Next To Normal – The Stars Of Our Show That You Won’t See On Stage

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It’s here. Opening night of “Next To Normal!”


We’ve spent the past week or so introducing you to our stellar cast, and we adore them all. But today, as we get ready to open the doors on this fantastic musical, we want to shine a light backstage. To the people working behind the scenes to bring this show to life. This blog post is all about the unsung stars of our show. The designers, crew and band who make this show run like clockwork, and who don’t get a chance to bow at the end of the night.


That photo up there? Pretty bad-ass, right? Without our team of designers, our cast would be working on a bare stage in the dark. Without our band, they would be singing a’capella. Without our crew, none of what you see here would be happening. Hell, without our staff photographer, you wouldn’t even have this photo. We are blessed with the hardest working group of theater artists in all the land, and a lot of them work off stage.


And we couldn’t do a damn thing without them.


So here’s to:

  •  Our band. Led by the brilliant Patrick Colvin on piano (who also is responsible for teaching the cast 2 solid hours of difficult music) and featuring Cory Clay on guitar, John Cox on bass, Rebecca Farmer on violin and synthesizer, Doug Quance on percussion and Macaulley Whitlock on cello. They sound amazing. They make the cast sound amazing. They are just plain amazing.
  • Our booth crew. Production Stage Manger Tonya Porter not only runs the show like a seasoned pro, she also makes sure everyone is where they should be when they are supposed to be, coordinates everything you can think of (from buying bread and batteries to navigating the murky waters of tech weekend), AND runs the light board. She’s got a hell of a co-pilot in the booth in Erin Ohland, who designed the props, painted the backdrop, and runs sound and projections. Good lord, ladies. Stop showing off with your awesomeness.
  • Our backstage crew. Alexander Houlson and Dereck Williams make our scene changes fly, make sure the cast has the right costume on and the right props in hand, and never lose their cool. They are rock steady and a blast to have backstage. Again, we work with the best. We are damn lucky.
  • Our designers. Holy crap our designers. Evan Kelly on set. Jon Moyer-Grice on lights. Nick Gosen on sound.  Erin Ohland on props. Not to mention Andy Frye, Andy Bennett and Adam Sippola pulling double duty as cast members and designers. Andy Frye is the show’s choreographer, Adam is our film director and editor on the production, and Andy Bennett assisted on the lights and projections! We could talk about how great all of our designers are, but if you come see the show, you’ll KNOW how great they are. It will be right there in front of your eyes.
  • Our photographer, Andy Miller, who somehow has figured out the magic formula that translates the excitement of live theater into still images.
  • Our incredible House Manager, Colleen Smith – who not only manages our box office and treats our audiences with total class, but also donates time to help paint our set.
  • Ken Pogin with Duluth Event Lighting who has the gear and the care for local arts that lets our wildest lighting dreams come true.
  • Anne Stephen, who came through in a pinch with some vital costume pieces.


Seriously, that’s a long list. And that’s just ONE show.


When you buy a ticket to “Next To Normal,” you aren’t just buying 2 hours of entertainment. You are supporting the artistic efforts of over two dozen people who have chosen to live and create right here in Duluth.


So you deserve a big thank you, too.



Katy Helbacka, Artistic Director

Next To Normal – Meet The Cast – Part 5


You guys. We open…TOMORROW!


The Northland premiere of the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning musical NEXT TO NORMAL hits the stage at the Teatro Zuccone at 8pm tomorrow night and tickets are flying fast!


Pssst…hey students, did you know that you can get into any of our Thursday night performances for just $10 when you get student rush tickets at the door with a valid student I.D.? Cause you can!


Speaking of students, let’s spend today’s blog introducing you to one of our very favorite students. She’s done a few shows with us now, and each one has been a blast. She’s sweet, funny, crazy talented … and is leaving us soon. This will likely be her last show with us. Which makes us sad.


So come see her blow the doors off the place and put your heart through a meat grinder before she heads off to continue her studies in Chicago!


