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Dennis O'Hara


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Intentional. Positive. Genuine. We believe that our purposeful action opens doors, positive attitude invites others to step through, and authentic relationships give the grounding to repeat this process.

Duluth Firefighter Caleb Kittleson is Ready for Anything, 24/7/365

If you call 911 in Duluth, there’s a chance your first responder will be firefighter Caleb Kittleson.

And you’d be lucky to have him. At just 21 years old, Kittleson is young, strong, well-trained, and passionate about helping others.

In addition to fighting fires, Kittleson and his crew respond to any 911 call that isn’t a police matter. For instance, firefighters respond to medical emergencies, car accidents, water emergencies, trail rescues, and fire alarms in tandem with the Mayo Clinic Ambulance Service. All firefighters are trained EMTs, and some are paramedics.

Firefighters are even called out for dog rescues. You may have seen the Duluth Fire Department in the news recently when they heroically rescued a dog from the Canal Park harbor.

Whether called to assist a human or pet, it’s a calling Kittleson takes very seriously. “Our job is to be there for people on the worst day of their lives,” he noted. “The public puts 100% of their trust in us. We have to perform for them 24/7/365.”

Hometown of Rochester

Kittleson was born and raised in Rochester, Minnesota. His father, Gary, worked as a career firefighter with 30 years of service. His mother, Erin, worked as a nurse at the Mayo Clinic. His parents have both recently retired and have relocated to Dallas, Texas, to work for Samaritan’s Purse - a ministry-based non-profit.

A family picture shows (L-R): Caleb’s dad, Gary; sister, Carolyn; Carolyn’s dog, Quinn; mother, Erin; sister-in-law, Katie; nephew, Rui; brother, Josh; and Caleb. Photo submitted.

So, it may come as no surprise that Caleb would follow in his parents’ footsteps. But it took him a while to reach that conclusion.

“For most of high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do,” he said. “But then, the Rochester Fire Department and my high school teamed up to offer courses through the PSEO program (post-secondary education option).

“I took some classes and realized it was a pretty cool career. Growing up, having my parents as role models helped, too. I earned my Firefighter I, Firefighter II, EMT, and HAZMAT certificates when I was still in high school.”

Growing up, Kittleson and his family frequently visited Duluth and the North Shore. He fondly remembers trips to the BWCA and enjoying the Superior Hiking Trail. It became his goal to eventually end up in Duluth.

A Few Pivots

After high school, Kittleson enrolled at Lake Superior College, where he completed his associate’s degree - in fire science and administration - online. He moved to the Twin Ports in 2021. Here, he initially worked for Continental Ski & Bike.

A few detours would follow. Kittleson left Duluth twice: his first move was to Mankato after receiving a job offer. Later, he worked for the Rochester Fire Department with his dad for a while. But still, Duluth beckoned.

Caleb and his dad, Gary, work together at the Rochester Fire Department. Photo submitted.

“Neither Mankato nor Rochester offered much for my hobbies or the life I wanted,” Kittleson said. “I love golfing at Nemadji, hiking and biking on the Superior Hiking Trail, and snowboarding at Spirit Mountain. Duluth has such amazing landscapes, opportunities for my hobbies, and great people. So, I came back in 2022.” This time, he plans to stay.

Caleb enjoys some mountain biking in Piedmont last summer with coworkers. Photo submitted.


Duluth has a total of eight fire stations. Kittleson works for the Duluth Fire Department’s downtown headquarters – also known as Station 1. He and his crew of 11 fellow firefighters and an assistant chief work 24-hour shifts there.

His crew at Station 1 works from 7 am to 7 am, but they are always early. “The culture here is always to show up early to relieve the other crew,” Kittleson noted.

The firefighters are always ready to drop everything and go when called. But on a slow day, the crew works together on tasks like cooking meals, cleaning the station, inspecting their equipment and fire truck, continuing their training, and completing administrative tasks.

Since their job is so physically demanding, staying in shape is imperative. The station has a gym, and the crew often work out together.

The call for lights out happens at 9 pm. At the station, the firefighters have dorm-style arrangements for sleeping. But that certainly doesn’t mean they have a peaceful night of rest ahead.

“Sometimes we sleep all night, and sometimes we get five calls after midnight. You just never know,” Kittleson said.


Kittleson and his crew share a deep bond that goes beyond being colleagues. “You basically live at the station with your coworkers,” he said. “They become like your family.

1 Engine and 1 Tower crews are shown after a search and rescue drill in the burn building at Lake Superior College. Photo submitted.

“One of the best parts about working in the fire service is that you’re living with some of your favorite people,” he added. “You do everything together. You have to be able to trust these people with your life completely. You ultimately grow super close because you know they have your back at all times.”

Beyond Fires

It may be surprising to learn that fighting fires is just a small part of what firefighters do. “I would say that roughly 90% of the calls we go on are medicals and lift assists,” he said.

One of Kittleson’s most memorable calls resulted in him saving the life of a dog. “I went into a burning house to do a primary search,” he explained. “It was dark and smoky, and I pretty much stumbled into this dog. I got the dog out, handed him off to another firefighter, and went back to fight the fire. The dog received oxygen and survived.”

“I hope to have a long career as a firefighter,” he said. “I want to continue learning and just be the best firefighter - and person - I can be.”


Kittleson enjoys many outdoor activities in his off time, such as hiking, biking, snowboarding, and golfing. Ultimately, he’d like to settle down and start a family. But at just 21, he has plenty of time.

Caleb enjoys some golfing in Kansas City with a coworker on the way home from a fire conference in Dallas, Texas. Photo submitted.

Most Rewarding

If you have the opportunity, please tell a firefighter that you appreciate their service. Kind words and gratitude mean a lot to them. And feedback is rare.

“The most rewarding thing about this work is getting thanked by people afterward,” said Kittleson. “We often don’t know what happens after we respond to a call. So, it’s always nice to hear later that we made a difference.”


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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UMD's “Natasha, Pierre and the Comet of 2012” Blazes with Energy and Joy

UMD Marshall Performing Arts Center (MPAC) celebrates its 50th anniversary with the production of “Natasha, Pierre and the Comet of 2012”

“Gonna have to study up a little bit
If you wanna keep with the plot
'Cause it's a complicated Russian novel
Everyone's got nine different names
So look it up in your program
We'd appreciate it, thanks a lot”
“Prologue,” “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812”

The musical “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” is based on a little seventy page “sliver” of Leo Tolstoy’s epic over 1,500 page Russian novel War and Peace. UMD ’s Theatre department is performing “Comet” for its spring production, opening on the weekend of the 50th anniversary of the Marshall Performing Arts Center and a reunion of past students, faculty, and administrators.

One of the most energetic casts in a UMD show since Covid, the 25-member cast lit up the stage with their unabashed joy, performing this distinctly atypical  Broadway musical. Many of them also played musical instruments throughout the show, adding to the full sound of the terrific 9-piece onstage “Comet” band.

An eclectic, sometimes dissonant, sometime lush, and always unique score was undoubtedly a challenge for the musicians and the singers. Music Director Patrick Russell did a masterful job keeping all the styles cohesive in this beast of a score, with everything from ballads to a mockery of opera, all the while conducting a company that was literally all over the house.

