“Grace” – Creating a Character

Here’s the deal: Tech week is intense.


For the month or so before, the actors rehearse in an empty room with folding chairs standing in for couches, tape on the floor standing in for walls and doors and Altoids cases standing in cell phones, revolvers and microphones (those cases are curiously strong stand-in props).


Then, tech week comes. And the actors are thrown into the fire. Costumes are yanked onto them, tugged and adjusted. They are pushed out under hot stage lights and forced to stand there silently while the technicians make subtle adjustments. They’re given a prop gun and asked to point it at a friend of theirs and pull the trigger.


And, if you’re Zach Stofer, you’re given a box full of makeup and told to make yourself look like you’ve been in a horrible accident where half of your face has been scraped off.


Like we said: Tech week is intense.


Thankfully, Zach Stofer – in addition to being an infuriatingly talented actor – knows his way around a makeup kit. And he was kind enough to have some photos taken of the several hour-long process he goes through each night to create his character of Sam in our Regional Premiere of “GRACE” by Craig Wright


Step 1


Zach starts by putting on a little Barry Manilow (you know, the hits) and doing some deep breathing. Then, he makes himself a nice cup of English Breakfast, slips off his shoes and makes fists with his toes.


Okay, actually, the first step is applying a base layer of liquid latex. That stuff’s the shit.


Step 1 part 2


Zach REALLY likes liquid latex.


Step 2


Step 2 Part B


Next, Zach works out some aggression on helpless cotton balls by ripping them into strips and shoving them onto his face while he screams “this is what you deserve!”


All of that is true except one part. Guess which.


Step 2 Part C


Then, he puts some liquid latex on top of the cotton ball shreds. Not cause he has to, just cause he REALLY likes liquid latex.


Step 3


Then, he pretends his hair dryer is a microphone and belts out “Mandy.” He also uses the hair dryer to dry the liquid latex and make a firm adhesion between the makeup and the cotton.


But mainly it’s about singing “Mandy.”





Then it’s time to do a little face painting. Zach uses a palette of various skin tones along with shades of red to accentuate the peaks and valleys of the scar tissue, popping out the highlights and deepening the shadows to make the texture deeper and more pronounced.


When he’s all done, he ends up with a finished product that looks a little something like this:




One final piece is added to this look, which we won’t spoil here. Let’s just say we owe a great deal to the fine folks at Hanger Clinic right here in Duluth, who helped us out in a huge way. So thank you, Hanger Clinic. You all rock.


And it’s only AFTER this final secret piece is added that Zach heads out on stage and spends 90 minutes systematically breaking your heart.


Honestly, guys: “GRACE” is one of those shows that we can point at and say, THIS is who we are and what we do. THIS is Renegade.


So, please. Come see this show.


“RED” – Notes from the Director


by Anika Thompson


In researching the artist Mark Rothko and his work, one of the most interesting discoveries was that, though he had reached the height of recognition within the art world, due to the nature of his work, he was never satisfied and lived with the uncertainty that his paintings were not ready for viewing.


His pictures were not stagnant, they moved – they pulsated as the play is so oft to say – emanating and radiating in different tones and moods, dependent on their surroundings and the audience.


In this way, a Rothko painting is very similar to theater.  We work to create a finished piece, but it’s never really done.  We release it to the audience and wait to see how they will respond.  And no matter how much study has gone into it, or hours spent in rehearsal, it changes, each night, depending on the energy the audience brings and the mood that the theater provides.




That is the beauty of live theater, it fluctuates, so it is never static, never the same and always an adventure.


redforweb2And this similarity is the brilliance of John Logan’s Red.


It embraces two art forms and shapes them into one, living work of Art.  In it we witness the process of a painter, the journey and spiritual awakening of his assistant and we get to feel a part of both.


The opening line, “What do you see?” draws the viewer in, asking for their engagement, pleading with them, not only for the artist or the paintings but also for the actors’ sake, to not just watch the show, but rather to lean into it, contemplate what Art is and why it matters.


Red by John Logan is a confrontation of mortality; it asks the question of what it is to be human and what role Art plays in that life.


“Everything is not fine” and that’s ok; a reaction, any reaction as long as it is true and human and contemplative, is what is required.





RED by John Logan

Directed by Anika Thompson

Starring Jody Kujawa and Paul LaNave

June 19-21 and 26-28 at 8pm



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.)




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Bloody Bloody Nikki Tatge

OMG you guys, we are totes like just ten days away from the Minnesota premiere of BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON!That’s right, gird your loins, because on Halloween night, history gets all sexy-pants inside the Teatro Zuccone.


