RIII in the Press-Citizen

Many thanks to Jeff Charis-Carlson at the Iowa City Press-Citizen for a wonderful, comprehensive article about our upcoming pop-up abridged activist reading of Shakespeare’s Richard III!

From the article:

Although Donald Trump won Iowa by almost 10 percentage points on Election Day, for some Iowans the upcoming presidential inauguration kicks off not a season of celebration but a “winter of our discontent.”

There are marches and other protest events scheduled across the nation to correspond with Trump taking the nation’s highest oath of office Jan. 20 in Washington, D.C.

Some critics in the Iowa City area are lodging their protest by turning to a 400-year-old play to express their political concerns for the next four years. To them, William Shakespeare’s descriptions of King Richard III seem equally applicable to the president-elect.

Click through to read the entire article on the Press-Citizen website.

To address Dr. Hagle‘s thoughtful query in the article, our aim is to illustrate a historical comparison and to come together as a community to unite in our real concerns about our prospective leadership. I assure you, we aren’t changing Shakespeare’s lines to fit the circumstances. There’s no need to. Shakespeare doesn’t need any help from us to make a salient timely point.

Everyone, please share far and wide. We’d love for this article to draw people to the production but we’d also like our voices to be heard around the world. Iowans are paying attention and we will rise up and resist. #notmymegalomaniac

Cast List for RIII

Ron Clark and I are thrilled to announce our powerhouse cast for RICHARD III, A Reading for Inauguration Day!

Richard, Duke of Gloucester     Zach Twardowski
King Edward IV     Ron Clark
George, Duke of Clarence     John Cameron
Cecily, Duchess of York     Katie Roche
Edward, Prince of Wales     Liam Dutcher
Richard, Duke of York     Atticus Dutcher
Queen Margaret     Meghann Foster
Lady Anne     Aprille Clarke
Queen Elizabeth     Carrie Houchins-Witt
Earl Rivers     Art Roche
Lord Richard Grey     Larry Baker
Marquis of Dorset     Larry Baker
Duke of Buckingham     Mary Denmead
Sir William Catesby     Nick Westergaard
Sir James Tyrrell     Larry Baker
Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond     Nick Westergaard
Bishop of Ely     John Cameron
Lord Hastings     Joseph Dutcher
Mayor of London     Art Roche
Lord Brakenbury     Art Roche
Murderer 1     Joseph Dutcher
Murderer 2     Carrie Houchins-Witt
Messenger     Aprille Clarke
Messenger     Joseph Dutcher

Costumes     Bethany Horning

Music     Tara McGovern , Keith Reins, and Joseph Dutcher

RICHARD III, A Reading for Inauguration Day
Friday, January 20, 2017
North Ridge Pavilion in Coralville, Iowa
Doors open at 6:30 pm
Coffee, wine, and dessert
Free will offering to cover the venue’s rental fee ($200) with all remainder going to the ACLU.


Iowa City’s beloved consummate theatre professional Ron Clark and I are delighted to announce a project in the works for Inauguration Day 2017.

RICHARD III, A Reading for Inauguration Day
Friday, January 20, 2017
North Ridge Pavilion in Coralville, Iowa
Doors open at 6:30 pm
Coffee, wine, and dessert
Free will offering with all proceeds going to the ACLU.

We intend that the takeaway message of this Inauguration Day performance be that we the people are not defeated by ambition’s horrific consequences. On the contrary, we are a community committed to the common good. Art allows us to take a balcony view and, from that vantage point, we are better able to discern what it is that unites us.

More details will unfold as we get closer. In the meantime, mark your calendars and always choose love.


“Hot Tamale Louie” or “Two Buckets and a Yoke” ***The Story of Zarif Khan***

17990668_10158527592675453_9164810119306617296_oI am delighted to be part of this (free!) performance tonight at Voxman Music Building in the Recital Hall beginning at 7:30 pm.

More details from John Rapson:

“Hi friends,

I am writing to invite you to a Faculty Showcase this Tuesday at the School of Music. I am proud of the wonderful collaboration that has produced this “jazz tone poem” (a story told with music) and am truly excited to share both the story and this unusual music with you. Please read below to get a semblance of the various threads we are pulling together.

(We are expecting a good sized crowd, so please come early.)

“Hot Tamale Louie” or “Two Buckets and a Yoke”
*** The Story of Zarif Khan ***

Tuesday November 1, 2016
7:30p – Voxman School of Music Recital Hall
100% free and open to the public

Created and performed by
John Rapson
Special guest artist:
Dave Moore voice, slide guitar, accordion, harmonica
Iowa City’s legendary singer/songwriter

Introducing singer/songwriter:
Daniel Gaglione voice, North African mandole
Recent Iowa City immigrant from France

and UI alumni:
Ryan Smith, alto and soprano saxophones, flute, clarinet
Tara McGovern, fiddle
Dan Padley, guitars
Blake Shaw, doublebass
Justin LeDuc, drums

Cameo monologues by UI faculty member Paul Kalina

A genre-bending tale with lilting Western ballads, gentle Mexican waltzes, folk songs and melodies from the East, evocative tone poems and raucous ragtime melded together by
JAZZ; Based on an article by Kathryn Schulz in the June 6/13, 2016 issue of The New Yorker: American Chronicles: Citizen Khan and used with permission.

a story about LEAVING HOME
of TRAVEL and wandering the WEST
a story of FORTUNES won and lost
a story of LOVE late in life
and a dastardly MURDER

with cowboys and Indians, landowners and congressmen,
society ladies and ladies of the night, school children and old folks
Afghanís, Mexicans, Chinese, Czechs and Poles,
and special appearances by the famous
Buffalo Bill Cody and Medicine Joe Crow

You will laugh, you will cry, you will fret, you will sigh.

