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Dennis O'Hara

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Our mission is to curate and create content that inspires, educates,
and connects people to Duluth, showcasing its unique quality of place.

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Our Vision is to see people filled with a deep sense of belonging and identity with Duluth.

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9 to 5 the Musical Combines Entertaining Escapism with Meaningful Themes

Alyson Enderle, Haley Methner, and Jen Burleigh-Bentz play the leads in the production of “9 to 5 the Musical” at the Duluth Playhouse. Photo submitted.

DD ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT REVIEW – 9 to 5 the Musical Combines Entertaining Escapism with Meaningful Themes
By Sheryl Jensen, Editor DD A&E

Amid a steamy heat wave and unnerving political turmoil, the audience was ready for an entertaining escape as they entered the NorShor Theatre in Duluth for 9 to 5 the Musical. Laughter is medicine for the soul, and the Duluth Playhouse cast delivered a healthy dose.

Dolly Parton herself made a brief cameo video appearance at the Duluth Playhouse on Friday night before 9 to 5 the Musical began, even singing a few bars of the show’s instantly recognizable theme song.

She also reminded the audience of a time in 1979 before computers and cell phones, when shag rugs, disco, and pet rocks were all the rage, and when gas was 88 cents a gallon. And of the show’s workplace environment, Parton added, “There was no such thing as office assistants, we were ‘just’ secretaries.”

Parton wrote the music and lyrics for the title song for the beloved 1980 movie starring Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and the inimitable Dolly herself. Both the iconic song and the film owe their titles to 9 to 5, an organization founded in 1973 to bring about fair pay and equal treatment for women in the workplace. Parton went on to write the music and lyrics for 9 to 5 the Musical which opened on Broadway in 2009.

It is certain that many people under thirty in the opening night audience had never seen the movie, much less the musical adaptation, and were encountering these characters and this revenge comedy for the first time.

And those who were very familiar with the characters and story were ready to sing along with the opening song.

“9 to 5” feels like a classic old-school musical comedy, with a large cast, big production numbers, plenty of dancing, colorful period costumes, and many opportunities for laughter.

The three leads, Jen Burleigh-Bentz (Violet Newstead), Haley Methner (Doralee Rhodes), and Alyson Enderle (Judy Bernly), are top-notch, all with convincing acting chops, great comedic timing, and powerhouse vocals. Each of their characters gives a different perspective of working the 9 to 5 life.

Violet is an office supervisor at Consolidated Industries. She has been passed over for promotions given to much less qualified men, seeing her boss take credit for her work, and been ignored when she had ideas to improve productivity and working conditions.

Early on, Doralee laments about being a “backwoods Barbie” with “too much makeup and too much hair” and being the victim of malicious lies and gossip about having an affair with the company’s sleazy boss, Mr. Franklin Hart Jr. (Ole Dack).

Prim and proper Judy, recently divorced from her philandering husband who left her for another woman, has never even had a job before. She gets swept up in a whole new world of fixing jammed copy machines, hearing office gossip, and finding allies and friends.

The three represent all those who were and still are victims of gender injustices, passed over for getting “fair promotions,” and tired of being just “a step on the bossman’s ladder.”

Each actress has great fun with the comic fantasy sequence songs, where they imagine how they could get revenge on Hart. “The Dance of Death” is Judy’s turn as a femme fatale, in a sexy tango in which she both enchants, scares, and dominates Hart.

Doralee’s “Cowgirl’s Revenge” is a Western hoot where she fantasizes about lassoing, dragging to the ground, hog-tying, and even “branding” Hart on his backside.

The hysterically funny “Potion Notion” has Violet playing Snow White, who sings in an ever-so-sweet voice about poisoning her despicable boss.

After escalating despicable behavior from Hart, crazy circumstances lead the women to take matters into their own hands. And, in a series of initially unintended happenings with poison, guns, and tangled telephone cords, they kidnap him.

Dack is appropriately smarmy and disgusting as Hart, who is repeatedly described as a “sexist, egotistical, lying, hysterical bigot.” The audience can’t wait to see how he will get what he deserves for being such a deplorable human being.

Carrie Rossow's performance as Roz Keith, Hart’s frumpy assistant who spys, digs up dirt, and is Hart’s ever-faithful sycophant, was a true scene-stealer.

Roz’s “Heart to Hart” show-stopping number has her writhing on Hart’s desk, revealing her unspoken feelings of love and lust for the boss and her unexpected scarlet red bra underneath her nondescript work attire. (Cue howls of laughter and more cheers from the audience)

Playing Joe, Violet’s love interest, Ryan Haff was charming, endearing, and funny, with a beautiful voice and great stage presence. Here’s hoping his job as a local Northern News anchor won’t keep him from appearing again soon in another show.

Director Ann Aiko Bergeron, UMD Professor Emeritus, gathered a fabulous cast, including both her leads and her wonderful ensemble, who played multiple roles.

Antony Ferguson was the ensemble's standout dancer, putting his ballet training to good use with some incredible pirouettes.

Bergeron’s company choreography was intricate, complex, and engaging. Her vast experience directing and/or choreographing over 65 plays, musicals, and staged operas, was on clear display throughout the evening.

Her detailed character study with her actors was also evident with some of her past students from UMD Theatre productions, actors new to the Playhouse, and some Playhouse “veterans,” who all had a clear sense of the characters they were portraying and how to bring them to vivid life.

Kudos to Music Director Kyle Picha and the 12-piece orchestra for providing strong musical energy and support for the singers.

Despite the engaging entertainment that “9 to 5” provided to its audience on a warm summer evening, one statistic to keep in mind is that American women today earn, on average, about 82 cents for every dollar a man earns. For Black women, it's about 65 cents. For Latina women, it's about 60 cents.

In Destination Duluth's recent profile Bergeron said, “The 9 to 5 movement was a historical movement that bears recognition. ‘9 to 5 The Musical’ catapults the issues through humor, camp, music, and dance, and we hope the audience leaves with a spark of empowerment and/or impetus for change.”

Information for 9 to 5 the Musical” Duluth Playhouse
Performances July 12-28 at the Duluth Playhouse at  211 E. Superior Street
Thursdays – Saturdays @ 7:30pm
Saturday Matinee on July 13 at 2pm
Sunday Matinee on July 21 and 28 at 2pm
Audio Description: July 13 @ 2pm (Paul Ranelli)
ASL Interpretation: July 26 @ 7:30pm (Interpreters: Rebecca Rick & Emily Engel)

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Director and choreographer: Ann Aiko Bergeron
Music Director: Kyle Picha
Music & Lyrics by Dolly Parton
Book by Patricia Resnick
Scenic Design: Curtis Phillips
Lighting Design: Patrick Mulcahy
Sound Design: Nick Gosen
Costume Design: Peg Ferguson
Prop Design: Carrie Powers Greer

Tickets are available online at duluthplayhouse.org. Box office hours 10 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday. For more information, call 218-733-7555 or visit: www.duluthplayhouse.org/shows/9-to-5-the-musical

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About Sheryl Jensen - Arts & Entertainment Editor

A retired educator with the Duluth Public Schools, Sheryl Jensen has been a theater director of over 60 school and community productions. Her production of William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew at East High School won the National High School Theater award from the BRAVO television network.

She has written theater, music, dance, and opera reviews for the Duluth News Tribune for many years and is now the Arts & Entertainment Editor for Destination Duluth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Couple Quits 9-5 Job To Start "The Brix"

Tiegen and Keenan Brickson Owners of Renovated Canal Park Condo Enjoy “Snowbird Lifestyle” at an Early Age

Professionally, most Americans follow the preordained path of “9-to-5 ‘til you’re 65.” We’ve been taught that pursuing this oft-dreary track is an absolute requirement for financial security.

But what if there was another way?

Well, there is. And one local couple (well, I suppose we should say semi-local, since they are technically snowbirds) have figured it out.

FIRE Movement

Tiegen Brickson and his wife Keenan enjoy a unique lifestyle. In their early 30s, the Bricksons quit their corporate jobs to focus on short-term rentals (also known as “Airbnbs”) as their primary source of income. They currently split their time between Minnesota and Florida and own property in both states.

The Brickson Family from left to right- Keenan (Baby #3 due in October), Jett (18 months), Tiegen, and Isla (3). The family spends most of the year on the Space Coast of Florida and manages their business remotely.

By buying real estate in Duluth’s uber-popular Canal Park, they have ensured their condo (soon to be condos, plural) remains solidly booked – often, for months in advance. This equates to enough steady, passive income to comfortably support them and their children without full-time jobs.