Throughout the evening, the cast had great fun interacting with the audience, flirting, giving high fives, and dancing in the aisles. Their full company vocals were another highpoint of the evening with both lush harmonies and fun variations of folk, rock, electro-pop, and even highly discordant “opera.”

Ryan Armstrong stood out from his first moment onstage as the ringleader and “master of shenanigans” of the company, as the audacious Balaga. Armstrong was always great fun to watch, playing his accordion, dancing, leaping, and helping to establish the Russian folk style of some of the music.

At the story’s center is the young and virtuous Natasha (Mackenzie Ammon) who has been left behind as her fiancé  Andrey (Erik Rasmussen) has gone off to war. It doesn’t take long before she falls prey to the lascivious Anatole (Tanner Longshore) who sees her as nothing more than his next conquest.

Tanner Longshore and Mackenzie Ammon are the ill-fated lovers in UMD”s spring musical. Photo by Hunter Riley, UMD

Ammon brings a youthful naïveté and a sweet soprano voice to the role, and she made her arc, from a wide-eyed child to a broken and disgraced fallen heroine believable. Her “No One Else” solo was her standout moment as she proclaimed her love for her young soldier at war.

Longshore and John Toven, playing Anatole’s partner in crime, are dashing figures in their bright red and gold-trimmed military costumes. Longshore’s movie star good lucks worked to establish him as the stereotypical wolf in sheep’s clothing. Toven was always convincing as Anatole’s smarmy sidekick, also showing his talents as a musician (guitar and viola), and with some incredible dance moves.

Aaron Dumalag and Mackenzie Ammon (as Pierre and Natasha) find that their characters’ lives take an unexpected turn by the show’s end. Photo by Hunter Riley, UMD.

In the role of Marya, the kind but firm godmother to Natasha, Olivia Nelson is eminently watchable, both in her humorous moments and in her tirades. An audience favorite from her first moment onstage, her hilarious facial expressions and body language, and later her Act II enraged showstopper “In My House,” showed her range.

As Pierre, the alcoholic, unhappy scholar, and lonely outcast who hides from the world, Aaron Dumalag portrayed the depths of despair of this miserable man, who seeks redemption for his wasted life. Dumalag has one of the strongest voices in the company, particularly in his tragic lament, the heart-rending “Dust and Ashes.”

Anatole ( Longshore) pursues Natasha,(Ammon) much to the dismay of Pierre  (Dumalag). Photo by Hunter Riley, UMD.

The show is at its best in the full company production numbers, with choreography from Lila Ann White, notable in the song “ Balaga,” an over 10-minute all-out music and dance explosion. The cast was literally “passed out” on the floor at the end, with a few of them humorously begging audience members for water. White obviously had great fun mixing up her dance style choices to go with the ever-changing score.

Three of the major technical positions were UMD seniors: Lisa Scott, Samantha Brown, and Moriah Babinski. 

Impressive work from Scenic Designer Lisa Scott, creating the spectacle of the show from the commanding chandelier/comet overhead to the red star symbol on the stage floor, and the stunning upstage “wall” of color and bold graphic design, all evoking the majesty of Russia iconography.

Samantha Brown’s lighting design even became another character in the show with some eye-popping effects, particularly with the lighting of the chandalier/comet piece. The intricate and complex lighting plot was impressive and helped to set the mood and tone throughout.

Costume Designer Moriah Babinski clad the chorus in some Russian peasant looks, mixed in with anachronistic leathers, plaid punk gear, and studded denim to contrast with the traditional early 19th-century silhouettes for the principal men and women.

Bravo to Director Thomas Jacobsen for his creative vision for this show and for tackling “Comet,” which many professional companies won’t touch because of its many staging, musical, and casting complexities. The opening night audience stuck with the intricacies of the Russian Matryoshka stacking dolls’ characters and plot to let the evening of music, dance, and most of all the love of performing from this cast, to wash over them.

“Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812”
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Dave Malloy
adapted from the novel War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Apr 12th, 13th | 7:30 PM
Apr 14th | 2:00 PM (ASL Performance)
Apr 17th, 18th, 19th | 7:30 PM
Apr 20th | 2:00 PM & 7:30 PM

Marshall Performing Arts Center - Mainstage Theatre
Reserved seating Call 218-726-8561 for tickets and information.
Learn more about MPAC and its 50th Anniversary Celebration

About DD 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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“Constellations” Offers a Universe of Ever-Changing Possibilities

 "In the quantum multiverse, every choice, every decision you've ever and never made exists in an unimaginably vast ensemble of parallel universes.” ― “Constellations” playwright Nick Payne

What is ”Constellations” at the Lab at the NorShor Theatre really about? The story spins around in a tilt-a-whirl going in different directions, echoing two actors’ movements around each other as they discuss love, anger, quantum physics, beekeeping, death, romance, sex, jealousy, and, indeed, the very meaning of life.

The Playhouse Lab is an intimate 60-seat space that helps to draw the audience even more into a universe of potential paths one couple’s relationship could take.

Every shifting scene goes “backwards, forwards, and sideways” showing the multitude of choices and decisions the characters in this “two-hander” make. The audience is left to decide what the couple’s true linear path is, or if there ever is a linear path to their lives.

“Constellations” is a tour-de-force acting high wire act for real-life husband and wife Phil Hoelscher and Alyson Enderle. Hoelscher plays Roland, a funny, romantic, sweet, caring, and down-to-earth beekeeper. Enderle as Marianne,  is a theoretical physicist, who is brilliant, passionate, complex, quick-witted, and endlessly frustrating.

On opening night, Alyson Enderle and Phil Hoelscher play Marianne and Roland in “Constellations.” Photo by Duluth Playhouse

As the two characters try to learn about each other, it is not just the small stuff they attempt to figure out, but the big questions of time, space, fate, and free will, as they ride an emotional roller coaster together and apart.

Being so close to the actors allowed the audience to see both the fire and frustration in Enderle’s eyes and the pain and pathos in Hoelscher’s. There was a an undeniable sense of the deep inner life that they each brought to these roles.

However, the nature of the configuration of audience seats means that the actors have their backs to the audience part of the time. People seated to the extreme far left and right (as I was) missed hearing a few lines and seeing some of the actors’ facial expressions. The actors do their best to compensate, making this only a small issue throughout the show.

Marianne (Enderle) tells a secret the audience does not get to hear. Photo by Duluth Playhouse

Watching the actors execute the exhausting and intricate blocking patterns required, and realizing what memorization of this tremendously complex script would have taken them, adds to how impressive these talented actors are. At one point, they even replayed an earlier scene, this time using sign language, offering a whole set of nuances and meaning different from the spoken word.

“Constellations” is a challenging, engaging, and at times, funny piece of theater that raises more questions than it answers. Are Roland and Marianne truly in love? Are they in other relationships? Do they end up together? How do their lifelines connect or diverge? Why do conversations keep rewinding and unwinding, spooling and unspooling in rapid succession?

While making this emotional voyage with the couple, audience members can’t help but ponder their own life choices and how changing even a few small details could derail or improve the train ride of one’s life.

At a fast-paced seventy minutes, without an intermission, the audience is at the center of a whirlwind of alternate realities. Director Justin Peck and his actors had obviously delved into layers of character analysis and the depths of late-night philosophical discussions on some of life’s great conundrums.