An Afghani child of twelve leaves his home near the Khyber Pass, wandering India for years before boarding a boat in Bombay and landing in Seattle. After exploring the west, he settles in Sheridan, Wyoming to take over a business selling tamales. He works 80 hours a week and becomes famous for his food, eventually learning how to invest in the stock market. As he gains and loses fortunes, he nonetheless lives frugally choosing to spend his money in acts of kindness and generosity. He gains citizenship in 1925, has it revoked by U.S. xenophobic laws and regains it again thirty years later. He becomes a legend, both back home in the borderland between Afghanistan and Pakistan and in Wyoming. He has an arranged marriage late in life and sires six children before abruptly and tragically being murdered in his 80s. His children and their offspring have recently founded a mosque in Gillette, Wyoming that has drawn the ire of some eastern Wyoming residents and received national attention in the press.”

You can read the article “Citizen Khan” by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Kathryn Schulz (upon which this tone poem is based) here.


Just Living

I have often alluded to the fact that I arrived here in the Portlandia of the Midwest quite by accident more than half my life ago and have stayed largely because I’m too complacent to make any efforts toward settling elsewhere. Come now, that’s not the whole story.

Yes, Iowa City is a place where people have annual spirited arguments about the ethics of knitting for trees, but it is also a place where The University of Iowa‘s establishes a Theme Semester this awesome:

Just Living, the University of Iowa’s Spring 2016 Theme Semester on social justice, will explore values, beliefs, and positioning by examining our past and looking to our future. By understanding ourselves, our relationship to others, and the natural world, we can make intentional choices to connect with others. By choosing to be aware of where we come from and where we are, we will engage more with individuals and our larger community.

One of the Hancher events that is co-sponsored by Just Living is Taylor Mac‘s A 24-Decade History of Popular Music; 1846-1856: Whitman vs. Foster; Songs Popular Near the Breaking Point. I am honored to be providing back-up violin for this event coming up this Saturday, December 5 at 7:30 pm.


I have already tried and failed to explain this but nothing similar exists so my efforts are sadly insufficient. From Taylor Mac’s website:

Taylor Mac (who uses “judy”, lowercase sic, not as a name but as a gender pronoun) is a playwright, actor, singer-songwriter, performance artist, director and producer.  “A critical darling of the New York scene” (NY Magazine), TimeOut NY has called Mac, “One of the most exciting theater artists of our time” (naming judy a future theater legend).  American Theater Magazine says, “Mac is one of this country’s most heroic and disarmingly funny playwrights”.   The New Yorker says, “One of contemporary theater’s more unforgettable performances.”  The Village Voice named judy the Best Theater Actor in New York (2013) and Best Male Vocalist (2015). The New York Times says of Mac in general, “Fabulousness can come in many forms, and Taylor Mac seems intent on assuming every one of them”.

About this project specifically:

“Imagine running a marathon in stilettos. While singing your heart out. That’s the kind of mad feat the singular performer Taylor Mac has embarked upon in his magnum opus”
The New York Times

“In short, Mac is a theatre artist through and through—no aspect of the stage is alien to him.”
The New Yorker

“A 24-Decade History of Popular Music is, like many things that spring from the mind of Taylor Mac, an absolute marvel.”

“Within this swirl of pleasure and entertainment, there is also something quite serious at stake, something that we might hazard to call the politics of historical knowledge.”
The Helix Queer Performance Network

I spend a lot of my creative energy tending to my own tiny corner of the world and it’s easy for an introvert to get lost in the pleasure of that but this opportunity makes me remember how lucky I am to live in a town that invests in bringing artists of this caliber to our community.

I would be remiss if I signed off without mentioning that a beautiful Irish tenor banjo has joined my family this week. Oh, the possibilities!

Thank you, TCR!

We had a wonderful audience last night at Theatre Cedar Rapids for our benefit concert for “Just Right for Me!”, TCR’s theatre arts class designed for autistic children.

If you weren’t able to attend but you’d like to make a donation to the cause, visit the TCR donation page and indicate in the “Notes” text box that your donation is for “Just Right for Me via The Beggarmen”.

Thanks to all the awesome people that we worked with at TCR to make this concert happen, especially Artistic Director Leslie Charipar, Scenic Artist and Props Master Daniel Kelchen, Education Director Zach Parker, Community Relations Specialist Josie Rozum, House Manager Jody Lippman, Sound Engineer Ben Cyr and Technical Director Kyle Leinneweber.