“We had to snap ourselves out of the mold we’re all put into – and that’s to pile up as much money as you can until you’re 65,” said Tiegen. “That’s the playbook. But Keenan and I made an intentional decision to follow a very different playbook. Our North Star in all of this is that we wanted to have a family and be present for our kids.”

So, the couple decided to pursue an alternative lifestyle. They researched the “FIRE movement” (financial independence, retirement early), which led them to learn about investing in real estate and converting it to short-term rentals, also known as Airbnbs.

Tiegen acknowledges that today’s high-tech world helps make this lifestyle attainable. The couple manages much of their real estate portfolio remotely.

“We’re so fortunate to be living in the time we are,” he noted. “We have exposure to the resources, platforms, and technology to make it all possible.”

The Bricksons’ only regret? That they can’t stay in their Duluth condo more frequently.

“We love Canal Park and the beach so much,” Keenan added. “So, it’s kind of a bummer that our property is always rented out!”

Duluth Love Story

The Bricksons’ origin story circles back to Duluth. Tiegen, who is originally from Hermantown, was working at a bouncer at the former Grandma’s Sports Garden.

Keenan, who is from Bloomington, came to Duluth to visit friends. She wound up at Grandma’s, and the rest is history.

Love blossomed immediately, and the couple married young. After Tiegen entered the Navy, the couple lived in Oklahoma City for a time.

Along the way, they both earned college degrees: Keenan has a degree in business and economics from UW-River Falls, and Tiegen has a degree in marketing and entrepreneurial management from the Carlson School of Management.

They both held corporate careers for several years; Keenan in the field of supply chain, and Tiegen at a start-up accelerator. After their first child, Isla, was born, Keenan reduced her workload to part-time. They both left their full-time jobs for good at the end of 2021.

Home Renovations

Before leaving gainful employment, however, the ambitious couple decided to try their hand at home renovations. Their first property was in the Twin Cities, a project of pure sweat equity.

“We did everything ourselves, including things like the drywall and tile work,” Tiegen said. “It was great because we learned so much about working together and working on a home,” Keenan added.

The sale of that first home was lucrative, allowing them to feather their nest egg enough to do it again. The next time, they bought a spacious, single-family home in Melbourne, Florida, sight unseen. They still own the Florida property, which they rent out on occasion.

Canal Park

In 2022, they found what Tiegen calls a “diamond in the rough” condo in Duluth’s Canal Park. It is located in the Meierhoff Building, also home to the Suites Hotel, Hoops Brewing, and Red Lobster. It had been on the market for years.

The 2,000-square-foot condo was spacious but very dated. At the time, the Bricksons had one child and another on the way. Despite this, they completely gutted the condo and renovated it themselves.

Pregnancy didn't stop Keenan Brickson from getting her hands dirty during the family's 5-month-long live-in renovation. Photo submitted.

“It took five months to renovate, and we lived there the entire time,” Keenan said. “It was dirty, dusty, and we had no kitchen. All we had was a mini fridge and a griddle. We ate a lot of meals at Old Chicago and Green Mill.”

All that hard work was worth the effort. Today, the home features high-end finishes, stainless appliances, granite countertops, and many more premier amenities. Guests can also enjoy the Suites Hotel’s on-site amenities, including a pool and hot tub. The Bricksons explain the aesthetic as “modern industrial while highlighting the history of Canal Park.”

The living spaces of The Brix's signature property, L'Etoile du Nord, are a nod to Minnesota's motto, which means "The Star of the North.” Photo submitted.

Sprawling across 2,000 square feet, L'Etoile du Nord features 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 2 living areas, a gourmet kitchen and a coffee bar.

Overlooking Duluth's hillside, the 10-seat kitchen island creates the perfect space for friends and family to gather. Photo submitted.

This beautiful condo is now rented out as an Airbnb, and it is extremely popular. The unit is called L'Etoile du Nord, which means “Star of the North” in French.

After a guest checks out, it’s time to hustle. The Bricksons’ property management company has a very limited time slot - of just six hours - to clean the property and complete any minor maintenance needed before the next guest checks in.

Tiegen explained a bit about their demographic. “I would say 75% of our guests are from the Twin Cities, and the rest are from places like Fargo, St. Cloud, and Eau Claire. Probably 95% are from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota.” With a spacious footprint of 2,000 square feet, the property can host large family gatherings, like wedding parties and graduations.

The Bricksons (who operate under the brand “The Brix”) have also begun managing other condo units within the building. And another exciting adventure is on the horizon for them: they recently purchased the 3rd floor of the “I Love Duluth” building (located at 345 Canal Park Drive), and renovations are underway to turn the former 3,000 square feet of office space into two luxury rental condos.

The Brickson family is in front of their next project - developing the office spaces at 345 Canal Park Drive into upscale vacation rentals. Photo submitted.

“This time, we hired out the work to a contractor,” Tiegen said with a chuckle. “We plan for them to be ready and available to rent this fall.”

As noted, while the couple would love to stay in their own condo when they visit Duluth, it is more lucrative for them to continue renting it out to guests and find housing elsewhere. They’ll rent a home in Duluth’s East Hillside neighborhood this summer.

Personal

With a 3-year-old daughter, Isla, a 1-year-old son, Jett, and baby #3 due in October, the Bricksons stay immensely busy between parenting and running their business. But on the rare occasion they have some downtime, they enjoy things like golfing and trying Duluth restaurants. Some of their favorites are Vitta Pizza, Social House, and Love Creamery—all Canal Park businesses, of course.

“It’s really great to be in Canal Park alongside so many other amazing businesses,” Tiegen said. “There’s always something going on to make this a place worth visiting.”

Rewarding Work

The blood, sweat, and tears they’ve invested in real estate have been immensely rewarding for the Bricksons. Financially, yes, but in many other ways, too.

“We get so much enjoyment out of having other people staying at our condo,” Tiegen said. “We love being able to offer a place to host so many memories for people. Ultimately, we want The Brix to be synonymous with vacation rentals in Canal Park.”

For more information, please visit thebrixduluth.com, or find them on Instagram at the.brix.duluth.

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Andrea Busche is a Duluth + regional freelance writer and small business owner. She is credited with over 1,000 bylines in local print and digital publications, and has been a frequent contributor to Destination Duluth since 2017.

 

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Ann Aiko Bergeron’s Life is Filled with Theatre, World Travel, Animal Training and Competitions

DD ARTIST PROFILE SERIES - Ann Aiko Bergeron - Director and choreographer for Duluth Playhouse production of "9 to 5 The Musical" July 12-28

One of Ann’s home-away-from-home is backstage, getting ready for another show. Photo submitted.

Ann Bergeron has lived an exciting life, always busy with theatre, dance, teaching, travel, and dogs. Born in Cardiff-By-The-Sea, California, she started being involved in theatre in high school in variety of roles, including as an actress, dancer, choreographer, and as a director.

“I have pictures and videos from my parents that are evidence that I was dancing and singing long before high school,” Ann said. “I enjoyed doing it all, but at the time I didn’t think of it as a career path. When it came time to choose a college major, it was what my passion was, so I took the dance path.”

After graduating with a BA and MFA in dance, she taught for a few years, and realized how much she missed the collaborative nature of theatre. So she went back to school to get an MFA in Drama/Directing.

Cast members in “Crazy for You” at UMD included Ann’s dog, Ninja. Photo submitted.

After getting her job at UMD, in her 33 years there, she directed or both directed and chorographed 44 shows, choreographed for another 12, and choreographed 29 concert dance works.

“My husband Brad and I came to Duluth in 1986 thinking we’d stay five years or so…well, here we are, and this is home. We live on Lake Superior. The artistic community is vibrant and growing.  We have space, clean air, and water. The rest of the world can be explored by a 20-minute drive to the airport. And I have good UGG boots to get me through the winter,” she noted.

Teaching by Sharing

Ann said, “Along with being a creative artist, I always loved teaching. But I actually do not think of it as teaching, rather, the privilege of getting to continue to grow by sharing with others. I always loved school, so it was pretty wonderful to continue to be a student. The rewards were infinite.”

Of her career at UMD, Ann said, “Being able to work with students for four years meant seeing real growth. And honestly, they became family.”

“Beyond the classroom, the most rewarding thing for me during my academic career was the opportunity to open the world up to some of the students. I traveled with them to Hungary, Romania, Italy, Turkey, Finland, Egypt, Jordan, Greece, and Cyprus. Those are some of my fondest memories.”