To keep you from screaming and fainting in anticipation, we’re going to be spending some serious blog time letting you get to know the cast and crew of the sexiest show about American History to ever hit Duluth. First up is a lovely lady with a beautiful voice who is making her Renegade debut! It may be her first time on our stage, but it won’t be her last. Because we forced her to sign a contract without looking at it so she’ll be doing shows with us until she’s 90!


It’s Nikki Tatge!


Why on earth did you audition for this show?


I fell in love with the Renegade three years ago and thought, “Hey! I should stop being a creep and stalking this theatre and maybe audition for a show!”


Tell us one thing you learned about Andrew Jackson from this show.


His life sucks. (In particular)


Tell us your favorite line from the show.


*Whisper* Dream catchers.


What’s the meanest thing the director has said to you? Did you deserve it?


She smiled at me once. I cried. It hurt so good.


Why should people spend money on this instead of something else like that new Jackass movie or a fancy dinner at Subway?


Nothing beats live theatre, people. The new Jackass movie can suck it and Subway… it’s not as fresh as you think. We’ll give you an experience that will rock your senses. All. Night. Long.

The Pillowman – Tupolski 2.0

IMG_3966 - Copy - Copy_1200x1195

Our next production, THE PILLOWMAN by Academy Award-winner Martin McDonagh opens tomorrow.


That’s right. Tomorrow. Holy crap.


It’s our 5th Anniversary of the company’s new direction so we thought the perfect way to celebrate 5 years of support from this fantastic community would be to remount one of our favorite productions for anyone dying to see it again – or anyone who missed it the first time.


We’ve got two returning cast members, and it’s time to introduce you to one of them. Meet Andy Bennett. He plays Tupolski. And he gets to swear. A lot.


Tell Us About Yourself

I was born and raised in Duluth (Denfeld High School Football Rules!) and attended the University of Minnesota Duluth where I got my BFA in Fine Arts majoring in musical theater and minoring in being kick-ass. I moved with my wife, the lovely and talented Katy Helbacka to Chicago where we spent five years working in theater, forming a theater company, seeing lots of theater, and avoiding the weird people on the train.


How Did You Get Involved in Theater?

I got interested in theater when a production of THE HOBBIT came to my school (MacArthur West Elementary Nap Time Rules!) I was super jealous of the kid who played Bilbo. I think I just really wanted to be the center of attention in a positive way for a change. It didn’t hurt that he got to act with that cool adult with the awesome beard – the guy playing Gandalf. The guy who happened to be my future father-in-law, Sunny Helbacka. Also, there was this super cute hobbit in the show. Years later, I would ask her out. Years and years later, I would ask her to marry me. Life is weird, huh?


The first show I did was Smokey the Bear Saves The Forest. I was Smokey. It’s all been downhill from there. Since that first show I’ve worked as an actor, designer, director or writer on over 100 plays. Good Lord.


What Drew You To This Show?
I first saw The Pillowman at the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago with Katy. Michael Shannon was in it. So was Tracy Letts. Paris Gellar from “Gilmore Girls” sat behind us. The night was star STUDDED. And it completely exploded my brain. I had never seen a play like it before. Something so brutal and so hysterical at the same time. Something so smart and wicked and evil and sweet and cruel and heartwarming. I became an instant and life-long fan of Martin McDonagh. So, when the chance came to audition for the show here after moving back to Duluth, I Nancy Kerrigan’d as many local actors as I could and got the role of Tupolski.


But, when the idea of re-mounting the production came up, I was pretty hesitant about auditioning again. The first time around was such a special show. I was worried about spoiling or diluting something that was as close to perfect as theater experiences go for me. But, then I re-read the script … and well, now I’m in the show. Because the script is just that amazing.  And I’m really glad I got another crack at this part. Everything is different from 5 years ago, and it’s really fun to play the same character in a whole new environment, and to play off a brand-new Katurian.


How Has The Experience Been?
The experience has been weird, frustrating, awesome and incredible. It’s a very strange thing to reprise a role. Learning lines was easy but letting go of old blocking and old choices was a challenge. I tried to find the middle ground between a reprisal of the role and a total reinvention just to be different. Some of the stuff I tried 5 years ago still works. A lot of it doesn’t.


Like, this time around, my character doesn’t talk like Little Edith from Grey Gardens. But he does carry around a stuffed giraffe and replaces all letter T’s with R’s. So I’m actually playing Rupolski. It’s a Scooby-Doo thing. I had to do it for Luke. Because he wouldn’t stop crying.