Extra special thanks to Peggy Somerville and James Trainor. Peggy and James are the extraordinarily patient and creative teachers of “Just Right for Me!” whose superb teaching inspired us to donate our time and energy to this excellent cause.

The Beggarmen in Concert at Theatre Cedar Rapids

I am delighted to invite you to experience our traditional Irish band The Beggarmen in a concert that will be taking place on the set of Irish playwright Conor McPherson‘s “The Weir” at Theatre Cedar Rapids.

The last time I performed on TCR‘s Grandon Stage this past summer, I was a barefoot and pigtailed fiddler playing in a coal mine with an unparalleled bluegrass-y band: Matt Brooks on guitar and dobro, David Ollinger on bass, and Greg “Bucket” Kanz ripping it up on his unique and personally constructed drum kit.

The coal mine now lives only in our memories. TCR’s Scenic Artist and Props Master Daniel Kelchen has transformed the Grandon into a traditional Irish pub in a fictional rural Irish town that resembles rural towns in McPherson’s grandfather’s home county of Leitrim. Incidentally, or perhaps not at all, Leitrim is only 45 miles away from my mother’s home county of Cavan.

The connections don’t end there, not remotely, because all of the proceeds from this concert will go toward a scholarship fund for TCR’s Just Right for Me class, the theatre arts class for  autistic children that our son Atticus enjoys and that I recently wrote about.

There are so many reasons that I want you to attend this concert, not the least of which is that I am so grateful to Theatre Cedar Rapids for consistently providing a breadth of opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to come together to experience the magic of theatre.

This same sense of community runs very deep in our efforts as a band to connect people to music that tells a story and that keeps a beautiful cultural tradition thriving as it has for centuries.

Please join us for what is sincerely a once in a lifetime opportunity to promote community through art. Sunday, November 8 at 6 pm.

And spread the word!

Into the Woods

I’m not a medical professional. Once upon a time, I was a board-certified music therapist but I let my board certification lapse when I had two babies in two years. Daycare wasn’t remotely affordable for one baby, let alone two.

When I was doing my music therapy internship, I did work briefly with some autistic children but all of my observations here are really coming as the mother of one specific autistic son.

So you know what they say…

If you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person.

That’s my disclaimer. Having said that, my anecdata (i.e. my focus group of precisely one 8 year old and a few of his friends) lately has me wondering if there’s something inherent to musical theatre that is appealing to the autistic mind.

My son has been taking an amazing class this fall at a theatre in the neighboring city. The class is called Just Right for Me and it’s an acting class for autistic children. When I mention this class in passing, there are two main reactions to the concept of teaching theatre techniques to autistic children. People who don’t have much interaction with autism say “What? Wow! What will they think of next?!” and people who know and love someone autistic say “That’s perfect.”

We don’t have anything like this class in the town where we live so it’s a little bit of a drive every Saturday morning. I could quantify the drive in minutes or miles but it would be more relevant to tell you that, if one happened to be listening to the Broadway cast album of Sondheim and Lapine’s “Into the Woods”, it would take Act One to get there and Act Two to return home.

I thought I knew “Into the Woods” pretty well already because I’ve played in the pit for it more than once and I’ve seen it multiple times but I was wrong. I’m so often wrong.

Careful the wish you make, wishes are children
Careful the path they take, wishes come true,
not free…

The music stops abruptly. He has the iPod in the backseat with him and is in charge of the controls.
“Wishes are what?” comes from the backseat.
“Wishes are children…” I sing back to him.
“Children? Jack and Little Red are the children. They’re not wishes.”
I start to explain “It’s a metaphor. He’s saying that you can’t control a wish once it…” The music starts again. He doesn’t want my metaphor right now. Metaphors wear him out.

I try again later as we pull off the highway. The music has stopped and his face is pressed against the window.
“Have you ever gone into the woods, honey?”
“You mean Grasshopper Trail?”
“No, I mean…can you think of anything that you’ve done that has been like a journey?”

A long silence and then the orchestra is pounding out those quarter notes at the beginning of Act One.

I wish! More than anything, more than life!

He started the cast album over from the beginning again. My clumsy questions won’t lead us to enlightenment on my tidy timeline but the conversation isn’t over either. The woods will wait for us and we will always return. Over and over is how we do everything.

The Burnt Part Boys

I’m thrilled to be a member of the 5-piece onstage band for the Tysen & Miller musical “The Burnt Part Boys” at Theatre Cedar Rapids.

We have three more weekends of shows still to come so there’s no excuse to miss this. Between the visionary theatrical direction of Leslie Charipar and the masterful music direction of Janelle Lauer, these nine talented actors are well equipped to bring this beautiful story to life and they rise to the occasion splendidly.

Set in 1963 West Virginia, “The Burnt Part Boys” is part coming-of-age tale, part ghost story, and all heart. You’ll be blown away by these incredible performers.

The reviewers agree, this show will surprise and delight you and will probably break your heart at the same time.

You’ll be transported by the amazing work of the design team of Derek Easton, Daniel Kelchen (set) and Joni Sackett (costumes).

And the band! The band ROCKS.