A Distinguished Career

Among many awards and recognition, Ann is a Morse-Alumni Distinguished Professor of Theatre and a two-time Fulbright-Hays Seminar awardee, representing American dance and theatre educators both in the People’s Republic of China and in India.

While in India for a Fulbright-Hays Seminar, Ann had the great honor of meeting Mother Theresa, a few months before she passed. Photo submitted.

Ann was recognized as a Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival National Teaching Artist. She was also the recipient of the Albert Tezla Teacher/Scholar Award and of a Lifetime Artist Award from the Depot Foundation’s Circle of Friends.

Travel as the Best Classroom

Finishing up what Ann calls an “extreme last two years of travel,” she explained that she has been to Brazil, Canada, Italy, Greece twice, Mexico twice, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Turkey, Alaska, Qatar, Thailand, Laos, Bhutan, Nepal, Panama,

Colombia, UK twice, Belgium, Sweden, Ecuador, and Chile

Ann stated, “Travel is a way for me to stay in ‘beginner’s mind,’ to see the world with fresh eyes and an open heart and mind.”

While in Bali, Ann studied mask carving. Photo submitted.

She has recently officially qualified for the Travelers’ Century Club, by visiting 100 countries and territories. She said she is not done yet, with so much more to explore.

“I enjoy finding ways to visit a country and learn a new skill or be a part of a local celebration. My latest fun journeys were to Benin for the Voodoo Festival and Nepal for Kukur Tihar (where dogs are honored and celebrated). Some challenging learning travels include studying Taiko Drumming on Sado island in Japan, traditional drumming and dancing in Guinea, and mask carving and shadow puppetry in Bali.”

Four-Legged “Students”

“I am kind of obsessed with dogs, Ann said. “When I was a child we had Silky Terriers. I recently found some very old film footage of me ‘training’ one of them when I was about 5 years old. I know I didn’t have a clue, but there was the dog, doing tricks!”

Ann with her dog Banzai as he prepares to dock dive. Photo submitted.

“My husband Brad and I adopted our first dog, an Irish Terrier, when we moved into a real house with a yard. After that, an Airedale, and now we have our third Border Terrier. The Borders are like a big dog in a small package.”

Ann and two of her prize-winning dogs are proud of all their ribbons. Photo submitted.

“I’ve done a lot of dog sports with them as they are incredibly versatile!” She added, “Perhaps the most notable accomplishment of any of my dogs is that my second Border Terrier, Banzai, was inducted into the AKC North America Diving Dogs Hall of Fame. He was a little dog with an indomitable spirit! My first Border Terrier, Ninja, was my artist dog, and performed in two of the musicals I directed.”

Ann is also a certified teacher and leader in clicker training with dogs and a variety of other animals, a method of training for a variety of positive behaviors She also hit upon the idea of “TagTeach” clicker use with her dance students; they loved it and found it helpful in their dance studies. Ann has taught workshops and written about Tag Teaching, sharing the techniques with other dance teachers, choreographers, and animal trainers.

Ann enjoys working with a goat on clicker training at  THE RANCH: KAREN PRYOR NATIONAL TRAINING CENTER. Photo submitted.

“9 to 5 The Musical”

Ann is currently directing the Playhouse’s summer show “9 to 5 the Musical.” She explained, “At first, my goal with the show was purely to entertain. But that has changed dramatically. I believe that Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, and Lily Tomlin had a mission when they first created the movie to weave some serious social issues into a commercially successful package of entertainment.”

She added, “The 9 to 5 movement was an historical movement that bears recognition. ‘9 to 5 The Musical’ catapults the issues through humor, camp, music, and dance, and we hope the audience leaves with a spark of empowerment and/or impetus for change.”

“I have worked with several of the cast before. Seven of them are former UMD students and after you see the show, you will know why I am absolutely over the moon to work with them again! I’m just excited to be able to share the show with the public, and to stand tall with artistic pride and joy, hand in hand, with such an amazing cast,” Ann said.

Actress Alyson Enderle has worked with Ann on several productions, including the current show in rehearsal at the Playhouse, “9 to 5 The Musical.”

Enderle said, “Ann gives you a lot of freedom as an actor because she understands how important play and discovery are in the artistic process . . .

I believe, her non-judgmental attitude and her passion for telling a story creatively and with a lot of honesty is what keeps bringing us together. We share a lot of the same values, and she also just has so much trust in her actors.”

Information for “9 to 5 the Musical”
“9 to 5 The Musical”
Director and choreographer Ann Aiko Bergeron
Music & Lyrics by Dolly Parton
Book by Patricia Resnick

Performances July 12-28 at the Duluth Playhouse  211 E. Superior Street
Thursdays – Saturdays @ 7:30pm
Saturday Matinee on July 13 at 2pm
Sunday Matinee on July 21 and 28 at 2pm
Audio Description: July 13 @ 2pm (Paul Ranelli)
ASL Interpretation: July 26 @ 7:30pm (Interpreters: Rebecca Rick & Emily Engel)

Tickets available online at duluthplayhouse.org. Box office hours 10 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday. For more information, call 218-733-7555 or visit: www.duluthplayhouse.org/shows/9-to-5-the-musical

From the Duluth Playhouse website: “An unpredictable story of friendship and revenge in the Rolodex era, ‘9 to 5 The Musical’ is an outrageous look at the life of the ‘working woman.’ Pushed to the boiling point, three unlikely friends take control of their office and learn there is nothing they can't do. With jubilant music and lyrics by Dolly Parton, this hilarious, thought-provoking, and even a little romantic Broadway hit is based on the iconic 1980 movie.”

 

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Wild State Cider + Bowlz N’ Thangz Food Truck Is The Perfect Summertime Combo

Mike Busche

DD EAT & DRINK DULUTH REVIEW - Wild State Cider | Bowlz N' Thangz Food Truck

It’s finally summer here in Duluth. And in this edition of Eat & Drink Duluth, we present a super unique summertime treat for you: Craft cider, paired with eats from a food truck!

We recently visited Wild State Cider, where we enjoyed several varieties of delicious hard cider. We even sampled a refreshing cider slushie – the perfect summertime treat. We also tried one of Wild State’s yummy soft pretzels, courtesy of their partnership with Duluth’s Best Bread.

We paired this refreshing cider with some tasty options we nabbed the food truck bearing the chef’s-kiss-perfect moniker, Bowlz N’ Thangz. They offer several unique and flavorful bowls. And an equal amount of … well … other thangz.

Please join us for this edition of E&DD, where we enjoy a summery, Duluth-themed collab of food and drink.

Wild State Cider

After writing a full-length feature about them a while back (Wild State Cider brings cheer to the Lincoln Park Craft District - Destination Duluth), I was excited to get back to Wild State Cider.

The Wild State Cider Logo dresses the side of their taproom at 2515 W Superior St. Photo courtesy of Wild State Cider Facebook page.

The taproom, which also features a dog-friendly outdoor patio, is located at 2515 West Superior Street. The business was founded in 2019 by Adam Ruhland and Andrew “Drew” Price.

Wild State Cider creates its product from a custom blend of fresh apple juices. Wild State prides itself on the fact that they add no additional sugars or other sweeteners to their product, other than apple juice.

The cider is also sorbate- and gluten-free. And, Wild State utilizes pasteurization, rather than chemicals, to keep its cider fresh.

Wild State Cider, at 2515 West Superior Street, has many varietals to sample. Photo by Mike Busche.

Vibe

Ruhland describes the taproom’s vibe as “Scandinavian modern.” I couldn’t describe it better if I tried.

“We have maple wood tones, lots of natural light, vertical lines, and a color scheme of black and white,” he explained. “We also have a plant wall, which was installed by Duluth Living Walls, which provides a lot of breath and life.”

The taproom also features lots of unique touches, including twinkly lights, exposed ductwork, and even a large overhead garage door that can be opened when the weather allows.

In addition to simply being a cool place to hang out and enjoy a cider, Wild State also hosts a variety of events at the taproom, too. Events include trivia nights, bingo, plant exchanges, Sunday markets, and more. Wild State Cider also offers plenty of merch; sweatshirts, hats, hoodies, glassware and more are available for purchase online and in the taproom.

The business has a small kitchen, too, so a few food options are available, including hot pretzels, Vermont-style soft serve ice cream, meat sticks, and chips and salsa. Customers are encouraged to bring in outside food, as well.

Our fellow patrons covered pretty much every demographic: from families with young kids, to couples, singles, and elders.

Ciders

Mike and I each opted to order a “flight” of cider, featuring five, five-ounce pours of cider. Our wonderful servers, Tom Fondow – Taproom Operations Coordinator, and Ellery Deschamps – Bartender, also included a small sample of their newest concoction: a refreshing hazy pink pineapple cider slushie!