Sorry, weird tangent that was full of lies. But, honestly, it’s been a really enjoyable challenge to rebuild Tupolski and put him in this new version of the show.


Why Should People See This Show?

Because it is one of the top 5 plays I’ve ever read. EVER. Really and truly. In fact, how about this: You come see the show. And if you don’t like it, you ask me for a refund. And I’ll pay you out of my own pocket. I’m dead serious.


The Pillowman – Katurian, Katurian, Katurian

IMG_1882Our next production, THE PILLOWMAN by Academy Award-winner Martin McDonagh opens September 19th! It’s our 5th Anniversary of the company’s new direction so we thought the perfect way to celebrate 5 years of support from this fantastic community would be to remount one of our favorite productions for anyone dying to see it again – or anyone who missed it the first time.


We’ve got two returning cast members, and Anika Thompson is returning as director, but the rest of the cast and crew is brand new and have injected tons of imagination and creativity to the production. We really are excited to get this one up and running.


One of our new cast members is no stranger to Renegade, and was last seen terrifying some college kids in GHOST LIGHT. Now he’s the one getting the crap scared out of him.


It’s Luke Moravec!


1) Tell us a bit about yourself


I’m a Scooby-Doo nut, so I love a good mystery… or even an easy to solve mystery with only, like, two suspects. I’ve also been jumping into Lake Superior every month for the past 101 months. I work with the YMCA’s KEY Zone program after school as the Site Coordinator at Myers-Wilkins Elementary. It’s a hoot.


2) How did you first get involved in theater?


It’s vain. Whenever I would go see a show in college, I watched as all those people on stage received applause. I wanted some of that. So I auditioned for the spring show of my senior year in college. I wound up playing Lysander in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” And, sure, I got some applause, but that was nothing compared to how much fun it was to run around on stage saying these cool lines and playing pretend.


3) What drew you to this show?


I’d not heard a bad word about “The Pillowman.” People all talked about how great it was. An acting challenge can often be alluring too. This show is, if nothing else, a daunting experience for each of the players.


4) How has the experience been? What are the challenges of performing in a show with people who have already done it once before?


Early on, I personally felt a need to catch up. It was like “boy, I better get these lines down before these two guys get bored.” That ended up being a nice motivation actually. It’s also tough knowing that the last production was so loved. It’s easy to think about how a number of audience members might be comparing you to what they’ve seen before, but ultimately, you just have to forget about it and do your show the best that you can. And it’s been fun.


5) Why should people see this show?


If you like a grim tale, see the show. If you like smart humor, see the show. If you like good theatre, see the show.


6) Anything else you want us to know?


I think that people who know the show, or people who have read the synopsis, can easily categorize this play as “dark and twisted.” but it’s also funny and incredibly heartwarming. Go into it expecting a gut punch, but don’t close your eyes to those touching moments.


The Pillowman Cometh – Meet Our Michal!


We are just under two weeks away from the opening of our next production.


Wait…seriously? Jesus, that’s a quick turnaround. Especially when you consider our last show starred children trying to avenge their dead fathers, and this one stars evil cops in a totalitarian dictatorship trying to solve the brutal murders of children.


That’s a 180, friends.


But, that’s right, our next production, THE PILLOWMAN by Academy Award-winner Martin McDonagh opens September 19th!


And it’s a very special production. 5 years ago Renegade Comedy Theatre became Renegade Theater Company, and THE PILLOWMAN was the production that redefined who we are and what we do. And so we thought the perfect way to celebrate 5 years of support from this fantastic community would be to remount the production for anyone dying to see it again – or anyone who missed it the first time.


We’ve got two returning cast members, and Anika Thompson is returning as director, but the rest of the cast and crew is brand new and have injected tons of imagination and creativity to the production. We really are excited to get this one up and running.


One of our new cast members hasn’t even been a Duluth resident for a year yet, but he’s already making a name for himself in the local theater community.


It’s Robert Lee!robertforblog copy


1) Tell us a bit about yourself


I was born and reared in the great state of Louisiana. I tried to move to Chicago once, but I thought it was too damn cold… But while I was there I worked with The Side Project. After that I finished a theater degree at LSU and started a theater company in New Orleans. You can find me teaching, designing, performing and directing theater all over this wonderful community. I ended up here following my intelligent wife Gina and with my dumb dog Rufus in tow.


2) How did you first get involved in theater?