And, as if the show is not complex enough, Peck raised the bar even more by using four actors over the nine-performance run. Alyson Enderle and Jess Hughes will alternate as Marianne; with Phil Hoelscher and Hunter Ramsden alternating as Roland.

Playing the roles opposite each other on alternating nights, Enderle and Ramsden give the audience a different take on the relationship of Roland and Marianne. Photo by Duluth Playhouse.

The impact of this casting choice is certain to make some audience members want to see the show more than once to note the changing dynamics that will happen with the actors as they play the same roles with different actors playing opposite them.

“Constellations” requires quite a bit, not only from the actors, but from the audience as well. Yet, it is a play that is sure to elicit many thoughtful after-show discussions as audience members share views on what they saw and heard, what they felt, and what this thought-provoking show is really all about for them.

Marianne (Enderle) and Roland (Ramsden) share a tender, romantic moment. Photo by Duluth Playhouse.

By Nick Payne
April 11-27
The Lab at the NorShor Theatre
213 E. Superior St., Duluth, MN

April 11 at 7:30pm – Phillip Hoelscher / Alyson Enderle
April 12 at 7:30pm – Hunter Ramsden / Alyson Enderle
April 13 at 7:30pm – Phillip Hoelscher / Jess Hughes
April 18 at 7:30pm – Phillip Hoelscher / Alyson Enderle
April 19 at 7:30pm – Hunter Ramsden / Jess Hughes
April 20 at 7:30pm – Hunter Ramsden / Alyson Enderle
April 25 at 8pm – Hunter Ramsden / Jess Hughes
April 26 at 8pm – Phillip Hoelscher / Alyson Enderle
April 27 at 8pm – Phillip Hoelscher / Jess Hughes

Visit the box office at the NorShor Theatre Monday through Friday 10 am-5 pm, call 218-733-7555, or go to www.duluthplayhouse.org/shows/constellations



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UMD’s Marshall Performing Arts Center Celebrates 50th Anniversary

MPAC shines on a beautiful spring night. Photo courtesy of University Marketing and Public Relations UMD     

UMD will celebrate MPAC's 50th Anniversary on Saturday, April 13, 2024

In 1974, the campus of UMD held dedication ceremonies for the new Marshall Performing Arts Center (MPAC), built at a cost of $2.8 million. The School of Fine Arts was established at the same time, giving the music, theatre, and dance programs a home.

Built in 1974, this is the cover for the UMD Dedication Program for MPAC. Submitted by Amy Hill

MPAC was named to honor the parents of Duluthian sisters Caroline and Julia Marshall who were major donors, along with their sister Jessica Marshall Spencer, and Marjorie Congdon Dudley. The Dudley Experimental Theater housed in MPAC was named for Dudley.

According to the UMD website, “The Marshall Performing Arts Center (MPAC) houses the Department of Theatre and offers two unique performance venues. Within the Marshall Performing Arts Center, there is a 550-seat flexible thrust/proscenium theatre as well as a black-box experimental theatre. The 100-seat black box Dudley Experimental Theatre has a flexible seating arrangement, presenting UMD Theatre productions and Stage 2 productions annually.”

“Multiple studios provide designated space for actors, designers, and dancers, while fully equipped scenic, welding, and costume shops, in addition to state-of-the-art lighting and sound equipment, allow student designers and technicians to explore their crafts in lab and production work.”

MPAC Main Stage is bare during pre-production. Photo Courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, Kathryn A. Martin Library, University of Minnesota Duluth

Strong Department Leadership

Bill Payne was at UMD from 1993 to 2022 as a Professor of Acting & Directing, later serving as the Dean of the School of Fine Arts. “An educational performance space like MPAC is an incredible asset for our community. Though our students are still learning, they still bring a great infusion of talent to the region and display it in a great venue at an affordable cost to the public,” said Payne. “Our community needs artists and art just as much as it needs business people and businesses.”

President Emeritus from Baldwin Wallace University, Richard Durst, was at UMD from 1977 to 1996 serving as a  scenery designer, Department Head of Theatre, Artistic Director for Minnesota Rep, and the Dean of the School of Fine Arts.

“I was always thrilled at the community support for theatre and the connection to all the arts in Duluth. MPAC provided a state-of-the-art facility that allowed us to bring high-quality theatre to Duluth,” noted Durst. “The Marshall sisters provided that economic support that allowed it all to happen. The quality of the program enabled us to recruit superior faculty and students to build upon the successes.”

UMD acting students perform “Sense and Sensibility,” in Dudley Experimental Theater, November 2023. Jenna Soleo-Shanks directed the play. Photo by Reece Hickman.

Richard Graves, an Associate Professor and Department Head from the Fall of 1976 through the Spring of 1984, said, “The performing arts are vital to a well-rounded undergraduate education, and MPAC provides an extraordinary cultural asset to the community.”

Mark Harvey came to UMD in May 1983 as the staff technical coordinator for the Marshall Performing Arts Center. He joined the faculty in 1985 and served as Acting Department Head from 1986-1988. He has served as Department Head since 2011 and will retire this May. He designed lighting or sound (and a few times both) for over 150 theatre and dance productions in the Marshall Center, as well as supervised UMD Theatre's lighting, sound and stage management programs for 38 years.

“Dear Finder,” 2008 UMD Theatre production, Marshall Performing Arts Center Main Stage, was directed by Tom Isbell. Photo courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, Kathryn A. Martin Library, University of Minnesota Duluth

Harvey was also the consultant for the three-million-dollar renovation in 2012 when extensive projects were done in both the Main Stage and Dudley Theatre, bringing needed technology updates such as lighting, sound, intercoms, and video monitors. Additional improvements included adding a voice studio, one new office, ADA compliance projects throughout, a sprinkler system, and a new rigging system on both the main stage and the Dudley Theatre.

According to Harvey, “Faculty, staff, and students, of course, have been critical for UMD Theatre's continually growing national reputation, as have been our amazingly loyal patrons and benefactors. However, our dreams and ambitions would not have been possible without a space to make them a reality.”

UMD Theatre cast in a performance of “The Spitfire Grill,” on Marshall Performing Arts Center Main Stage, October 2023, was directed and choreographed by Rebecca Katz Harwood. Photo by Derek Montgomery.

“The Marshall Center has made it possible for us as artists, practitioners, and audience members to come together as a community for an in-person storytelling experience, if just for a single performance, to laugh, cry and ponder the mysteries and challenges of life,” stated Harvey.

“Over the past 50 years, UMD Theatre has graduated over 800 Theatre majors and produced over 350 productions to over half a million patrons. Some of those 800 graduates went on to successful professional careers in the theatre,” Harvey added.

“Seussical," a 2008 UMD Theatre Production on Marshall Performing Arts Center Main Stage was directed and choreographed by Ann Aiko Bergeron. Photo Courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, Kathryn A. Martin Library, University of Minnesota Duluth.

Alumni Memories and Reunion

Bonnie Anderson was a Theatre major/French minor at UMD from 1974-1978. She explained, “I am a strong proponent of arts education, offering skills to students and arts and messaging to our culture. Experiencing live theatre, music, and dance performances enriches our view of the world. Because MPAC was so new and so beautiful, the building itself made a big impact on me. I spent four  years in and out of every space in the building.”