Ordering a flight is a great way to sample several types of cider. Photo by Mike Busche.

Below is a list of the varietals we tried, plus some short blurbs about them all.

Raspberry Hibiscus:

Notes: Fruity, tart, floral

Ingredients: Fresh-pressed apples, raspberries, hibiscus

6.5% ALC/VOL

Juicy Pear:

Notes: Refreshing, sweet, well-balanced

Ingredients: Fresh-pressed apples, pears

5.6% ALC/VOL

Hazy Pink Pineapple

Notes: Tropical, juicy, unfiltered

Ingredients: Fresh-pressed apples, pineapples, dragon fruit

5.8% ALC/VOL

We also sampled this as a slushie!

Imperial Hazy Honeycrisp

Notes: Bright, bold apple with notes of honey

Ingredients: Fresh-pressed apples

8.0% ALC/VOL

Blackberry Mint

Notes: A hint of fresh mint and rich blackberry flavor, perfectly balanced

Ingredients: Apples, blackberries, fresh mint

6.3% ALC/VOL

Imperial Peach Mango

Notes: An explosion of fresh peach, rich apricots & juicy mango

Ingredients: Apples, peaches, apricots, mangos

8.3% ALC/VOL

Berry Jam

Notes: A bold jammy blend of blackberries, raspberries, and tart cherries

Ingredients: Fresh-pressed apples, blackberries, raspberries, and tart cherries

6.3% ALC/VOL

Peach Basil

Notes: This cider supports Reclaim!, whose mission is to increase access to mental health care for queer + trans youth in MN

Ingredients: Fresh-pressed apples, peaches & basil

6.3% ALC/VOL

Strawberry Rhubarb

Notes: Bursting with bright fresh strawberry, balanced by tart rhubarb

Ingredients: Apples, strawberries, and rhubarb

5.4% ALC/VOL

Blueberry Maple

Notes: Maple-forward and perfectly sweet, balanced with juicy blueberries

Ingredients: Fresh-pressed apples, blueberries, maple syrup

6.8% ALC/VOL

Our ciders were served up by Wild State’s friendly staff members, Tom Fondow – Taproom Operations Coordinator, and Ellery Deschamps – Bartender. Photo by Mike Busche.

Honestly, there wasn’t a bad pour in the mix. The fruit combos are all thoughtfully chosen to pair well with the delicious flavor of fresh apples. I was partial to the “herbal” varieties (peach basil and blueberry mint), while Mike really liked the raspberry hibiscus.

We also tried a fresh hot pretzel, made by Duluth’s Best Bread. The pretzel is soft and chewy, and served with ramekins of creamy Dijon mustard, apple butter, and Top the Tater.

While Mike was partial to the apple butter, I loved them all. But I must confess that my heart is with Top the Tater … “the Midwest’s Legendary Dip.” If you know, you know.

Bowlz N’ Thangz Food Truck is at Wild State Cider on Thursdays

Bowlz N Thangz food truck frequents Wild State Cider. Photo by Bowlz N' Thangz Facebook page.

Wild State Cider is thrilled to have Bowlz N' Thangz Food Truck on Thursdays throughout the summer from 4-8 pm.

The options on their menu ranged from classic comfort food (mac & cheese; filthy tots) to a variety of ethnic delights.

The food truck cleverly known as Bowlz N’ Thangz has a rotating menu, and makes regular appearances at a variety of businesses. Photo courtesy of the Bowlz N’ Thangz Facebook page.

We vacillated on several choices until we landed on a few:

Red Thai Chicken Curry (Bowl) - The curry was savory and flavorful, with more than a little kick. The generous serving of chicken was rich with flavors of coconut and red curry. Chopped green onion and fresh cilantro surrounded the dish. A large mound of fluffy white rice absorbed all the flavors from the delicious sauce.

The Red Thai Chicken Curry Bowl was savory, with a satisfying kick of heat. Photo by Mike Busche.

Bang Bang Shrimp (Bowl) - The fried shrimp in this bowl was crispy and delicious, and surrounded by thinly sliced cucumber and avocado. The sauce was creamy, salty, and also had a little kick. Toasted sesame seeds gave the dish extra flavor, and a pretty contrast. This dish was also served atop rice.

Bowlz N’ Thangz’ Bang Bang Shrimp is creamy, crispy, salty, and savory. Photo by Mike Busche.

Lumpia (Thang) – This Filiipino delicacy - a savory fried roll filled with ground pork and veggies - was deliciously hot and crispy. It was served with a side of yummy sweet and sour sauce.

The Lumpia was served up hot and crisp, with a side of delicious sweet & sour sauce. Photo by Mike Busche.

These three choices were all delicious, and we’d definitely order them again. Although I’d also like to try their other options. It was so much fun to blend a flight of cider with a tasting menu of delicious foods.

The Verdict

If you’re looking for a summertime adventure, we’d highly recommend this amazing Duluth combo. Wild State has so many delicious ciders to sample, and Bowlz N’ Thangz offers choices for every palate, too, including vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free fare.

And, by choosing a local cidery alongside a food truck, you can casually enjoy several varieties of both, imbibing either inside or outside.

For more information about the history of Wild State Cider, please check out this story:

Wild State Cider brings cheer to the Lincoln Park Craft District - Destination Duluth

Or visit wildstatecider.com to learn more.

And stay up to date with Bowlz N’ Thangz by finding them on Facebook or Instagram @bowlznthangz

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About Andrea Busche, Eat & Drink Duluth Editor

Andrea Busche is a Duluth and regional freelance writer credited with over 1,000 bylines in local print and digital publications. Her food column, Local Pairings, was first featured in Duluth.com magazine, and later published in the Duluth News Tribune from 2016-2018.

 

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Discover Historical Treasures at Karpeles Museum

Celebrating 30 years, Karpeles Museum has fresh exhibits

Karpeles Museum is located across from St Lukes Hospital at 902 E 1st St in Duluth. Photo submitted.

The Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum is “dedicated to inspiring curiosity and encouraging learning for all.”  At their five locations around the United States and in their vaults, they hold a collection of more than a million historical documents in the categories of literature, science, religion, political history, exploration, music, and art.

Their collection includes important historical manuscripts, such as several pages from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” the draft of the lyrics for “America the Beautiful” in an original poem by Katherine Lee Bates, the Ten Commandments from the Gutenberg Bible, the document of the unconditional surrender of the German Third Reich, and a handwritten letter from Christopher Columbus describing his last voyage to the New World.

Located at 902 East 1st Street (across from St. Luke’s Hospital), the Duluth building, opened in 1994, is a former First Church of Christ Scientist. The architecture, beautiful windows and lighting, and ambiance of the building make it a perfect setting for the Museum.

Exhibit space is bathed in natural light through the beautiful windows. Photo submitted.

Museum Founder Dr. David Karpeles

Dr. David Karpeles was a mathematician and philanthropist. Born in 1936 in Santa Barbara, CA, he moved to Duluth, with his family in 1942.

Graduating in mathematics and physics from the University of Minnesota, he completed his Master’s in mathematics at San Diego State University,

In 1963, he moved back to Santa Barbara to work as a research analyst for General Electric where he proposed the use of the first optical character recognition system for handwriting.

Dr. Karpeles worked toward a PhD in Religion at the University of California and a PhD in History from Atlantic International University. In 2012, he received an Honorary Doctoral degree in Humane Letters from SUNY.

He began investing in real estate and became known for offering tenants financing options to become first-time homeowners. In 1981, then-Governor Jerry Brown recognized Dr. Karpeles with an affordable housing award.

Dr. Karpeles began collecting historical manuscripts and documents, and in 1983, with his wife Marsha Karpeles, he founded Karpeles Manuscript Library Museums.

Encouraging Visitors

Matt Sjellin, Director of the Duluth Karpeles Museum for the past five years, is excited about his job every day as he prepares to rotate in new exhibits, greet the museum’s visitors, and give people a tour if they would like one.

Duluth Karpeles Museum Director Matthew Sjelin standing in front of the stage. Photo submitted.

“One of the main things I try to do is get more people in the door,” Sjelin said. He loves it when people tell him they have driven by the Museum many times before finally deciding to come in.

“It is very typical once people visit the first time to come back again when new exhibits arrive every three months,” he added.

One of the museum's model ships, the Titanic, is always very popular with visitors. Photo submitted.