In college I was convinced I’d be a writer and signed up for a playwriting class because it was the only creative writing class available. I decided that I should also take an acting class to see who I was writing for. It has been down hill from there. Theater is my passion and often the bane of my wife’s life.


3) What drew you to this show?


This is one of my favorite plays and has been since I read it a couple of years ago. It is so well written and the roles are so great and the themes are so insightfully woven into the script. It is dark and sometimes violent, but it has more heart in it than most scripts – it is a beautiful play. Martin McDonagh is an incredible playwright and I am honored to be a part of this show.


4) How has the experience been? What are the challenges of performing in a show with people who have already done it once before?


Working with Anika has been a real pleasure. I was worried that there would be an attempt to recreate her past success with the show, but I haven’t found that to be the case at all. It has been an incredible experience thus far.


5) Why should people see this show?


All the talent involved in this show is nearly overwhelming. It will be a funny, heart-wrenching experience for sure.


Meet The Burnt Part Director and Stage Manager!

Hey. So, THE BURNT PART BOYS opens tomorrow. That’s pretty damn exciting. Man, we can’t wait for you guys to see this show. But, before all the opening night hoopla we want to take this last pre-opening blog post to introduce you to two very special members of the show’s creative team. Basically the two people, without whom, there would be no show.


And it also gives us a chance to thank them publicly for the incredible work they’ve put in on this show. We love them both very much and can’t wait to work with them again.


It’s the show’s Director, Peter Froehlingsdorf, and the show’s Stage Manager, Tonya Porter!


Peter Froehlingsdorf - Version 2Tell us a little about yourself


I have lived and worked in Duluth for a majority of my life. I attended the University of Wisconsin-Superior for my undergraduate degree and have a Masters of Education from the University of Minnesota Duluth. My first profession is being an educator, but I also wear a few other hats. I’m currently waiting tables for the Va Bene Cafe, I occasionally write for The Woman Today magazine, and direct and act in the Duluth community scene. When it’s not summertime, I reside in Helsinki, Finland and work for the International School of Vantaa.


How did you first get involved in theater?


I have a long history in theater. Like many others, I got my start early, in 7th grade at Virginia High School where I was cast in a musical called Teen. I played boy #1. I was hooked! I continued to do other high school and community productions while on the Iron Range. I was asked to direct my first show as a senior in High School for a neighboring town. I was really green, but somehow managed to bring people into the door. When I moved to Duluth I continued to act and direct at Ordean Middle School. Before I knew it, I was running a successful theater program with over 100 students auditioning for shows. The overwhelming support by the community validated my work both on and off the stage. I directed my first community show 13, The Musical, at the Duluth Playhouse several years ago and was asked back the following year to direct Les Miserables. That was an incredibly rewarding experience. And now, here I am at Renegade Theater working for the first time not only directing students but adults as well. I could have not asked for a better place to create this piece of art.


What drew you to this show?


I remember hearing The Burnt Part Boys at the kitchen table early one Saturday morning last summer. After listening to the opening song, God’s Eyes, I knew that this was a show that called my name. I wanted to tell this story. It has a strong message and the music and story are really well written. Often times you get a musical that is strong in one area or the other, but not both. This was certainly not the case with this show. It equally showcases soaring music and fantastic storytelling. After doing some extensive research and and speaking with the originally director of the off-Broadway production, the deal was sealed. Renegade was kind enough to hear my passion about the show asked me to produce it as part of their season. And after a year of playing with the show while in Finland, here we are!


How has the experience been?


Directing comes with a lot of ups and downs. It is not without work. A good director does their homework and makes sure they are set up for success from the start. The success of this show is mostly due to the amazingly talented group of actors and musicians I have on stage and the people sitting at my right side keeping me on track. I cannot say that there is a weak link in this chain. I have never had so much fun getting to know my company of actors and musicians in any show I have ever been part of. We have become a “Burnt Part” family. Rehearsals go by so quickly. They are the best part of my day. I cannot remember leaving a rehearsal feeling down-hearted or disappointed in any way. I know that the folks on stage who are continuing their journey in the theater have amazing things ahead of them. I would be honored to work with anyone of them again in anything I was to be directly involved in. I am a very lucky man.


Why should people see this show?


It’s about family and friends. We all have those right? The message will leave doors open for families to talk about issues that sometimes are not so easily dealt with. The theater is a wonderful avenue to allow open discussions for touchy subjects, especially ones like the death of a family member. I also know that people who love bluegrass pop-infused music will really walk away humming what they have heard on the stage. The Burnt Part Boys is really a show not to miss this summer. I can guarantee you are in for a fantastic journey as these 5 friends make their way to the Burnt Part.