Meet Maria DePesa!


Why did you audition for this show?

Natalie is my dream role so I knew I had to give it a shot!


Have you seen this show before? Auditioned for it before? Did you write it? Are you Tom Kitt?

I’ve been in love with Next to Normal for years, so when I found out Renegade was going to do it I cried for a week. And then I started learning the music for my audition.


Why is this different than other musicals you’ve worked on? What makes this particular show unique?

The story is amazing. They cut out all the bullshit and give you a down-to-earth, realistic view on mental illness, love and family.


What’s your favorite or most embarrassing story from your time in theater?

My first stage kiss in high school was my first kiss ever. I was really nervous (since I also had the biggest crush on the boy I had kiss), so when it was time to do it, I ran up to the boy, totally missed his mouth and pretty much head-butted him. It was really romantic. AND if you’re reading this: Hi, Sir. Huppert. You’re still a hottie.


Convince someone reading this blog to buy tickets right now using only one sentence.

I’ll love you forever if you come.





Next To Normal – Meet The Cast – Part 4

Adam Sippola

3 days until opening night!


We had a full run with lights, sound, band, costumes, the whole shebang last night. And man was it fun. We cannot wait to let you all see this show.


But first, we have a few more cast members to introduce. Next up is a Renegade MVP who will be spending his summer playing Jean Valjean in Les Miserables at the DECC. But first, he’s playing with us in NEXT TO NORMAL!


It’s Adam Sippola!


Why did you audition for this show?

I listened to the music, and immediately loved the story and score. This show explores some very difficult subject matter (mental illness, loss, grief) in a way that hopefully offers a glimpse into a reality that many are struggling with. Also, any chance to work with Katy Helbacka and the wonderful folks at Renegade.


Have you seen this show before? Auditioned for it before? Did you write it? Are you Tom Kitt?



Why is this different than other musicals you’ve worked on? What makes this particular show unique?

It looks through the eyes of a woman struggling with mental illness, and because it’s a musical, with absolutely stunning music, the heightened reality unique to musical theater compliments the story in a very poignant way.


What’s your favorite or most embarrassing story from your time in theater?

Once, during a final dress rehearsal… (insert story here) …only to find out he had already eaten the last one!!!!


Convince someone reading this blog to buy tickets right now using only one sentence.

Carolyn LePine will blow your mind (that rhymed).



Next To Normal – Meet The Cast – Part 3


4 days.


This Thursday, we will open the doors on our Northland premiere production of NEXT TO NORMAL. The show that won 3 2010 Tony Awards. And the Pulitzer Prize for drama.


Thursday is going to be a very, very good day.


But, till then, let’s continue introducing you to our dynamite cast. Up next is someone with an embarrassing amount of talent. He went to college here. Then he moved away.


Then…he moved BACK. And Renegade couldn’t be happier to have him in this show. He’s a dream to work with, one of the nicest people we know, and he can tear big, weepy holes in your heart with his singing voice.


Meet Andy Frye!


Why did you audition for this show?

I saw The Pillowman this fall and got really excited about what was happening at Renegade.


Have you seen this show before? Auditioned for it before? Did you write it? Are you Tom Kitt?

Within my first couple months in NYC, I auditioned for “High School Musical -The Tour.” A couple days later I got a call from casting saying “we actually want to bring you into the final round of callbacks for ‘Next to Normal,’ a new musical that is being workshopped at Second Stage.” The next couple of weeks I spent learning the music and working on the script for the role of Henry. I didn’t get that part, but then got a call to come in for the role of Gabe. I didn’t get that part, but then got a call to come in for the understudy of Gabe, Henry and the Doctor. I didn’t get that part…. BUT, it was certainly one of the most incredible audition experiences I have had. I learned SOOOOOOO MUCH.


Why is this different than other musicals you’ve worked on? What makes this particular show unique?

I think the music is incredible and the story is very real and important.


What’s your favorite or most embarrassing story from your time in theater?