He also mentioned an association with St. Luke’s. “We have had information cards about the Museum on the window sills in the hospital rooms overlooking the Museum,” Sjelin noted.

One man told Sjelin that he had been in the hospital for a few weeks and had decided to visit the museum when he got out. Nurses often refer family members of patients to take a break and visit the museum.

Exhibits and Collections

Sjelin explained the rotation scheduling and how the new exhibit takes center stage. “Whenever we finish putting out a main exhibit, we count the remaining available cases and build an auxiliary exhibit out of the replicas archive we have on site. Often, they are of a completely different subject, because the variety attracts different potential visitors. Everything around the rotating exhibit in the center stage is either permanent or a side project we are working on.”

Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” manuscript is on display. Photo submitted.

He added, “We only receive the manuscripts themselves for the rotating main exhibits. The other items in the museum are purchased on an individual basis, such as our statue of Abraham Lincoln, various statuettes, the Egyptian displays, and the model ships.”

“There is also a display of old radio and telephone equipment, a set of old medical instruments, and we have a few other things that have been donated to us over time,” he said. “We are also currently hosting the 1894-2011 collection of Duluth Central High School yearbooks that were rescued from the old school's auction by Gary Glass.”

Young Museum visitor Nora Cohen-Morse checks out part of the Napoleon exhibit. Photo submitted.

The current main exhibit on Napoleon Bonaparte will be replaced by one on Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing. It will launch on July 2nd and run through September. The exhibit after that will be on Sigmund Freud, running from October 1st through the end of the year.

“Different exhibits bring different visitors and their passions. When we moved from our Biblical History exhibit (which was quite popular) over to Star Trek, just when we were reopening from the pandemic closures, I was astonished at how many people came out for that,” Sjelin stated.

Other Museum Events

Artist's receptions are always wonderful because there is an intersection of visitors that are here to both support the artist and the museum. Once people come for a reception, they tend to come back to the Museum later,” noted Sjelin.

They have held receptions for photographers and the Duluth Superior Camera Club. They have also hosted a fundraiser for some of Duluth East High School’s students who qualified to present for National History Day.

The main floor exhibit hall’s high ceilings provide excellent acoustics, making the space exceptionally well-suited for concerts and other performances. The original organ still sits in the rotunda.

The Florence Nightingale exhibit is up next at the Museum. Photo submitted.

The Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum invites people to host their special events such as weddings, corporate events, or other celebrations. Contact Director Matthew Sjelin at DuluthKarpeles@gmail.com or call (218) 728-0630.

‘I have a lifelong love of learning, so it's hard for me to pin down my own favorite exhibits,” said Sjelin. “Growing up, I absolutely loved visiting the Depot and the Maritime Museums here in Duluth. The two locations really helped cement the importance of a shipping city like ours, and I have loved living in a port town. Once shipping is in full swing, you never know what country your next visitor is going to come from!”

He added, “We are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Duluth Museum this year. It is a perfect time for people to come here!”

For more information, people can go to the Karpeles Facebook page or the website at karpeles.com

Hours of Operation:
Tue-Fri 10:00am to 4:00pm
Sat-Sun 11:00am to 4:00pm
Closed Mondays and Holidays
Entry is free.

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Duluth Flower Farm Offering Finish Line Flowers

Bring a Piece of Duluth Home with You With a Gorgeous Peony Bouquet – Locally-Grown by Duluth Flower Farm

Ahhhh, it’s finally summer here in Duluth. That equates to a few of our favorite things: warmer temps, Grandma’s Marathon, and plenty of fragrant flowers in bloom - including the heavenly-scented peony.

This year, for the first time ever, an exciting Duluth-centric, Grandma’s-related collaboration will occur. Duluth Flower Farm will be selling gorgeous bouquets of their locally-grown peonies – before, during, and after the marathon.

Details can be found here: destinationduluth.co/GrandmasFinishLineFlowers

Customers can either lock in and guarantee their bouquet by pre-ordering or pick one up at the finish line while supplies last. While specific colors aren’t guaranteed, what is guaranteed is the absolute freshest flowers, direct from the farm.

If you’re looking for an option for the runner in your life to take home an authentic—and fragrant—piece of Duluth, these bouquets are a stellar choice.

Family Farm

Duluth Flower Farm is a locally owned Duluth business owned by the humble, hard-working Hoffbauer family. The family consists of family patriarch “Farmer Doug” and his wife, Lois; their son Derek and his wife, Brook; and grandchildren Donna, Deegan, Dane, and Dottie.

The Hoffbauer family’s businesses are multi-generational. Shown (L-R): Farmer Doug Hoffbauer, Donna Hoffbauer (Doug and Lois’ 18-year-old granddaughter), Lois Hoffbauer. Photo submitted.

Together, the Hoffbauers operate several farming businesses, including Farmer Doug’s and Duluth Flower Farm. The plants are grown and harvested at Farmer Doug’s and then assembled and marketed by Duluth Flower Farm. Duluth Flower Farm has a garden center located at 821 Hammond Avenue in Superior, Wisconsin, which is open year-round.

More information on the history of the businesses can be found here:

BalsamWreath.com & Duluth Flower Farm offer locally-grown decorations - Destination Duluth

Peonies

Most of Farmer Doug’s peonies are grown outside in a field. However, some are grown indoors, inside the Hoffbauers’ high tunnel. These interior-grown peonies are ready for harvest a bit earlier in the season. Photo submitted.

It is currently peony season on the farm. Farmer Doug and his family have already picked over 2,000 of these gorgeous flowers, and expect to harvest another 5,000 more.

The idea for a collaboration with Grandma’s came from 18-year-old Donna Hoffbauer, who is already quite the entrepreneur. She is also the founder/owner of Superior Sourdough.

“Donna is the one who suggested us reaching out to Grandma’s,” her mother, Brook, explained. “She is of the generation who values the importance of buying local.”

The team at Grandma’s was immediately on board. “When we approached the folks at Grandma’s, they were super excited about it,” Brook noted. “They want the local community involved, and want to promote local products.”

Details

Peony bouquets can be pre-ordered online now through race day using this link: destinationduluth.co/GrandmasFinishLineFlowers.

Pre-ordered bouquets are guaranteed to be in stock. They can be picked up at the Grandma’s Expo on:

  • Thursday, June 20th from 4-8
  • Friday, June 21st from 10-8, or
  • At the race finish line on Saturday, June 22nd, from 7-4

10-year-old Dottie Hoffbauer harvests and prepares dozens of beautiful peonies. Photo submitted.

Bouquets can also be purchased on-site at the finish line - near the beer tents. Customers can pay using cash, check, or credit card. However, they will only be sold “while supplies last,” meaning that if you wait, they may be out of stock.

This year, Grandma’s will include 20,000 runners. Roughly 50,000 people are expected to descend on Duluth for the race and other festivities. With this being their first year selling bouquets, the Hoffbauers have no idea what sort of demand they’ll encounter.

“The push is for people to pre-order so we can be prepared,” Brook said. “We’re a small farm; a small family. We really want this to be a success. With that said, our whole family has been ‘on deck’ to help get the bouquets ready – aunts, uncles, other extended family, and friends.”

Each bouquet is $24.95, with the option to purchase a Mason jar with water for an additional $4.99.

Tour and Tasting

Another option to view and purchase some of Duluth Flower Farm’s wonderful foliage is to visit Farmer Doug’s (at 3361 Lindahl Road; just outside Proctor) on Sunday, June 23rd  from 11 am – 3 pm, for a tour and tasting.

For a $10 entry fee, visitors can tour the fields and greenhouse, learn about how the flowers are grown, and even enjoy a complimentary wine tasting. Over 2,000 plants will be available for purchase, in addition to other homemade goodies like maple syrup, jams, and jellies. The event will happen rain or shine.

Duluth Pride

For the Hoffbauer family, it is a matter of deep pride to sell their locally-grown flowers right here, in their hometown. “We’re excited to be on this regional stage, and show the quality and quantity that local farmers can produce for this event,” Doug said.

“Between the peonies, Grandma’s Marathon, and the summer solstice – the longest day of the year – I like to say this is like the trifecta coming together,” Lois added with a grin.

Bring Home a Piece of Duluth

Duluth-grown peonies are a great way for visitors, tourists, and guests to take a piece of Duluth home with them. “Any time you can offer a locally-grown bouquet, you’re offering something really special,” Brook said.

“These flowers are all hand-picked by a local small business, and we are excited to celebrate such a large event in our community. This is a good reminder of the kinds of things farmers can offer.”

destinationduluth.co/GrandmasFinishLineFlowers

Andrea Busche is a Duluth + regional freelance writer and small business owner. She is credited with over 1,000 bylines in local print and digital publications, and has been a frequent contributor to Destination Duluth since 2017.