Amy Hill, who attended UMD from 1973-1977, earned her BFA in Theater and was a teaching assistant, managing the costume shop until 1976. She worked on costumes for the first production at MPAC in 1974, the musical “Hello Dolly,” directed by her brother, Don Dornacker.

This is the program for “Hello Dolly,” the first UMD Theatre production in MPAC. Photo Courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, Kathryn A. Martin Library, University of Minnesota Duluth.

Hill, who is still a freelance Costume Designer in the Twin Cities, has fond memories of MPAC.”The building was brand new, so we, as students and TAs, had a lot to do with developing the useful new spaces. Each of us Tech TAs had office spaces and keys and worked all hours of the day. The building was new and wonderful, but the real treasure was the friendships and collaborations that occurred within its walls. Many of the friends I had there are still special friends today.”

Hill added, “UMD and MPAC are treasured in the community. I worked in educational theatre for 18 years and have sent many students to study theatre at UMD over the years. Its excellence in education and quality performance have grown exponentially.”

“Legally Blonde,” a 2014 UMD Theatre Production on Marshall Performing Arts Center Main Stage, was directed and choreographed by Ann Aiko Bergeron. Photo Courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, Kathryn A. Martin Library, University of Minnesota Duluth.

50th Anniversary Celebration 

On Saturday, April 13, 2024, UMD will celebrate MPAC's 50th Anniversary and welcome back students with a reunion. They have invited all students, staff, and faculty who have participated in events at MPAC during the past 50 years to return home.

The day will include social time, slide shows, tours, lunch, a soiree, and a performance of the UMD Theatre Department’s musical, “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.” The performance will be followed by a planned cabaret and impromptu performances by alumni from the past 50 years at MPAC, as well as some current Theatre students.

Anderson is excited about the reunion. “When a group of my theatre alumni friends get together, we pick up the conversations right where we left off — however many years have passed. We have lifelong strong supportive friendships and really appreciate each other.”

“Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812”

Written by Dave Malloy
Directed by Thomas Jacobsen
Apr 12th, 13th | 7:30 PM
Apr 14th (ASL interpreted performance) | 2:00 PM Apr 17th, 18th, 19th | 7:30 PM
Apr 20th | 2:00 PM & 7:30 PM
Marshall Performing Arts Center Main Stage
Advance tickets are on sale at https://z.umn.edu/Great-Comet or 218-726-8561. Advance tickets $25 adult | $20 senior/UMD Faculty & Staff/Veteran | $10 all students. UMD students are also eligible for free rush tickets 30 minutes prior to a performance with a valid UMD student ID; subject to availability.

UMD’s Department of Theatre is concluding its spring season in spectacular fashion with a production of the twelve-time Tony nominee “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812.”  Based on a scandalous slice of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, this electro-pop opera tells the story of Natasha, a beautiful (and betrothed) ingénue visiting Moscow, who is seduced by the dashing (and married) Anatole.

According to Mitra Emad — Associate Dean of the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” is a unique and exhilarating example of how the arts at UMD enrich our region.”

“One of the things we do best in this college is create space for fresh, experimental, and widely appealing performances that showcase the hard work and talent of our students,” said Emad.


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Magical “Snow White” Ballet Delights Children and Adults

The Minnesota Ballet enchanted audience members, both young and old, with the first of their three performances of the classic fairy tale “Snow White.” The evening was a true showcase for the company of professional principal dancers, apprentices, and students.

While not an exact reproduction of the Disney classic film, the Brothers Grimm version, on which the ballet was based, gave the story elements that the audience was familiar with, including light and dark elements.

Music from composers Dmitrii Shostakovich and Holger Paulli had all the dramatic, sweeping, and playful elements needed for the dancers to bring this beloved tale to life.

Talented student dancers portraying the Seven Dwarfs were an audience favorite. From their first entrance in their colorful costumes, it was fun to identify the character traits of Dopey, Grumpy, Bashful, Sneezy, Sleepy, Happy, and Doc.

Piper Linn, Martha Kliewer, Adelaide von Rabenau, Kadence von Rabenau, Kylin Hahn, Zinnia Kracker, and Natalie Carter, were obviously having great fun using their dancing and acting skills to bring these classic characters to life.

Other students in the company charmed with their portrayals of birds, deer, bees, bunnies, and butterflies, enchanting Snow White, and bringing laughter and applause from the audience.

Providing opportunities for the young students to shine, to grow, and to feel a part of something much bigger than themselves, was clearly part of the evening’s mission. Whether playing pages, a master of ceremonies, or a sweet woodland creature, each provided an important threads to the tapestry of the ballet.

Will each of these students pursue a career in dance? Obviously not. But will they remember these performances with pride? Absolutely! And the chance to watch the professional company and how they pursue their craft is an invaluable life lesson.

Members of the professional company used both their exceptional dancing skills, as well as their clear characterizations, to bring new shades of meaning to the story. One standout was Matthew Frezzell, the Huntsman, who starts as a seemingly heartless villain, and ends showing the depths of his humanity and sympathy for Snow White. His dancing was athletic and powerful, and his stage presence was electric.

Ximena Azurmendi’s Evil Queen, with her legion of gargoyles, was everything one would want in a narcissistic and murderous diva. Beautiful, but lethal, Azurmendi was convincing throughout, both with her elegant dancing and her spot-on characterization, to the inevitable moment when she hands Snow White the bright red, poisoned apple.

Anthony Cefalu, in the role of the King, had some of the evening’s stronger dancing, and was an empathetic father to Snow White, even while being blind to the Evil Queen’s plots.

With a beautiful pairing with the Evil Queen on the other side of the magic mirror was dancer Jessica Lopes, evoking Snow White’s Mother, looking like Snow White herself, and serving as a stark contrast to the Evil Queen.

As the Prince, Issac Sharratt was a commanding presence and partnered well with Brianna Crockett as Snow White. He demonstrated both a strong ability to showcase Crockett and to dance as a polished soloist with skill and finesse. His lifts were gorgeous, showing the range of his strength and agility.

Crockett was a delight, channeling all the sweetness, innocence, and gentleness required for one of the all-time favorite fairy tale heroines. Her dancing was graceful and expressive as she moved with a seemingly effortless ease, while showing beautiful technique en pointe.

Crockett and Sharatt had marvelous dances in the wedding celebration scene at the end of the ballet, with both of them able to show their individual virtuosity and their partnering skills.

Serving as Artistic Director for the Minnesota Ballet and Choreographer for “Snow White,” Karl van Rabenau’s choreography was cohesive, creative, and appropriate for the varying ages and abilities of his dancers. He was able to bring out the talents of his smallest students, all the way up to challenging his professional dancers to show the depths of their talents.

Rabenau’s choreographic story-telling was strong throughout. It was only in the long wedding celebration in Act. III that things dragged a little, with a bit of repetition in the choreography and use of dancers.

The show’s technical elements, while not especially complex or intricate for the most part, provided the needed elements to tell the story. Ann Gumpper’s designs were especially effective in creating the ambience of the shadowy woods and in the drop for the elegant palace. The lighting was serviceable, but a bit dark at times, especially in the Dwarf’s cottage.