My favorite embarrassing theatre experience has to be from my days at UMD; when I was lucky enough to be bound to a wheelchair portraying a physically disabled cockroach, Gregor Samsa, in a re-imagined production of Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis.”


Convince someone reading this blog to buy tickets right now using only one sentence.

If you are not a musical lover, I can relate to you 100% – see “Next to Normal.”



Next To Normal – Meet The Cast – Part 2


NEXT TO NORMAL opens in just 5 days! We’re writing to you from deep in the depths of tech weekend, and this show is looking and sounding amazing. Like crazy amazing.


But we thought we’d take a break from booking cues to tell you a little more about a rookie to the Renegade stage, but someone we hope we get to work with lots more. He’s young, really talented and so nice you think he might just be secretly super evil because nobody can be this kind and funny and easy to work with without some secret inner darkness.


Meet Joey Brueske!


Why did you audition for this show?

Initially I was going to do an individual acting course with my director, Merry Vaughn. While we were thinking about what to do for the semester she received and email from the director of “Next to Normal” asking for a college male to audition for the show. We both agreed that it would be an awesome opportunity for me, so we made an arrangement so I could be in the play and get college credit at the same time!


Have you seen this show before? Auditioned for it before? Did you write it? Are you Tom Kitt?

I never had heard of this show before I knew I was going to audition for it, and therefore have never seen it either. Or auditioned, but I might have written it in one of my other lives. I believe that with enough will power I could become Tom Kitt, but haven’t had the strength yet.


Why is this different than other musicals you’ve worked on? What makes this particular show unique?

This show is different than any other musical I have done because it is so real. A lot of other musicals I have done are fantasy and fiction. But this one gets down to the nitty-gritty of life and makes sure that it doesn’t sugar coat things so that the audience feels comfortable. I like that about this play. This play has real issues in it and I think it does a good job of handling them.


What’s your favorite or most embarrassing story from your time in theater?

One of my friends completely butchered his lines in a production of “Oklahoma!”. The ensuing on-stage laughter/hilarity both was awesome and made our director completely outraged at us….it was worth it!


Convince someone reading this blog to buy tickets right now using only one sentence.

The only enticing sentence I could possibly think of is: Come see the show, you get to see me kiss a girl!!!


Next To Normal – Meet The Cast – Part 1!


We are less than a week away from opening night of the Northland premiere of the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning rock musical, NEXT TO NORMAL!


We thought we’d spend a few blog posts leading up to opening night giving you a chance to meet our cast and learn a bit more about them.


And we’re leading off with the star of our show, the lady who will be breaking your hearts and dropping your jaws, Carolyn LePine!



Why did you audition for this show?

I can honestly say that the role of Diana in Next to Normal has been a dream of mine for several years.


Have you seen this show before? Auditioned for it before? Did you write it? Are you Tom Kitt?

I saw the show on Broadway, and had an almost spiritual reaction. I pretty much never cry while watching live theater (because of my cold, black heart) but this show was the one exception. I walked away after the show and thought about it for weeks. It was one of the most poignant theater experiences I had ever had. I had never auditioned for it before (this is the Northland premiere!) except for the stellar vocal performances I would give alone in my car. And yes, I did write it. Finally, the recognition I deserve.


Why is this different than other musicals you’ve worked on? What makes this particular show unique?

Next to Normal not only has some of the most beautiful music I have ever had the honor to sing, it won the Pulitzer Prize for drama. Enough said.


What’s your favorite or most embarrassing story from your time in theater?

Where to begin? Botched costume changes with my dress tucked into the back of my pantyhose, kisses with men who eat sour cream and chive potato chips right beforehand, performances with 2 people in the audience, having to memorize two shows simultaneously, and on and on and on…. And yet it’s all been worth it!


Convince someone reading this blog to buy tickets right now using only one sentence.

This show is a masterpiece, and will make you feel all the feelings; all of them.





What The Hell Is A Sitz Probe?

10007322_675390225833585_1200477086_oThe Northland premiere of the Pulitzer Prize winning musical, “Next To Normal” is just 8 days away!