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Lyric Opera of the North (LOON) Celebrates La Vie Bohème

DD THEATRE REVIEW – Lyric Opera of the North (LOON) Celebrates La Vie Bohème

Lyric Opera of the North’s dazzling production of Puccini’s “La Bohème” wowed their full-house audience on Friday night at UMD’s Marshall Performing Arts Center. Soaring and breathtaking arias, solos, and ensemble songs portray both the blissful happiness and the devastating heartache of love.

From Puccini’s beloved original iconic opera “La Boheme” in 1896 to Jonathan Larson’s modern adaptation “Rent” in 1996, and the award-winning movie “Moulin Rouge” in 2001 and stage musical in 2018, the view into the “carefree” Bohemian lifestyle has long enraptured audiences.

The opera’s little “family” of aspiring artists, the poet/dramatist Rodolfo(Gennard Lombardozzi), the artist Marcello (Bill McMurray), the philosopher Colline (Jeremiah Sanders), and the musician Schaunard (Robert Riordan) enthusiastically portrayed the “hearty fellows well met” who have a shared love of wine, women, and song. Their scenes and songs together evoke the essence of La Vie Boheme, with each having a masterful voice to help tell the story.

Tenor Lombardozzi, as Rodolfo, “victim” of love at first sight, tenderly professed his love for Mimi (soprano Lacy Sauter), in the sweeping “Che gelida manina,’” “What a frozen little hand.” Later, the two blend gorgeously in their duet, “O soave fanciulla" ("O gentle maiden”).

As the pitiful and consumptive heroine, Sauter has heartbreaking songs and scenes throughout. Mimi’s illness causes her to break down, and she eventually returns to the garret one last time to be with Rodolfo.

The standout performance of the evening was from Vicki Fingalson, playing the self-centered and ever-flirtatious, Musetta. Her “Quando m'en vo” or 'Musetta's Waltz” has the most recognizable melody in the opera. With her flaming red hair, her elegant costumes, and her total command of the stage, Fingalson steals the show from her first appearance.

Trying to keep warm in their garret apartment, the struggling artists burn Rodolfo’s manuscript. Production photo

A marvelous 26-piece orchestra, under the direction of conductor Dirk Meyer, provided wonderful accompaniment for the singers and underscore for the events, whether they be romantic or tragic moments. Meyer, in view from the pit, is always a commanding presence with his lyrical conducting style bringing out the best in the musicians.

Under Michael Fuchs's chorus direction, the powerful ensemble, seen in the street and cafe scenes, brought the stage to life with their strong voices and creative characterizations.

An adorable children’s chorus bombards the beleaguered toy-seller Parpignol (Brian Kapp) for their Christmas gifts, bringing moments of joy and excitement to the stage as they enjoy a holiday parade. Their voices, blending in with the adult ensemble, add even more shades and dimension to the score.

Ann Gumpper’s masterful sets, from the colorful Latin Quarter garret to the streets of Paris on Christmas Eve, created the perfect ambiance for the doomed love story to take place. And with the addition of evocative lighting from designer Alex Flinner, the dramatic and beautiful stage pictures were an important element to the show’s overall look and style.

Colorful period costumes, designed by Ora Jewel-Busche, swept the audience away to another place and time. The costumes worn by Musetta and Colin were particularly colorful, helping to establish their characters.

Musetta’s aged suitor helps her remove her shoe. Production photo.

The sheer number of costume pieces from Jewel-Busche, working with Laura Piotrowski (costume construction) was impressive, including everything from ragged paint-covered paints to gorgeous gowns and scores of accessories.

Rodolfo cares for the dying Mimi. Production photo

Director Rose Freeman describes their directing style as the “belief in communal storytelling,” which they do with sure-handed effectiveness in La Bohème. Their overview of “the joyful celebration of each other” shines through in every moment of this production.
By encouraging opera and theatre companies with whom they work to “Live truthfully in imaginary circumstance,” Freeman was able to create both truthful and imaginary worlds at the same time.

Bravo to Sarah Lawrence and Cal Metts, LOON’s co-artistic directors, and their team for bringing over 90 people together to present “La Boheme” to appreciative opera patrons, some long-time and some new audience members, who cheered wildly and stood up for a standing ovation. LOON deserves to build its audience base even more and make more people aware of this true gem of Northland culture.

LOON Presents La Bohème
Composed by Giacomo Puccini
Libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa
LOON's first production of Puccini's classic, featuring passionate lovers, struggling artists, and gorgeous singing. One of the best and most popular operas of all time.
Friday, June 14 at 7:00 pm
Sunday, June 16 at 3:00 pm

Tickets at loonooera.org.Fonr ticket assistance, call 218-464-0922.
Marshall Performing Arts Center (MPAC) at UMD

Up next for LOON is their “Summer Sparkler” concert fundraiser on Tuesday, August 6 at the Historic Scott House. Tickets at loonopera.org or 218-464-0922.

Loon Opera revealed their 20th anniversary season for 2024-25 :“The Impres Ario” & “Circe on Superior” in November; “The Radio Hour” in January; and “Die Fledermaus”  in June o f2025. Season tickets are now available at loonopera.org

They will also present works for their Little Loon 24-25 season by visiting area schools, opera karaoke in September, their annual February fundraiser, and a summer concert at the Historic Scott House in August of 2025.

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About Sheryl Jensen - Arts & Entertainment Editor

A retired educator with the Duluth Public Schools, Sheryl Jensen has been a theater director of over 60 school and community productions. Her production of William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew at East High School won the National High School Theater award from the BRAVO television network.

Having written theater, music, dance, and opera reviews for the Duluth News Tribune for many years, she now is the Arts & Entertainment Editor for Destination Duluth.

 

 

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Brian Matuszak, Rubber Chicken’s Comic Wizard Lives for Laughs

DD ARTIST PROFILE SERIES – Brian Matuszak, Executive Producer of  Rubber Chicken Theater. 

“Doing theater and comedy makes me happy. There is joy in connecting with audiences in emotional ways. Laughs, gasps, sobs, it all makes us human. As an art form, live theater can’t be beat. Every performance only happens once. It can’t be repeated . . . Those connections between live audience and live actor are magical,” said Brian Matuszak, Executive Producer of “Rubber Chicken Theater.”

Matuszak’s own theatrical journey didn’t really didn’t happen until he went to UW-Superior for college. While he did speech competitions while attending AlBrook High School in Saginaw, the school did not do much theater.

“My speech category for four years was Humorous and I quickly learned the intoxicating power of standing in front of an audience and making them laugh,” he said.

He added, “In 1984, I was cast in my very first Duluth Playhouse production ‘Fools’ by Neil Simon. One of my cast mates was going to UW-Superior and told me about their theater program, so I traveled across the bridge to check it out. It was a perfect fit.”

He also met Sue, now his wife of 37 years, at UWS. After graduating with a Theatre degree in 1987, Brian went back to get his Master's in Communicating Arts.

Brian and Sue looking through some driftwood on a hike at Wisconsin Point. Photo submitted.

It was also at UWS that Matuszak met John D. Munsell. “Without question, the late, great John D. Munsell was my biggest mentor. John was the head of the theater department at UWS when I started there. It was through his teachings that I found my way into theater. He instilled the importance of the art form but paired it with a sense of fun. ‘It’s called a play for a reason’ was one of his favorite quotes.”

It was acting and directing a few student shows at UWS that really clicked for Matuszak. “Their program was so hands-on for students . . . it was just a wonderful, productive time to be a theater student.”

Jobs, Theater and Communications Intersect

Matuszak’s resume includes a number of jobs that led to some of his interest in writing, performing and eventually teaching and directing.

Working at KBJR as part of the floor crew for newscasts, he later moved into Creative Services, writing and producing news promotions and advertisements.

After being an overnight announcer at KQDS, he went into Continuity at KDAL/96 Lite for many years, again, writing and producing commercials.

“In 1999, I applied to direct a theater production at Lake Superior College, and they also asked me to teach some of their theater classes in acting and directing. That led to me to teaching theater full-time back at my alma mater, UWS,” he noted.

“I did that for eight years before moving across the bridge to UMD, where I currently work in the Communication department, teaching classes in Public Speaking and Interpersonal Communication.”

Winding Road Leading to Rubber Chicken

At UWS, Matuszak met Jack Starr, who told him about Duluth’s sketch comedy troupe, “Colder by the Lake,” which needed actors.

