Why does Flounder need to be a boy? Why can’t Ursula be played by a drag queen? And why do all of Ariel’s sisters have to be females with identical body types? These are the type of questions Morris Park Players (MPP) community theater considers when casting productions.
For its upcoming show, “Big Fish,’’ MPP asked: Why does the circus owner have to be a male? And why do all of the actors have to be hearing?
“Our communities are diverse and the stage should reflect that,” said Laura Dierke, President of the MPP Board of Directors.
“We work to erase stereotypes, where people are given the role based on how they look. We work to dismiss any reservations of body type, skin color and able-
bodiness … We remain focused to put the most talented people on our stage.”
Founded in 1952, MPP, a small community theater now based in Northeast Minneapolis, has produced more than 115 musicals in the city during the last seven decades.
For the last six years, they’ve worked out of Edison High School and have built a partnership with the Edison Drama Department.
The MPP Board has been embracing non-traditional casting for several years.
“We are clear with our casting directors,” said Dierke. “We want them to think outside the box when putting their onstage community together … The bodies we put on a stage matter. People want to see themselves on that stage.”
When Dan Fox, who is deaf, auditioned, he “knocked our socks off,” said Dierke. “He did his reading for us in ASL (American Sign Language), moving most of us to tears, and then he did a back flip. He was the first casting decision we made. We all wanted Dan in the show.”
As an ensemble member, Fox will play a wedding guest, the manager of the circus, and a sharecropper.
MPP now has an ASL Communications Team, with funding help from a Metropolitan Regional Arts Council grant, which currently includes two performance interpreters—Desiree Adamchick and Kathi Koch—and a backstage interpreter, Kelley Yount, who works along with Fox at rehearsals.
Yount, who has worked with MPP in the past, is also setting up an ASL seating section and held an ASL-basics workshop for the cast.
Dierke said MPP drafted its official statement regarding nontraditional casting after casting the 11 brothers in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat” as women in 2017.
“I was new enough to the process to not realize what an out-of-the-box suggestion it was to use the most talented people for the roles, and not to simply defer to the first 11 male actors,” she said.
“Since that time, we have continued to encourage diversity and inclusion. We have had several opportunities to cast the best person in the role, and we continue to be pleased with the end result. Not only did we get to work with an incredibly talented person, we got to know these incredible people who are now part of our community.”
Based on the celebrated novel by Daniel Wallace and the acclaimed film directed by Tim Burton, “Big Fish” tells the story of Edward Bloom, a traveling salesman who lives life to its fullest… and then some! Edward’s incredible, larger-than-life stories thrill everyone around him—most of all, his devoted wife Sandra. But their son Will, about to have a child of his own, is determined to find the truth behind his father’s epic tales.
“Big Fish” will run for three weekends, Oct. 25-27, Nov. 1-3, and Nov. 8-10, with matinee shows on Sundays at 2 pm, and evening performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm. All performances will be in the Edison High School Auditorium, 700 22nd Ave. NE. There will be on-stage interpreters for one performance each weekend.
Music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa. Book by John August. Director: Jillian Robertson. Music Director: Danny Dahlquist.
Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for students and seniors, plus fees. There is reserved seating. Tickets are available in advance and at the door. Those who wish can make a donation (at least $5) for the Donate a Daffodil fundraiser and have a Daffodil with their name displayed in the lobby. Info and tickets: morrisparkplayers.org.
Below: The Morris Park Players youth ensemble performing “Telephone Hour” at a fundraiser. Left to right, Josh Bagley, Henry Grooms, Jeri Hypolite, Erika Dierke, Jenna Dierke, Anissa Eisenberg, and Annika Dube. Lead actors Cody Olson and Jenna Dierke holding a show poster. Dan Fox. (Photos courtesy of Steve Campbell, loco f/x photography)