Tell us a little about yourself


Hey there, I’m Tonya. I’ve been involved in quite a few local shows since my first community theater audition in 2009. I’ve performed at The Duluth Playhouse, the former Duluth Play Ground, the Scottish Rite Auditorium and the Bayfront Stage for two LOON productions, and at Renegade. This is my first backstage position as Stage Manager and I hope I’m doing a decent job at it! It’s fun to take in all aspects of putting on a show and it makes one extremely grateful for all that the backstage crew do!


How did you first get involved in theater?


I’ve always had a love of all things musical! My parents would take me to see touring productions at the DECC and I would sit at the edge of my seat absolutely riveted. I knew I liked to sing and that I wanted desperately to be up there doing it, too! I got involved in Prairie Fire productions one summer and then kind of put the whole acting thing on the backburner and focused mainly on choral things all through high school. A friend suggested I audition for Beauty and the Beast at The Duluth Playhouse in 2009, I made it, and I’ve been going relatively strong ever since.


What drew you to this show?


I’m going to have to agree with everyone else and say the MUSIC. I couldn’t stop listening to the music when Peter first told me to check it out. I knew I wanted to be a part of the production in any way possible and thankfully Peter took me on as his SM. Then we had auditions, put together the most perfect cast that was beyond anything we could have ever expected or hoped for, and it’s been a zero-drama, dream experience ever since.


How has the experience been?


See above. But no, without wanting to sound cheesy, the whole process has been fantastic. Everyone comes in prepared and ready to work. It’s truly inspiring. This cast feels more like a family than anything else and that works so well with how close these characters have to be. Our band is awesome. My fellow crew people ROCK. It’s been such a fun escape each night and I know I’ll feel a huge hole in my heart when it’s over.


Why should people see this show?


People should see this show because the songs and the story are beautiful, the cast is full of lookers that are delivering some of the best performances I’ve seen all year, and I could go on and on about how killer our band is. It’s something fresh and new and family friendly! And did I mention affordable? Check it out because you’ll seriously be missing out if you don’t!


Meet The Burnt Part Choreographer – Jennifer Madill Hagen!

601286_4518453802926_727235164_nWe’re just over a week away from opening night of our Northland premiere production of THE BURNT PART BOYS, brought to you in part by the fine folks at Visit Duluth and Kevin O’Brien Realty)!


This fantastic musical is brand-new to the region, and has also given us a chance to work with some incredible local talent who making their Renegade debut with this show. Over the past few weeks we’ve given  you a chance to meet the members of the cast – both those familiar to Renegade audiences and those performing in their first Renegade show. 


But today we are beyond thrilled to introduce you to the choreographer for the show, the fabulous Jennifer Madill Hagen. Chances are you already know her, or know about her.


Jennifer Madill Hagen has been running the Madill P.A.C. with her husband, Dusty since 1999. She has about 500 students, which includes an award winning competition team, adult classes and a team of all boys that has won national honors. She recently won the Masquerade National Dance Educator of the year for 2013. She just wrapped up a run as the role of Lucy in Lundeen Production’s Jekyll & Hyde, opposite her husband Dusty. And yet she somehow not only found time to contribute jaw-dropping choreography to our production, but also to answer our blog questions!


How long have you been dancing/choreographing?


I have been dancing for 30 years (wow!) and have been choreographing for about 20 years.


How did you get involved in this production?


I have wanted to work with Katy and Andy and Renegade for as long as I can remember, so I was thrilled when Peter (the show’s director) asked me to choreograph!


How has the experience been?


It has been an absolute blast! The actors came ready to work hard, and that they did, learning so quickly and retaining the material almost on the spot! They were sponges, wanting anything I had ready for them.


Anything else you’d like us to know?


I was able to be part of Bryce (who plays Pete in the show) Crandall’s journey, teaching him dance at the studio. He heads off for college soon, so one last show seeing him do his thing has been awesome. I’m very proud of him and I think he will do big things in this theater world!


The Burnt Part Boys – Field Trip!

On Saturday, July 20th, some of the cast and crew of THE BURNT PART BOYS headed up to the Tower-Sudan mine for a little research, a little video shoot, and a little fun. Check out the photos from the visit, below, and then GET YOUR TICKETS to this incredible new musical, opening August 8th!

The cast and crew arrive at the Tower-Sudan Mine.

































1070634_10100631317703052_1313161770_oBUT DON’T WORRY, EVERYONE MADE IT BACK SAFE