“I jumped at the chance to work with legendary local comic artists such as Margi Preus, Julie Ahasay, Andy Nelson, Donn Hanson, Bruce Ojard, Susan van Druten, Buddy Backen, and so many more.” Matuszak noted. “I soaked in as much as I could about sketch comedy from those geniuses, but I also got a chance to jump right in and learn on the fly.”

In a production of “Assassins," Matuszak plays Samuel Byck, a would-be assassin of President Nixon. Photo credit Sue Matuszak

After Brian had worked with “Colder” for several years, the group decided they wanted to do different types of theater and less sketch comedy. Donn Hanson and Matuszak asked a few friends to join them, and they changed their name to “Renegade Comedy Theater.” Their first show, “The Christmas Enquirer, or, I Saw Mommy Kissing Elvis’ Alien Love Child,” debuted in December of 1991.

Musical Guests Dance Attic, Suzi Ludwig, Jimi Cooper, play a polka while Nicole Armstrong looks confused and Chris Nollet sings and dances along, from last year’s Chicken Hat Plays. Photo by Brian Matuszak

“The show went well, and so we all decided to keep the name ‘Renegade’ and we began staging all the different kinds of shows we had never had a chance to do,” said Matuszak.

For the next 17 years, “Renegade” staged scripted plays, original sketch comedy, outdoor family melodramas, radio shows, Tugboat Children’s Theatre, The Out of the Hat Plays, and lots more.

In 2008, Matuszak and “Renegade” parted ways, but Brian wanted to keep on doing a wide variety of theatrical activities, so he and Sue started up “Rubber Chicken Theater,” which is still going strong today.

“At “Rubber Chicken,” we are devoted to producing funny, original, local theater, created entirely by funny, original, local theater artists. From scripted plays to original sketch comedy revues to live-read shows, Rubber Chicken Theater does it all!” according to their website.

John Pokrzywinski and Ben Chadwick build a lift bridge in a play from last year’s Chicken Hat Plays. Photo by Brian Matuszak

“it makes my heart explode with pride now that my daughter Kaylee is a part of our Rubber Chicken Theater sketch comedy revues. She is such a strong comedic performer . . . It’s amazing to share a stage with her,” Brian added.

Teaching, Coaching, Directing, and More Acting

Over the years, Matuszak has taught theater classes at UWS and Lake Superior College, He also taught a Theater History class at Mesabi Community College in Virginia.

He was an assistant speech coach at Hermantown High School for two years and coached his daughter Kaylee’s “Destination Imagination”  teams for six years.

Outside of his various directing and writing gigs for comedy sketches, etc., he has also directed for the Duluth Playhouse and Children’s Theater productions for Mesabi Community College in Virginia.

Some of his favorite acting roles have been in “Macbeth,’” “American Buffalo,” “Comedy of Errors,” “Assassins,” and “Fool for Love.”

Lady Macbeth (Michelle Juntunen) consoles a blood-soaked Macbeth (Brian Matuszak) after the murder of King Duncan. Photo by Rob Larson

When he is not working on his theatrical pursuits or his teaching, Brian enjoys traveling with his wife Sue and their grown daughter Kaylee. His hobbies include geocaching, hiking, and listening to Kaylee when she performs around town as a singer/songwriter.

Sue, Brian, and Kaylee at the Archway in Kearney, Nebraska, about to start a tour. Photo submitted.

“The Chicken Hat Plays” Cluck for One Night Only

“We premiered the concept of the “‘Out of the Hat Plays” at Renegade in May 2003. Rubber Chicken did their version of them in 2008, renaming them ‘The Chicken Hat Plays,’ and we’ve been doing them ever since,” noted Matuszak.

Duluth Mayor Roger Reinert (before he was Duluth Mayor) was an actor in the Chicken Hat Plays, playing an intense football coach. Photo by Brian Matuszak

The interesting premise is that they first gather prompts (Who, What, Where) on social media from anyone who wants to submit them. On Friday night before the shows, the eight writers and all the actors gather at Harbor City School’s theater. The writers each draw three prompts, one from each hat, and then randomly draw their cast names out of another hat.

They then have until 8 o’clock the next morning to write up a ten-minute play that incorporates those prompts and cast. Saturday morning, everyone shows up and eight directors randomly draw their scripts out of a hat.

With scripts and casts in hand, everyone goes to work, finding props and costumes, learning lines, and working on their play.

Nathan Payne as a French Taunter and Former Duluth Mayor Don Ness as a frustrated writer in this play from the Chicken Hat Plays. Photo by Brian Matuszak

Each director has 45 minutes onstage during the day to figure out their blocking and tech needs. At 5 pm, Matuszak  has the show order figured out, and they do a final dress rehearsal of all eight shows. At 7:30 pm, they perform them in front of an audience.

Matuszak said, “I’m always most proud of the success stories at the end of the night. When actors are nervous and don’t think they can pull it off, and then they hear those cheers from an appreciative audience, my heart soars!”

“I’m always most excited to see how the format allows for so many unique opportunities for collaborations,” he added. “A UMD Theatre student might get a chance to be directed by a UWS Theatre professor. A high school actor might get a chance to work alongside a professional actor from the Twin Cities. Anyone might be acting in a play written by the mayor of Duluth. The Chicken Hat Plays are the only time most of these artists will have an opportunity to work together, and it’s golden.”

Information on The Chicken Hat Plays
One Performance Only: Saturday, June 15 at 7:30 pm
Harbor City International School Theater. 332 W Michigan St, Duluth,
$20 per person, Cash or Venmo only
General seating—call-ahead reservations are encouraged
(218) 213-2780
Info: Brian@RubberChickenTheater.com

COMMON CAMEO: (Will appear in all 8 shows)
Hailey Eidenschink
Host of PBS North's "Minnesota Historia"

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“Trailer Park” Rocks in a Raucous and Raunchy Romp

 

“Trailer Park” Rocks in a Raucous and Raunchy Romp

The opening night audience at “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” was instantly immersed into the grimy world of Armadillo Acres before the show even began.

Curtis Phillips and Jeff Brown’s outstanding scenic design of a run-down trailer park in a little Florida town provided the perfect ambiance for the seven actors to portray the wackiest of characters.

The Great American Trailer Park Musical set designed by Curtis Phillips and Jeff Brown. Photo submitted.

With a perfect replica of a travel Florida sign above, two realistic-looking trailers on each side of the stage, and ridiculous set decoration, complete with a toilet as a flower “pot,” the set is a character in and of itself.

Sasha’s Howell’s trashy costume design also clearly, from the first, established time, place, and characters’ personalities, with the actors rocking their ragged cut-offs, tank tops, t-shirts, glitz, and bright colors. Jamie Snyder’s makeup and hair design also hit the mark with colorful makeup and the intentional use of the rattiest of wigs.

Director Michael Kraklio shepherded his cast well through all the show’s sledgehammer comedy in a mash-up of a Jerry Springer show, “Hee-Haw,” “Little Shop of Horrors,” a "Saturday Night Live” skit, and a country music concert, “Trailer Park” is a raucous parody that is unashamedly raunchy, much to the audience’s delight.

Playing a Greek chorus who knows all and tells all, the trio of TJ Mayrand (Betty), Erin Blazevic (Lin), and Amber Burns (Pickles), were hysterical, having great fun singing of their own tales of woe and giving a dirty running commentary of the crazy goings on at Armadillo Acres.

Amber Burns, who also choreographed the show, filled in to play Pickle, just over a week before opening due to actress Rylee Kubera’s illnesss. Burns didn’t miss a beat showing her dancing chops and bringing her sassy character to life with her always adorable and identifiable voice.

The cast of The Great American Trailer Park Musical. Photo submitted.

As Jeannie, the agoraphobic wife, who hasn’t left her trailer in twenty years, Sara Marie Sorenson had some of the the evening's best vocals in “Owner of My Hear” and “That’s Why I Love My Man.” Sorenson’s portrayal is the most honest and sincere, playing a sweet and sympathetic character who can, however, show her fiery ire when her man does her wrong.

Bryan Burns as Jeanne’s husband Norbert, the beleaguered toll booth collector,

Is at the center of a love triangle, with his wife and a colorful newcomer to the park. Burns brings an earnestness to the role that is a touchstone for the events and intrigues that he manages to get himself embroiled in, without his taking time to realize the full impact off his actions.

Always using her powerful voice to blow the audience’s hair back, audience favorite Christina Stroup was eminently believable as Pippi, the stripper, and newest resident of Armadillo Acres, who gives the other residents plenty to gossip about. Stroup is at her best when playing these bigger-than-life roles, giving her ample chances to command every scene in which she appears.