Costumes were decidedly a star of the show. Designers Heather Boudreau and Sandra Ehle did a marvelous job, from the cutest bunny tail or set of bees’ wings, to the regal and elegant costumes of the court and the principals. The detail work in each piece, for each dancer, was impeccable.

With “Snow White,” the Minnesota Ballet obviously had an “entry level” ballet for the youngest members in the audience, and also appealed to sophisticated ballet lovers who could enjoy all the nuances and power of the professional dancers in the company.

Fundraising Dinner/Auction Next Up for the Minnesota Ballet

“The Resplendent Table” on Friday, April 5 in the Depot’s Great Hall, is described as “an enchanted evening inspired by the grace and grandeur of classical ballet” with lavish tables, candelabra, and beautiful table settings.

The five course dinner from Midcoast Catering is accompanied by wine parings. Attendees can support the Ballet by shopping experiences and items from their silent and live auctions.

Table side entertainment by the Minnesota Ballet’s company dancers will add to the evening’s festivities.

For tickets and information, visit minnesotaballet.org or call 218-733-7570.

Sheryl Jensen

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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Photographer Steve Mattson Considers Himself a Jack of All Trades

Steve Mattson, Zenith City Photography

Steve Mattson, Zenith City Photography

Steve Mattson is owner of  Zenith City Photography. Facebook profile photo.

Steve Mattson’s photographic portfolio – published under the name Zenith City Photography - boasts a wide variety of images, including wedding photos, landscapes, graduation portraits, real estate images, concert shots, and wildlife. So, his niche isn’t easily defined.

“It’s hard to put me in a box,” he explained. “I’m always working to improve and refine my skillset across all genres. I consider myself more of a jack of all trades than a master of anything, which affords flexibility but, most importantly, gives me the opportunity to continually learn the craft.”

Interestingly, the phrase "Jack of all trades" dates back to 1390 and is often not quoted completely. The full quote goes like this: “Jack of all trades master of none, though oftentimes better than master of one.”

An Aurora is seen dancing over Duluth’s Lakeside Neighborhood, March 2023. Photo by Steve Mattson, Zenith City Photography.

While Mattson was surrounded by photography his entire life (his parents loved capturing family moments on film), the moment he was inspired to take photos himself remains crystal clear.

“I remember seeing that National Geographic cover photo of the Afghani woman with the beautiful green eyes,” he noted. “I wondered how that image was crafted, but also, I wondered how the photographer, Steve McCurry, pulled that emotion out of the woman and out of the viewer.”

Initially, Mattson considered himself a “purist” and developed film in his own darkroom. But ultimately, he crossed over to the digital world, and hasn’t looked back. In both formats, he is 100% self-taught.

A beautiful evening on Park Point provided an excellent backdrop for a recent graduation photo session. Photo by Steve Mattson, Zenith City Photography.

Born and Raised Here

Mattson is a native Duluthian. But, both he and his brother, Dave, “couldn’t wait to get out of Duluth.” So, he left for a while. But as many of us know, this beautiful city has a way of luring us back. More on that later.

Mattson met his future wife, Jenna, when they were in their teens working at the Miller Hill Mall. “I worked at Hal’s Sportswear, and Jenna worked at McDonald’s,” he explained with a chuckle. They had their first date in October 1993 and married in 1998.

Education and Career

When it came time for college, initially, Mattson was a pre-med student. However, after factoring in all the years of schooling, he decided to change his major.

He graduated from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities with a bachelor’s degree in clinical laboratory science. He later returned to school, earning his MBA from Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The Mattsons lived in Rochester, Minnesota for eight years. There, Steve got a job at Mayo Clinic, with an interesting side hustle - as a radio DJ on Saturday nights. The couple’s two children, Elaina (21) and Saige (19) were both born in Rochester.

The Mattson family enjoying a recent vacation on Maui. (L to R: Jenna, Saige, Elaina, Steve). Photo submitted.

But Duluth was calling them home. “Ever since we moved away from Duluth, we always had that finger tapping on our shoulder, and that finger was from Duluth,” he noted. “We felt this strong pull back home. I suppose it didn’t help that there were no natural lakes where we lived, in Olmsted County.”

The couple returned home in 2005. Mattson was hired at the former SMDC (now Essentia) as the hematology technical supervisor. He remains with Essentia today, and his current title is senior process expert.

Jenna is an orchestra teacher at Superior Middle School. She also plays violin for the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra (DSSO).

A lone skater making a move along the shore of a frozen Lake Superior, March 2022. Photo by Steve Mattson, Zenith City Photography.


As noted, Mattson was deeply touched by that National Geographic photo. He decided to pursue photography and the science of developing film and built a darkroom in his basement.

“I declared myself a purist right when digital was making its move,” he noted with a chuckle. He started out with a basic camera, the Canon AE-1.

But when 9/11 happened, it became impossible to source the chemicals he needed. So, he was forced to pivot to the digital world. He transitioned to using a Nikon DSLR, which he used until about three years ago.

The Philip R. Clarke appears to be floating above the sea smoke rising from Lake Superior on a frigid afternoon in December 2017. Photo by Steve Mattson, Zenith City Photography.

Today, he uses the Nikon Z line of cameras, including the Z8 mirrorless camera (a good all-around camera with a high mega-pixel count and high speed), and the ZF, which is similar to the Z8, but features more of a retro design. He pairs these camera bodies with Z-compatible lenses.

He also uses a drone on occasion – the DJI Mini 3 Pro. Mattson is a FAA Part 107 licensed drone pilot.


Mattson’s photographic “muses” span many genres, as noted. He started out taking landscape photos, including Duluth sunrises and wildlife images at the Sax-Zim Bog. Later, he took some family photos for friends. “You really have to step out of your comfort zone when you start taking photos of people,” he explained.

Then, he got into weddings for a time. Today, his favorite types of photos include graduation portraiture and concert photos. His portfolio contains some amazing, close-up images of his favorite artists, including Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger.

One of Steve’s favorite live music images: Paul McCartney & Neil Young sharing a mic in Oct. 2016. Photo by Steve Mattson, Zenith City Photography.

Mattson is also the official photographer for the DSSO. Additionally, he has a side gig as a real estate photographer.

But he’ll take shots of anything, really. “I think there’s beauty in everything,” he said. “Whether it’s a car, person, building, or bird. There’s a way to convey that beauty to your viewer if you’re passionate about it.”


And, speaking of Duluth, he said, “Around here, there’s no shortage of beauty. I love shooting at Ely’s Peak, Hawk Ridge, Canal Park, and Bean and Bear Lakes in Silver Bay.

An aerial shot taken of the St. Louis River, 2022.

“Aside from the inherent natural beauty we have, the community itself is so unique. As a photographer in Duluth, you can change your vibe on a dime. There’s a certain magic about this place. Those of us who know, know.”

Mattson has been a Destination Duluth photographer since 2017. In 2023, he was honored with a certificate recognizing over 1 million views on the platform.


The Mattsons – including their dog, Beaumont - make their home in Duluth’s Lakeside neighborhood. In his spare time, Mattson enjoys running (he’ll run his 15th Grandma’s Half Marathon this year), curling, music, live concerts, and traveling.

