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One Man in a Woman’s World

In three weeks, the doors of our 30th Season at the Commonweal will officially open. That season kicks off with the compelling true story of Henrietta Leavitt as told by Lauren Gunderson in Silent Sky. Although the play is based on true events and real people, there is one person who is an embellishment on historical facts. That character is Peter Shaw, Henrietta’s romantic interest and fellow astronomer at the Harvard Observatory. Commonweal resident ensemble member Eric Lee is currently busy rehearsing and creating the role of Peter Shaw for our version and he is this week’s Drama Unfolds contributor to introduce you to the man he will portray.

Commonweal Professional Resident Ensemble Member Eric Lee“I come around.” So says Peter Shaw in Lauren Gunderson’s Silent Sky, and so he does. In so very many ways. In the most literal sense, he is tasked with coming around to check in on the “computers” of the Harvard Observatory. These were the women working at detailed calculation and computation in the lab, therefore named “computers.” And in this case, those brilliant women were Annie Jump Cannon, Williamina Fleming, and the most recent addition, Henrietta Leavitt. 

About himself, Peter is forced to “come around” to the knowledge that the women whom he is tasked with supervising are very much in positions they had to work for; had to make every conscious effort to attain. Meanwhile, he holds his own position in a career he never really wanted, for which some strings were apparently pulled. 

(l-r) Megan Pence, Eric Lee and Abbie Cathcart at the MDC public reading of Silent Sky.

Then there are the ideas themselves. The size of the universe was about to get much bigger at the beginning of the twentieth century. And there are those who are not so comfortable with change. Such a one is Peter. He is hesitant. He bristles at these ideas which seem to uproot the whole of what is known which is where he is firmly grounded. And kindly, generously, and on these ideas, Lauren Gunderson allows Peter to evolve, as it were. 

As he speaks fondly of his rounds, I am given the sense of a planet that is aware of its place, orbiting his sun, which is Henrietta Leavitt. Her brilliance burns brightly and, luckily for us all, was given a chance to shine. We would live in a very different world had her mind been shut out of the world of ideas. And I, like Peter, find myself so deeply fortunate to get to spend my time “coming around” to the world of these talented women, whose story I am grateful to tell.


This is a gorgeous play and the relationship between Peter and Henrietta is simply a joy. Take it from me, you do not want to miss seeing Eric’s creation in person. Tickets are NOW on sale for Silent Sky and you can get yours by CLICKING HERE. Opening night is Saturday, April 7th and the production gets a three month run through June 23rd.
Thanks for reading and I’ll see you at the theatre!—Jeremy


America’s Most Produced Playwright

She is one of the most influential women in the theatre world today and is currently the most produced playwright in the country with 27 of her plays in production in the 2017-18 theatre season. Playwright Simon Stephens is the next in proximity with 15—easily surpassed by Ms. Gunderson. And yet, you’ve probably never heard of her! The good news is you’re about to learn quite a bit about her in the next few months as we prepare to open Season 30 at the Commonweal. Lauren’s play Silent Sky will officially open this season of celebration on April 7th. In this edition of Drama Unfolds, you’ll find excellent introductory information about Ms. Gunderson through links to articles featuring her, an article written by her and a video starring the playwright herself. Enjoy and then make plans to join us for Lauren’s remarkable play about an exceptional woman who made groundbreaking discoveries about the universe in the early 20th century.


compiled by Jeremy van Meter
(click each title for the full article)

You’ve Probably Never Heard of America’s Most Popular PlaywrightThe New Yorker Magazine

Lauren Gunderson: The Most Popular Playwright in America TodayThe Guardian Magazine

Interview with a Playwright: Lauren Gunderson—Playwrights Foundation

The Oldest Tech—Theatre—Might be an Antidote to the Newest—by Lauren Gunderson courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle


Silent Sky previews April 5th & 6th and is the featured event of our Grand Opening Weekend on April 7th. The warm-hearted and witty drama plays through June 23rd. It’s all part of a season of celebration as we mark thirty years as Southeast Minnesota’s only year-round, professional live theatre company.
Thanks for reading and I’ll see you at the theatre!—Jeremy

What to do in Winter? Embrace it!

by Adrienne Sweeney

Best weekend getaways in MN? You be the judge.

Winter View from My Porch

As you probably know, the Commonweal Theatre is located in the picturesque and historic town of Lanesboro, Minnesota, known around the region as one of the best weekend getaways in MN. I’m biased, sure, but I think this popularity is well deserved. Lanesboro boasts a dizzying array of natural beauty, outdoor summer and winter activities, and world-class art and culture. Even our local daily the Post Bulletin says “…yes, it really is that picturesque.”

Trust me, I am the first one to bask in the awesomeness of it all. Every year I can barely wait to hit the trails for my first run of the season, take the kayaks out of storage and get on the river and (my favorite pastime of all) get my hands dirty in the garden.

And yet….

I’ll admit it—I’m one of the oddballs that truly love Minnesota winter. I love all the seasons and don’t think I could live in a place without that cyclical seasonal shift. But winter offers something special for us go-go-go, hyperactive, Type-As. I don’t partake in typical winter activities—I’m not a skier, don’t skate or snowshoe. Nope, it’s the imposed “downtime” that makes winter so special to me. I’m one of those weirdos that like the shorter days and the bloody cold temps. I am so grateful for the chance to wear sweats and no makeup and huddle on the sofa with a fire, a blanket, Netflix and a varied assortment of furry friends. (My husband is also welcome as generally in winter he can be pretty furry, as well.) I love soup and bread and red wine and long phone calls with friends I usually can’t connect with during “the busy season.” I love going to bed early because it’s dark outside and my brain doesn’t know the difference between 8 pm and 11 pm. Don’t even get me started on bubble baths. And January and February offer the time for one of my favorite things to do during winter—organize! These past few months alone I’ve organized and re-organized almost every closet in my house, the mountains of paper on my desk, even the files on my computer desktop. I. Love. Organizing. 

This is how I feel when I am about to or have recently completed an                                                               organizational project.

I’m probably in the minority, I’ll cop to that. Don’t get me wrong, when the production season starts ramping up, I get so jazzed about what’s to come. The art, of course—but also I can’t wait to see our patrons again! I love opening the doors for a new season, and I am beyond excited to share the 30th season of the Commonweal Theatre with you. I am passionately excited about directing Silent Sky and can not wait to get into the rehearsal room. Performing in The Clean House is something I have looked forward to since the day I read the script, almost a decade ago. Soon, tourists and guests will start streaming in. (Lanesboro is consistently lauded as one of the top things to do in Rochester MN, Decorah, Winona, LaCrosse, the Twin Cities—and beyond!) And not a day goes by that I am not supremely thankful to live and work here. But tonight as I write this there’s a gentle snow falling, my dog is snoring beside me, soup is warming on the stove, I am in my sweats…and I am grateful for Minnesota winter. That said, check back with me in a few months. I’m sure I’ll have some great things to say about July!

See you soon.

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