Eric Elefson does comic double duty, donning a ridiculous flamingo costume, hilariously taking care of scene changes, and as the show’s villain, Duke, who makes his “dramatic” entry on a “motorcycle” in the aptly named song “Road Kill.” Elefson is convincing as a crazed lunatic, stalking his ex-girlfriend, who at an unexpected turn of events, helps the story end happily.

Is “Trailer Park” a masterpiece in the musical theatre genre? Decidedly no. Its humor is often over-the-top filfthy, its songs are pretty forgettable, and its irreverent satire of trailer park life is filled with stereotypical jabs at those who live on the wrong side of the tracks. Rather than the use of pre-recorded tracks, a small live band, dressed as “trailer trash,” would have made the show’s music tighter and more fun.

And yet, the audience came ready to be entertained and chortled heartily during the entire show. Some audience members were literally doubled over with laughter, even slapping their knees and throwing their heads back at some of the most audacious lines.

Two of the marks of a successful production are did the audience enjoy themselves and were they buying into the story and the characters, no matter how preposterous? “Trailer Park’s” appreciative opening night audience laughed uproariously, clapped loudly throughout, and rose to their feet at show’s end.

Mission accomplished.

Boat Club Production’s “The Great American Trailer Park Musical”
Presented at the Spirit of the North Theater at Fitger’s. 600 East Superior St.
June 7-16, 2024

SHOWTIMES
June 7-8 7:30 pm | June 9 2:00 pm
June 13-15 7:30 pm | June 16 2:00 pm
Tickets available at boatclubproductions.com
For more information, call 218- 623-7065

*Content Warning: Due to the mature nature of this production, it is not suitable for children.

Up next for Boat Club Productions, the thriller “Wait Until Dark,” running October 4-13.

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Ora Jewell-Busche Tells Stories Through Her Costumes, Makeup, and Wig Designs

DD ARTIST PROFILE SERIES - Ora Jewell-Busche, Costume Designer. 

Meet the costume designer for the upcoming LOON production of La Bohème
Friday, June 14 at 7:00 pm & Sunday, June 16 at 3:00 pm

Marshall Performing Arts Center on the UMD Campus

 “Ora Jewell-Busche is a creative force. The combination of imagination and skill that she brings to each project has been a huge part of LOON's growth over the past decade. Her work is an essential part of our storytelling, delighting our audience while also making each singing actor feel confident when they take the stage.”  Sarah Lawrence, General Artistic Director for Lyric Opera of the North

Duluth native Ora Jewell-Busche grew up fashioning costumes for herself, her sister, and for their dolls. She explained that she felt lucky to have a mother and grandmother who sewed and taught her how to sew as well.

At Duluth Central High School, one of Ora’s mentors, theatre director Liz Larson, gave her the job of costume designing for the school’s theater productions. Ora loved doing costumes, and the seed was planted for what she wanted to do for a career.

Ora was inspired to go on to DePaul University where she earned her BFA in Costume Design with specialization in Wigs and Makeup.

“My interest in wig and makeup didn’t start until I was in college. As costume design students, we were required to take a theatrical makeup class as part of our degree,” she said.

Ora added, “As a teenager who had little to no interest in makeup, the class was a revelation. ‘You can use makeup to become an old man? a fairy? a tree? a dragon?’ I had a great teacher, Nan Zabriskie, who taught me all that, and who I then assisted through the rest of college.”

Jewell-Busche enjoyed creating costumes for Little Loon’s touring production of “Hansel and Gretel.” (LOON 2022) (Photographer Michelle Sangster)

After college, Ora was based in Chicago where she worked at a number of places including the Chicago Shakespeare Theater as a wig designer, with Lookingglass Theater as a wig prosthetic and hair piece designer, and with Drury Lane Oakbrook as a wig designer.

She also worked as a Makeup Instructor for the First School of Makeup Artistry in Chicago. “I have tried to teach and mentor anyone who comes into my orbit and wants to learn.”

Other places she has worked include the Hawaii Opera Theater, Apple Tree Theater, Jungle Theater, Pacific Symphony, among many other sites.

She was a costumer on the major motion picture “Batman VS Superman: Dawn of Justice.”

Deciding to move back to Duluth, in 2012, she began working with LOON as a Wig and Makeup Designer on many productions and Costume Designer for several operas as well.

“I love the scale of opera, grand stories, fantastic locations, tons of people. The magic of LOON is that we get to create those big, fantastic worlds for the Northland community,” Ora said. “There are so many people who love opera here, and each show, we recruit more people who had no idea they loved opera.”

For Don Giovanni” (LOON 2016), Jewell-Busche created beautiful period designs. (Photographer Michelle Sangster)

Life in Duluth

After living and working in Chicago for 13 years and then using L.A. as a home base for five years, Ora came back to live in Duluth in 2017.

“I knew that I always wanted to move back to Duluth. I adore the lake and the city, and missed having a full change of seasons, as well as being close to my parents and extended family. I was also at the point in my career where I was traveling a lot for work and could easily travel out of Duluth,” she said.

Ora lives in Duluth with her partner and his daughter, and their two dogs. She enjoys baking sourdough bread with her mom for local farmers’ markets, and she is planning a big vegetable garden. She also loves to camp and cabin as many times during the summer as possible.”

For “Rigoletto” (LOON 2017), Ora’s Costume Design showed her wonderful attention to detail. (Photographer Henry Roberts)

“In Duluth, I have mostly worked with Lyric Opera of the North, while also doing a show at UMD theater and recently, “Dinner for One” at the Jungle Theater in Minneapolis.”

“I am also very involved in the emerging film scene here in northern Minnesota,” she said. Ora has worked as costumer designer, key hair, makeup, and costumes for several films, including “Rescuing Christmas,” filmed in Duluth.

She added, “I think we are so lucky with our arts community here in the Twin Ports. We have a long history of working artists. I grew up around ceramics created by local artists, poetry by local poets Louis Jenkins and Barton Sutter, and when I returned as an adult, an even richer scene full of musicians, painters, and many other disciplines.”

“Les Uncomfortables” (LOON 2016) Costume, Wig, and Makeup Designer Ora Jewell-Busche had fun with the designs for this spoof of “Les Misérables.” Photo by Todd Higgins ToddHPhoto.com

Rewarding Work and Collaboration

Ora noted, “I work best with people to bounce ideas off, and other people’s thoughts and ideas always spark more in me. I truly believe that a good collaborative vision is always richer and fuller than a world created by one person.”

“I am someone who has constant creative thoughts and project ideas. Theater and opera give me an outlet for those things,” she added. “I love making something out of seemingly nothing, and this medium gives me the opportunity to create for other people. Being able to do it for my job, getting to do it on a daily basis, is very fulfilling.”

“Barber of Seville” (LOON 2015) ranks as one of Ora’ s favorite operas, working as Costume, Wig, and Makeup designer. (Photographer Todd Higgins)

“La Bohème” Design Inspirations

“La Bohème” can be tricky because it has so many people in it, and often past productions have focused on the poverty and desperation of the main characters,” said Ora.

“As the costume designer, I am very lucky to be working with our director Rose Freeman,” she noted. “We are focusing on how artists can pull beauty and wonder from the tiniest scraps of cloth and paper and friendship. That really, at the center of this story, is a little family of artists who make such beauty together.”

“When I started thinking about this show, I focused on the artists who lived in Paris during the last part of the 19th century and the start of the 20th. They created very interesting textures in the work, but also in the clothing,” she noted.

“Gustav Klimt” was a major inspiration, as was the designer Emilie Louise Flöge who actually created many of the clothes that you see in Klimt paintings. I was also given the starting point of bizarre Victorian Christmas cards by Rose, and have taken a bit of that oddness into how the artists dress themselves,” she said.

Ora concluded, “This story is a classic, and has been the inspiration for other stories as well. It will be a classic, big, beautiful stage opera, full of a ton of incredible voices.”

La Bohème Information
Friday, June 14 at 7:00 pm & Sunday, June 16 at 3:00 pm
Marshall Performing Arts Center on the UMD Campus
Composed by Giacomo Puccini. Libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa.
LOON’s first production of Puccini’s classic, featuring passionate lovers, struggling artists, and soaring singing.
Approximately 2 hours 30 minutes including one intermission.
Reserved Seating $39/$49/$59 • Students $12 in any section with valid Student ID
Tickets: Online at loonopera.org  Or call, 218-464-0922 for more information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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