation full of new choices and new directions.

There is a wonderful team behind this project. It could not exist without all their work. It’s strange to think that July 6th is the tenth anniversary of the first performance. It has had quite a trip, and I cannot wait for you all to experience its newest form. In these hard times I hope this piece offers the healing gift of laughter. “See” you soon!

Don’t Miss The Art of the Entertainer, which goes live on our website July 4th! Join us for a special Opening Night live stream on our Facebook page that same day, at 7pm! We will “see” you very soon! For more info on the show >>> Click Here

Connecting In Isolating Times

By Josiah Laubenstein


My semester teaching at Luther College was supposed to have me spending a lot more time in Decorah. Instead, like everyone else, I’ve spent a lot of time staying put. “Distance learning” is the phrase we’ve used, which frankly sounds like avoiding actual learning like the plague – no pun intended. 

Josiah Laubenstein in lockdown zooms his friends
Josiah delivers an online lecture for Acting 1.

Theatre is a very in-the-room experience. That’s the whole point: breathing the same air, going through everything together, at once, in real time. No lag from bad connections, no trouble joining the right Zoom-Chat-Google Meets, you just sit in your seat and participate by being. Videotaped theatre is lacking at best. What seemed so electric in person, can feel flat when translated to the screen. Teaching is very similar. Something essential is missing. In a way this virus has made us all think about how connected we really are. How vastly one person can affect (not infect) others. How many people we connect with to the second or third degree in a week’s time. It’s an awesome number. Which used to feel so unifying, and will feel that way again.

My students are coping to varying degrees. Students who were supposed to graduate on campus, have a last hug and goodbye before tossing their mortarboards won’t get to do that. They bear up as best they can, given the circumstances. It’s been inspiring. They’re doing better than I would’ve at their age. The weekly classes help provide much needed structure; we lean on each other. A year’s worth of planning pushed back and back and back until… who knows? You know. You’ve all done the same. I’ve been around for a very short time in their collegiate lives, but if I had the opportunity to say a few words to each of them I would say this: 

Josiah Laubenstein in lockdown at home
Josiah leads warm-ups for Survey of Physical Theatre.

“It’s all about connection and community. It always has been. Both onstage and off. Real personal connection. The absence highlights the presence that was there, that will be there again. This industry is a small one. The people you meet today you’ll see again tomorrow and the next and the next. Make good impressions. And stay in touch. Let people know you care. Even if it’s only via Zoom. For now.”

The Commonweal Theatre community extends beyond Lanesboro. I’m evidence of that, and you are too. Rippling out from Lanesboro to Decorah to wherever you are and beyond. It’s heartening, and is connective in a way that I need. So thank you. To you, to the students at Luther, to the people in your lives who make you better. Thank you. I need this community. I’m glad we’re a part of it together. 

Staying connected in these increasingly difficult times is hard. But know we are here for you, in whatever way we can be! Stay tuned to all of our social media platforms to continue to connect with your theatre company. We can’t wait to welcome you back as soon as we are able!

“The Fox” Comes Into View

By the 2019-2020 Apprentice Class

Hi everyone! Philip here. It’s already that time of year again – our fantastic apprentices are busy preparing their capstone for you! You’ve seen their work on and off stage all season long. But what you may not know is that apprentices always tackle the design elements (Lights, Costumes, Etc.) for their show as well. We caught up with this year’s class to see how their process has been going!

Jodi Rushing – Stage Manager/Lighting Design

Jodi Rushing and Brandt Roberts oversee rehearsal of The Fox
Jodi runs a rehearsal alongside director Brandt Roberts.

I wanted to do this show because it addresses a very real issue.  I think there needs to be more awareness and discussion about toxic/abusive relationships.  I’ve had a very mixed experience when it comes to producing this show.  There have been moments where it has been a little difficult to work on this show because of my personal experience with toxic/abusive relationships, but those are also the moments that reinforces how much this story needs to be told.  I have learned so much about lighting design throughout this process and am excited for our audiences to see all of our hard work!”

Matthew Donahue – Scenic Design

Apprentice Matt Donahue prepares the set of The Fox
Matthew putting some finishing touches on the set.

So far, this experience has been challenging yet ever so rewarding. As an actor, Henry has been such a complex character to bring to life. At the end of the day, all he wants is to live freely, on his own terms – something we can all connect with. This is my first experience designing a set. This would not have been possible if it weren’t for two very specific people. The first is our director and my mentor here at the Commonweal, Brandt Roberts. He has helped me through every step of this process, and instead of doing things for me, he taught me so that I was able to do them myself. The second would be Norb Kelly, a local Master Carpenter, and supporter of the Commonweal who has helped me build this entire set, while teaching me little tips and tricks along the way. The support system here at the Commonweal is absolutely wonderful, and that includes our blog readers, so thank YOU!”

Caroline Hawthorne – Sound/Props Design

Caroline Hawthorne working on sound for The Fox
Caroline continues to fine tune the Sound Design.

I wanted to do ‘The Fox’ because even though it takes place post-World War I, it feels so modern. It tackles toxic masculinity, LGBTQ issues, as well as pandemic. It leaves people with more questions than it does answers. However, I believe when D.H. Lawrence wrote the novella the play was based on, he did not want to provide solutions to the problems presented… all he wanted was for people to think. I hope whoever sees it will be immersed in the world we create, and will leave the theatre reflecting not only on the world around them, but on themselves. I’m feeling good about my sound design. The goal of this sound design is to make it realistic. It needs to be embedded in the story, rather than its own separate entity. I have also been working on props (I am baking bread for this show… wish me luck), and learning to play the 12-string harp.”

Alicia Ehleringer – Costume Design

Alicia Ehleringer distressing a costume for The Fox
Alicia works her magic on a costume piece.

Producing the apprentice show has taught me so much! Working side by side with our team, we really have learned how to recognize our strengths and areas of improvement. It has opened my eyes up to exactly how much time and energy goes into the production elements, and has created a new found appreciation for each and every person that dedicates themselves to making a show great! I have loved working as the costume designer for ‘The Fox’! This is my first experience seeing my own design be brought to life and it has proved to be very rewarding. My favorite part has been working on the intricate details that give the costumes stories and history.” 

Don’t miss all of their hard work. Come see the apprentices and their designs in action when The Fox begins performances on March 13th. For Tickets —> Performance Calendar