The Mattson family dog, Beaumont, posing along Amity Creek/7-Bridges Road. Photo by Steve Mattson, Zenith City Photography.

Steve and Jenna are also deeply committed to their faith, and worship at the Coppertop Church. There, Steve has served on a variety of committees, and was the drummer for the church band for 17 years. He was recently appointed to serve on the church’s Administrative Council.


Regarding advice for new photographers, Mattson had this to say.

“Do not get GAS - gear acquisition syndrome. You do not need the most expensive camera or the most high-performance lens.

“In fact, you don’t need any of that stuff to become a photographer,” he added. “I would say just find a cheapo camera and shoot as much as you can, whenever you can.  And, most importantly, find and cultivate joy by making images that inspire you.”

To view or purchase Steve’s images, please visit.zenithcityphotos.com


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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Shedding Light On Illuminating The Aerial Lift Bridge

Shedding Light On Illuminating The Aerial Lift Bridge

“The Aerial Lift Bridge is the symbol of Duluth,” declared chairman of Project Duluth Committee John Griden in 1966. “We want to do everything possible to promote it to dramatize Duluth to tourists."

The committee raised $21,000 ($200,000 today) from 10,000 donors to fund the illumination of Duluth's iconic bridge.

November 17, 1966

Before a crowd of thousands, State Representative John A Blatnik threw the switch on the first lights consisting of twelve 1,000-watt mercury vapor bulbs, calling the lights, "a magnificent symbol of the rebirth of our area"

Twelve 1,000 watt mercury vapor lights were the first to illuminate "the symbol of Duluth." Photo by Duluth News Tribune.

It took time for the lamps to warm up to full power, but when they did, they bathed the bridge in what the newspaper called a "radiant, silver-blue light."  Zenith City Online.

The lights reflected poorly on the dark and dull Essex green bridge, spurring a campaign to paint it silver in 1970, according to Duluth News Tribune Attic.

Prior to 1970 the bridge was a almost black Essex green. Photo by Charles Curtis, Duluth News Tribune

High-pressure sodium lights burn bright

The high-pressure sodium lights installed in 1987 gave the bridge a bright amber hue, visible from Thompson Hill as motorists descended into the city. Photo by Dennis O'Hara.

July 4, 1987

New lights, funded by Duluth Rotary Club 25 were illuminated. There is a historical marker on the foot of the bridge which states:

The present dramatic lighting, first seen on July 4, 1987, is made possible through a generous gift from the Rotary Club of Duluth, Club # 25. It symbolizes the warm welcome extended by Duluth citizens to ships and visitors from around the world.

Historical Marker at the NE corner of the Lift Bridge. Hmbd.org

March 2020

In March 2020, the city quietly changed the high-pressure sodium lights on the Aerial Lift Bridge to LED lights. They reportedly cost $155,000, and the city told Fox 21 News that the new lights were “expected to last 22.5 years while saving the city $5,000 annually on energy costs.”

The LED lights were installed in March of 2020. Photo by Fox 21 News Duluth.

March 2024

The color of the lights illuminating the bridge is adjusted from the standard seen since the LED lights were installed in March 2020. It is not known if this new color is temporary or permanent. LED lights can be adjusted to any color on the spectrum.

The color of the LED lights are adjusted just prior to the opening of the 2024 shipping season on March 19. Photo by David Schauer.

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Nordic Center Is A Place to Create, Learn, & Explore

The Nordic Center says in their mission statement that they exist “To share Nordic culture with the greater community through social, educational, and arts programs.”

They also note that their vision is “To be a warm and inclusive place for community engagement in traditional, contemporary, and emerging Nordic culture and knowledge.”

Making their goals even more universal, they state, “We are on a mission to make the world a more culturally aware and tolerant place.”

Cultural Programs For All

The Nordic Center is a non-profit cultural organization formed in 2011 and located in downtown Duluth at 23 N. Lake Avenue, in a building formerly owned by the Sons of Norway.

Sharing Nordic culture with their programming. they invite a variety of local, regional, national, and global artists from a variety of disciplines to share their talents with people from all cultures and backgrounds.

They offer book clubs, language lessons, concerts, and storytelling, The Nordic Center’s quality arts and cultural programming is for all ages, with many opportunities for families from the very young to those who are young at heart.

Enriching Exhibits

Rotating exhibit space offers artists and craftspeople a wonderful space to share their work. Past exhibits have included prints, fibers, paintings, sculptures, artifacts, and other media.

One past exhibit, “Leading With Our Hearts,” included traditional and contemporary floral and geometric designs from Ojibwe, Nordic, and Sami textile traditions, Ojibwe floral beadwork and regalia from Fond Du La Reservation members, and Swedish-Norwegian-inspired paintings of folk dress motifs, embroideries, and tapestries.

Their current exhibit, “Hand of Huldra” features jewelry artist and goldsmith Liz Bucheit and her collection of Norwegian-inspired filigree jewelry. Her works are Inspired by the Scandinavian myth of the forest Huldra, a beautiful woman with a cow tail who would charm humans into living life forever inside a magic mountain.

“For every art exhibition, we aim to consider children's perspectives and participation. We do that by offering an event called SunFUNday for kiddos and their parents/caretakers to learn about the current exhibition and try their hand at creating something based on that theme,” said Jacklyn Janeksela, Nordic Center Gallery assistant, who also does outreach for the Center.

For “Hand of the Huldra,” on International Women's Day, the Nordic Center offered a “Nordic Crowns & Beyond” workshop where participants were able to make their own unique crowns.

Pepperkakebyen: A Gingerbread Delight

Pepperkakebyen (Pepper -spiced, kake -cake, byen -town/village) celebrated its 12th year this past year of helping people build gingerbread houses. The event has become a very popular yearly tradition for the Center as a way to celebrate the Nordic tradition of gingerbread baking and house making.

An annual class teaches how to make gingerbread houses. Photo submitted.

This is based on the annual tradition in Bergen, Norway, where children and adults contribute to the making of a miniature version of their city, with houses, trains, cars, and ships made from real gingerbread.

Whether created by children or by skilled craftspeople or even architects, this charming holiday activity at the Nordic Center includes a gingerbread workshop hosted by “Patrick the Gingerbread Man” where participants learn tips and tricks on how to build and decorate their houses.

People are able to view the houses beginning on the night of the Christmas City of the North parade and after in the Pepperkakebyen window display.

Duluth-stämman: A Celebration of  Nordic Folk Music and Dance

The Nisswa-stämman Scandinavian Festival was a popular summer event in Nisswa, Minnesota for over twenty years. The Festival relocated to Duluth in 2023, and the Nordic Center is excited to bring it back this summer on June 7 and 8 at Chester Bowl and UMD.

The two-day event offers dances, workshops, jam circles, performances, youth programming. and music from regional and international performers. Clifton Nesseth, the Nordic Center’s Arts and Cultural Events Coordinator, is instrumental in the planning and organization of Duluth-stämman.

Nisswa-stämman Scandinavian Festival gathered at the Duluth Folk School. Photo submitted.

“Last summer, we had 300 participants and hope for more this year. We are excited to share this event with a gathering celebrating Nordic traditions. We want to have more youth engagement with our programming. We will also have food trucks for people to enjoy onsite. With our music and our workshops and exhibits, this will be one of the highlights of the summer,” he said.