Holy crap!


Tomorrow night we will launch into what might be our favorite rehearsal of the entire musical process. The Sitz Probe.


What the hell is that, you’re asking? Good question. Sitz Probe means ‘seated rehearsal’ in German. And it’s a term and a practice brought over to musical theater from the world of opera.


A Sitz Probe is the first meeting of orchestra and cast. They sing and play through the show together for the very first time at this rehearsal, without any staging or other production elements. It is literally just the cast and the band, playing and singing together on a bare stage. It’s fun, lively and often emotional. It’s the first time the cast hears the full orchestrations that will be supporting them in the show, and it’s the first time the band hears the vocals on top of their music. And it’s really the first moment where the full impact of a musical sparks to life.


We can’t wait to hear what the Teatro sounds like filled with these 6 voices and this powerhouse of a band.


Tickets for this show are flying faster than usual, so you’re going to want to get yours ASAP by clicking the box office link on the right hand side of this blog.


And, if you’re interested in learning more about sitz probes and/or learning more about the next collaboration from the Tony Award winning writers of Next To Normal, check out the video below of the Sitz Probe for If/Then, opening on Broadway March 30th!



Auditions for “RED”

posterWe’re looking for a few good men (two, to be precise) to fill two incredible roles in John Logan’s RED, the 2010 Tony Award winner for Best Play!


Here’s the details:


by John Logan
Directed by Anika Thompson


Master abstract expressionist Mark Rothko has just landed the biggest commission in the history of modern art, a series of murals for New York’s famed Four Seasons Restaurant. In the two fascinating years that follow, Rothko works feverishly with his young assistant, Ken, in his studio on the Bowery. But when Ken gains the confidence to challenge him, Rothko faces the agonizing possibility that his crowning achievement could also become his undoing.


Winner of the 2010 Tony Award for Best Play, RED is a muscular, explosive and searing portrait of artist ambition, hubris and vulnerability. A powerhouse show featuring a mere cast of two, it is live theater at its most compelling, honest and raw. A fascinating and visceral examination of the fine line between being a visionary and being a sell-out, it pulls you into the work and troubled mind of one of the art world’s most legendary figures, desperate to create something permanent in a fleeting life.



WHEN: Wednesday, March 26th, 2014 at 6pm
WHERE: Teatro Zuccone in Downtown Duluth
PREPARE: We will be reading scenes from the show. Download the scenes below.
DOWNLOAD: Audtion Packet / Audition Side 1 / Audition Side 2

“Rally” – Lyrics by Zach Braff / Music by Nikki Tatge

PrintIt’s Thursday. It’s still cold and bleak outside. Maybe you need a little push to help get you to the weekend. Well, we are here to help.


The script for “All New People” includes lyrics to a song that the character Kim is supposed to play live. If you’ve seen the show, you know the moment. If you haven’t, well that’s your own fault. Get down here! There’s only two weekends left!


What you might not know is that our very own Kim, Nikki Tatge, is a crazy talented singer/songwriter. And she took Zach Braff’s lyrics and set them to original music she composed.


It’s one of our very favorite moments in the show. And if you – like us – have found yourself humming the song after seeing the show, you may be itching to hear it again.


Here’s a quick and dirty recording of the track. Just Nikki and her ukulele. Enjoy!




Why I Let My Cast Get Drunk At Rehearsal

What follows is a harrowing personal account of the now-infamous ‘Drunk Run’ of ALL NEW PEOPLE at Renegade Theater Company. This record of that fateful evening was written by the show’s director, one Andy Jay Tiberius Bennett Esquire the Third, QED.


This terrifying journey into one man’s experience with a grand, intoxicating experiment begins below. Before you continue, shut your door, crank up the Tom Waits, and dim the lights. And smoke ‘em if you’ve got ‘em.


(NOTE: All participants were of legal drinking age and attending a closed, private event. Also, no cookies, cars or people were harmed during the making of this evening.)




Read the rest of this entry »