Two decades have passed since the first time Carrie Boberg and Julie MacIver Venhuizen appeared on stage together at UMD. After graduating in 1995 and 1997 with theatre degrees, Carrie went west, to California, and Julie headed south, to Minneapolis. They were successful; Julie had a regular gig in Tony and Tina’s Wedding and Carrie made a living in film but, just like a well-scripted ending after all the miles and all the years, the two friends are reentering from stage-left and stage-right, sharing the spotlight once again.
“I’m from Duluth and I swore I was never coming back here and now, not only am I back, but I’m back where I lived for four years of my life,” says Julie. Looking around the Marshall Performing Arts Center during rehearsal for Les Miserables with a bemused grin she notes, “The benches are the same, the carpet is the same, the smell is the same. The only thing that’s different is the drinking fountain.”
To the naked eye, maybe. In reality the whole scene is new. UMD theatre students and alumni are actually doing something pretty fresh – partnering with the Duluth theatre scene in a really big way.
The Duluth Playhouse is celebrating its 100th anniversary season with a giant production of Les Miserables. The curtain rises at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center instead of The Playhouse, a first, but before loading into the DECC, rehearsals are happening on campus. The setting is home for alumna like Carrie and Julie, along with current theatre students and two associate professors participating in the show. In total, the cast, crew, and production team have 16 people with UMD connections. It’s an impressive number that has serendipity taking a bow.
Life Worth Living
Carrie and Julie’s professional experience gives an extra umph of credit to their kudos for the Duluth theatre scene. They agree that quality opportunities abound, “There are enough people putting up such good work, that there’s no need to move,” says Julie. “If you’re in a show, you know it’s going to be good. That isn’t always the case with community theatre.”
There are outlets for the actors, and actors for the outlets. The two friends have watched their peers move back to Duluth, peppering the Port City with plenty of thespians to go around. “It’s great for this size of town to have this depth of talent,” Carrie says. She believes that there are enough theaters producing quality work that actors no longer feel compelled to move.
One of the actresses who stuck around is preparing for the much-covetted close up as Cosette. It’s a leading role for a lady who’s singing the praises of the Zenith City.
“And mine’s Cosette.”
She came for the degree, and stayed for the experience.
Jenny Grapman Campbell graduated from UMD with a master of music degree in 2010. “Since then I’ve had a plethora of performance opportunities in operas, musicals, concerts and recitals, choral singing with the Twin Ports Choral Project, and jazz singing with various groups around town,” she says.
On opening night, July 16, she’ll add “Cosette” to that list, a role so iconic it’s almost a verb. Jenny will be sharing the stage with professional actors and will be directed by New York guest director Dorothy Danner, but joining them will be UMD students still mastering their craft.
Mark Harvey, head of UMD’s Department of Theatre, says this experiential learning is critical, “Training students for active careers in the performing arts is at the very core of the mission of the Department of Theatre. It is not enough for higher education to merely promise a successful career for our graduates. It’s the university’s obligation to provide meaningful and direct transition into the workforce.”
Jenny has made that transition and says she’s making a living in Duluth doing what she loves – music. In addition to performing, she’s an adjunct instructor of voice in UMD’s music department and encourages her students to seek out opportunities, “The Duluth community is very supportive of the arts and good talent is appreciated.”
The appreciation is enough to fill the DECC auditorium four shows over during Les Mis’ run, July 16 through the 19, giving the community ample opportunity to experience the talent that UMD’s theatre program is happy to share.
If you go
The Duluth Playhouse presents
July 16 through July 19
Tickets and more information
The cast and crew is peppered with many alumni and current UMD students.
Here’s a look:
UMD’s Kayla Mudgett is Cosette’s understudy and a member of the ensemble. The Chanhassen Dinner Theatre’s Les Miserables was the first professional theatre production she ever watched. Ironically, Ali Litrell was playing Cosette in that show, and in this production Ali is playing Fontaine
Anna McRae Simpson (from top left), Mike Pederson, Beth Anderson, Andrew Kimball and Kayla Mudget perform during a July 8 rehearsal of the Duluth Playhouse production of “Les Miserables” at the Marshall Performing Arts Center on the University of Minnesota Duluth campus. The production moves to the DECC for its performances. (Photo by Duluth News Tribune’s Clint Austin)
Mike Pederson (from left), Adam Sippola and Scott Hebert perform during a July 8 rehearsal of the Duluth Playhouse production of Les Miserables at the Marshall Performing Arts Center on the campus of the University of Minnesota Duluth. The production moves to the DECC for its run of performances. (Photo by Duluth News Tribune’s Clint Austin)