Open Doors for Everyone

The Nordic Center also strives to go beyond only Nordic cultural opportunities, opening its doors and opportunities for many cross-cultural collaborations.

Carol Coburn, the co-president of the Nordic Center Board, who brings her theater, costume and weaving background into her work with the Nordic Center, said, “We’re excited to work with a variety of other organizations to bring in exhibits, workshops and more, and are always interested in collaborating with other cultural groups.”

Group sessions bring people from all cultures together. Photo submitted.

“We provide a place where people from many cultures can come together to learn from each other. We are a place for people to be entertained and to learn,” said Karen Keenan, the other co-chair, who teaches courses in traditional Swedish Hair Jewelry.

Dr. Paula Gudmundson, the Department Head and an Associate Professor in the UMD Music Department, is also a past Board Member of the Nordic Center and is now on their Advisory Council, working on long-term planning

She said, ”I have a special interest in bringing musicians together. It has been wonderful to see people become engaged in their culture through music and dance and making connections with others as well.”

“We want people to know we exist, that we're a safe, warm place to create art and share space with each other over fika and pulla (coffee and Finnish cardamom bread). We are here for everyone!” added Janeksela.

For more information on membership, programming, and events, visit their website at nordiccenterduluth.org or their Facebook page.

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Breanna Crockett is dancing her dream in Duluth

DD A&E ARTIST PROFILE - Breanna Crockett lives the dancing dream

Breanna Crockett is doing what many little girls only dream of—dancing the role of Snow White in a fully staged ballet. As a dancer for six years with the Minnesota Ballet, Crockett is getting ready to take center stage to bring the enchantment of this iconic fairy tale character to life.

Breanna Crockett. Photo submitted.

“I was around three years old when I began dancing, and I’ve been told I was a very serious student., Breanna said, “The first, yet still vague, memory I have of performing, is of a hip-hop dance in which I wore a cute, brown (somewhat itchy) teddy bear costume.”

She noted, “I think I may have become hooked on dance because of the performance aspect; the thrill of getting up on stage and performing in front of people and the rush of adrenaline was, and is, exhilarating.”

Years of Training

Born in Denver CO, Breanna grew up in a rural town about an hour southeast of Denver called Kiowa. During her junior and senior years of high school, while she was taking online classes, she attended Ellison Ballet’s Professional Training Program in New York City and stayed for an additional year after high school.

“I graduated from this program and started dancing professionally right away with the Colorado Ballet’s studio company. I was able to perform in their productions of Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Dracula, and Romeo and Juliet,” she stated.

Dance partner Isaac Sharratt and Brianna Crockett perform in the Sugar Plum pas de deux from The Nutcracker: A Duluth Tale. Photo by Vicki George Surges

After two seasons in Colorado, she auditioned for numerous companies and received an offer from Minnesota Ballet, joining the company in 2018. With Minnesota Ballet, she has performed soloist and principal roles in The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, A Midsummer Nights Dream, Sleepy Hollow, and Rite of Spring, among others.

“I liked that the Minnesota Ballet company was smaller, so I would have closer friendships with the other dancers and a greater chance to perform soloist and principal roles,” she explained.

For the Minnesota Ballet, Breanna has danced in POE (Queen in The Purloined Letter); Sleeping Beauty (Aurora); Bruce Wells’ A Midsummer Nights Dream (Helena); Sleepy Hollow (Katrina);The Nutcracker (Sugar Plum, Clara, Dew Drop, Ice Fairy, Snow Queen); Coppelia (Swanhilda’s Friend); Mendelssohns Piano Trio No. 1 by Allen Fields (Pas de Deux, Corps); Rite of Spring (Chosen One); and Carnival of the Animals by Robert Gardner.

Dance partner Isaac Sharratt and Brianna Crockett in the 3rd act wedding pas de deus from Sleeping Beauty. Photo submitted

Sharing Her Love of Dance

Breanna has been teaching ballet and pointe at Madill Performing Arts Center in Duluth since 2021. Though ballet is not the main focus of the studio, the students train in several styles of dance for competition, and ballet is beneficial for strength, coordination, and musicality.

She teaches three levels: 8 to 11, 12 to 14, and 15 to 18. “I choreographed a piece for the first time for Madill’s recital last year to the “Garland Waltz” music from Sleeping Beauty, and it was a new, fulfilling experience for me,” she noted.

“I love seeing the students grow over time, not just as dancers, but as people,” she said. “I also feel I have been able to instill an enjoyment and/or appreciation of ballet in some of the students, which is very rewarding.”

Her advice to young dancers considering pursuing ballet as a career is, “I would say to always remember why you love this art form and to persevere in the face of challenges and doubt. It has crossed my mind a number of times that I should follow a different path, but I always go back to the feelings I had while rehearsing and performing as a young dancer: absolute joy and excitement.”

Brianna Crockett, Taylor Phillips, and Pip attend Minnesota’s Renaissance Festival. Photo submitted.

Bringing Snow White to Life

Brianna Crockett and Issac Sharratt rehearse for Snow White. Photo by Katie Kampfhenkel

“My main goal with Snow White is exploring how I can expand and deepen the character while staying true to her essence given in the original story,” she explained.

“The most challenging part of this show for me is that it is a completely new full-length ballet, which means a lot of new choreography in a relatively short period of time,” Breanna said. “It is a challenge to remember all the choreography, corrections, musicality, and spacing, in addition to perfecting the steps and exploring the artistry.”

Life Outside the Studio

Breanna feels lucky that her boyfriend, Taylor Phillips, is also a member of the Minnesota Ballet Company and that they performed together for the first time this past November in The Nutcracker.

“I have a sweet, beautiful little dog named Pip, short for Piperel. She is a Coton de Tulear. She can come to the studio and hardly ever disrupts rehearsal; she just naps in her carrier and gets daily pets from the other dancers in the company,” Brianna shared.

Aside from dancing, she regularly practices yoga, completed Full Circle Yoga’s teacher training program last year, and occasionally guides yoga classes.

She also enjoys reading, puzzles, bike riding with her dad, and hiking around Duluth. Since she has discovered a love of the water and loves being out on the water, she enjoys kayaking.

Duluth Becomes Home

“Duluth has something to offer the nature-lover in me--stunning trails in wooded areas with beautiful rock formations and waterfalls that are only a short walk or drive away--and the city-goer in me—access to great food, drinks, events, shows, music, and local art. Of course, I absolutely adore Lake Superior.”

“I love the relationships I have built within the arts community and within my yoga community; getting to meet people from all walks of life is a blessing,” she said.

Gratitude for Opportunities and Her Family

“I just want to express how grateful I am to be a professional ballet dancer and to have the physical capability to keep up with the demands of the profession,” Crockett said. “Though it is my job, I hardly ever call it work. Each day, I try not to take it for granted.”

She concluded, “I thank my parents for their undying support in pursuing something I love, despite the long drives to ballet class and the financial hardships. I would be a very different person today if it was not for their love and encouragement.”

Brianna and her father biking along the Arkansas River this past summer. Photo submitted.

Information About Snow White Minnesota Ballet

Minnesota Ballet presents the classic fairy tale Snow White. Families and children of all ages will love following the beautiful princess and her seven pint-sized rescuers as they outwit the scheming Evil Queen.

The ballet is composed of talented student dancers from Minnesota Ballet Academy in this professional company production of Snow White.

The performances are on March 29 at 7 p.m. and March 30 at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. at The DECC in Symphony Hall.

Tickets are available through Ticketmaster or by reserving seats at the Minnesota Ballet box office at 218-733-7570. The box office is open Monday through Friday between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.

Prices begin at $15 for children, $25 for seniors/students/military, and $30 for standard admission.



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REVIEW - Looking for Light in the Darkness in “Next to Normal”


Destination Duluth Arts & Entertainment Review of Duluth Playhouse's "Next to Normal."

Photographer Steve Mattson's Facebook post states, "The level of talent on stage and in the pit is extraordinary. What a gift, having the ability to stroll into the Norshor on a gloomy Saturday afternoon for a couple of hours and then walk out moved, glassy-eyed, and thankful for the Arts our community provides and supports. Well done, All!"

Chronic mental illness has touched almost every family, and sadly is becoming even more prevalent today. It is hard to fathom the heartache, devastation, and pain felt by the husbands, wives, and most particularly the children, as they helplessly watch their loved ones spiral down into an abyss of darkness.

Director Wes Drummond tackles these issues head on with the 2010 Pulitzer Prize winner, and the 2009 winner of three Tony awards, “Next to Normal.” This is not your light-hearted, “feel-good” musical, but it is dazzling in its brutal honesty and in its raw emotion, driving its messages home with a magnificent cast of six actors and a fabulous orchestra.

On the surface and from the outside, the play’s Goodman family seems “normal,” with the loving parents, Diana and Dan, their teenaged son Gabe and daughter Natalie.

But as one lyric says about the Goodman house, “Everything is perfect and nothing is real.” After an early tragic incident, Diana has withdrawn for nearly twenty years into the depths of bipolar disorder, and no amount of psychotropic drugs or even ultimately electroconvulsive therapy, have been able to help her.

Jen Burleigh-Bentz breaks the audience’s hearts as the bruised and broken Diana, wanting so desperately to be the wife and mother her family needs, and trying unsuccessfully every day just to “hold it all together”.

Jen Burleigh-Bentz plays Diana, in the lead role of Next to Normal at the Duluth Playhouse. Photo by Terry Cartie Norton

In her most anguished song “You Don’t Know,” the audience is able to fully sense the searing pain Diana’s illness has caused her when she vocalizes, “Do you know, do you know what it's like to die alive?” In every song, Burleigh-Bentz bares the very depths of Diana’s tattered soul using her masterful soprano voice to its full advantage.

Thomas Bevan delivers a nuanced performance as the ever-patient and devoted husband and caretaker Dan, who is only surviving by “Living on a latte and a prayer.” Bevan has a powerful voice that can, in turns, show both his fear about what he can’t control and his quiet despair as Diana’s manic-depressive episodes destroy all their lives.

Bevan shows how Dan is truly a “good man” constantly trying to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives who is pushed to the edge mentally and emotionally himself.

Bevan’s clearest statement in song about his life and his view of himself, is in “I Am The One.” He tries to make Diana see that he is the one who knows her, the one who cares, the one who has always been there, which sends her into a combative argument, leading them on a path to nowhere, especially when Gabe jumps into the vocal argument.

Natalie, played brilliantly by Daylen Moore, is a lost soul who has never felt much of any affection or even acknowledgment from her mother. In “Super Boy and the Invisible Girl,” Moore seizes the moment to reveal the essence of her character to the audience, using their amazing Broadway belt voice to tell their story.

Moore’s songs in Act II. get even more impressive as they ride the roller coaster of emotions, wanting to be angry at everyone and have someone show her love at the same time. Moore breaks the audience’s hearts with their lament, “I don’t need a life that’s normal/That’s way too far away/But something next to normal/Would be okay.”

On the periphery of the staging and at the story’s heart, all at the same time, is the son Gabe. Jake S. Nelson shows the intensity of his character’s rebelliousness, petulance, and even anger, as he fights for his mother’s exclusive attention. Nelson’s best vocals were in his anthem “I’m Alive” where the rock score is particularly suited for his voice.

Playing both of Diana’s doctors, the aptly named Dr. Fine and Dr. Madden, Antony Ferguson has some of the show’s few comic moments, and convincingly presents how, though well-meaning, the medical establishment is at a loss of how to “cure” Diana. Ferguson’s playing a rock star in one of Diana’s fantasies demonstrated both his comic chops and his strong voice.

SJ Olson plays the only character from the “real” world who comes into the Goodman home as Natalie’s boyfriend, Henry. Olson humorously plays the “stoner” kid and the sweetness of a sympathetic shoulder for Natalie to cry on, as her world falls even more apart. Vocally, Olson had a few early issues with their lower register, but they got stronger as the play progressed, especially with “Perfect for You.”

Music Director Beth Brophy brought together a tight six-piece band, with musicians at the top of their game playing a difficult score. Bravo to musicians Kyle Picha, Emily Ramsey, Toko Nakajima, Gregg Curleo, Cory Clay, and Kurt Savela.

All the shows technical aspects were firing on all cylinders too, including designers Nick Gosen (Sound), Curtis Phillps (set) and Jeff Brown (lighting), all doing some of their best work.

Sleek and sophisticated with angles, two-levels, and wrought iron railings, Phillips’ set for “Next to Normal” is appropriate for the home of an architect, Dan’s occupation in the play.

Curtis Phillips is the Scenic Designer of Next to Normal. Lighting Designer: Jeff Brown, Sound Designer: Nick Gosen, Costume Designer: Caitlin Quinn, Prop Designer: Carrie Powers Greer. Photo by Terry Cartie Norton

In a play where light is a strong symbol and is also integral to the show’s themes and motifs, Brown’s lighting design is exciting and dynamic, with hundreds of light cues, all emblematic of the music, lyrics, mood, characters, and the intensity of the story.

The lighting design by Jeff Brown is integral, exciting and dynamic. Photo by Terry Cartie Norton.

Kudos to Wes Drummond for choosing and bringing to life a show that is challenging for the actors, the production team, the orchestra, and ultimately also for the audience. While it may not be known to many audience members, it is as deserving to be seen as “The Sound of Music” and “Young Frankenstein,” or any other musical this season.

After the cast finishes the final song, “Light,” the audience is left mostly silent and emotionally drained. The show leaves everyone with more questions than answers and, undoubtedly, was the impetus for after-show discussion about where the Goodman family could possibly go from here.

Yet there is a glimmer of hope for this tortured family, as the lyrics of the final song “Light” assert, “We'll find the will to find our way/ Knowing that the darkest skies will someday see the sun.”

 Note: This production is intended for mature audiences and contains profanity, depictions of mental illness, drug use, and self-harm.

Information for “Next to Normal”

Music by Tom Kitt and Book and Lyrics by Brian Yorkey
Running March 15-31
Saturday matinee on March 16 @2 pm
Sunday matinees on March 24 & 31 at 2 pm
Audio description March 16 @ 2 pm
ASL interpretation on March 29 @ 7:30 pm
For tickets, call 218.733.7555. or visit the Playhouse site @ duluthplayhouse.org

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