It’s a class. It’s a theater company. It’s Camden Civic Theatre, and its mission is to bring what founder Jeff Redman calls “the acting experience” to the North Side.
Redman, who lives with his wife and company stage manager Jennifer Redman in the Victory neighborhood, is an actor/director who has been teaching “Fundamentals of Theater and Acting” through the Minneapolis Public School district’s community education program for three years. “I started teaching class with three students. We’ve been growing; last Monday, there were 20 people. We have a core group of eight or nine people who show up on a regular basis.”
Redman’s “core group” also includes four members of Camden Civic Theatre’s resident acting company, The Above Broadway Players, which refers to their location north of West Broadway in North Minneapolis. All of the company members, he added, are former students.
“Our dream is to grow large enough to have a space for the Camden Civic Theatre, with continually running seasons. We want to have a full company and bring in guest artists, as well as offer classes and workshops in the Camden area,” Redman said.
His goal is to train inexperienced Northside people to be actors. The students from his classes are a feeder group for Camden Civic Theatre and the Above Broadway Players. They might also perform in other Twin Cities area shows; Jennifer Redman said that several former students recently appeared in a Children’s Theater Company production.
The current class, which meets Mondays, 7-9 p.m. in the Patrick Henry High School auditorium, is the first that won’t put on a play at the end of the sessions. (Plays have included The Miracle of St. Anthony, spring, 2003; A Snowbound Christmas Carol, winter, 2004; An Evening’s Diversion, early spring, 2005; Nightmares, spring, 2005 and Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, fall, 2005.)
But Redman said he found out that didn’t work so well, because everybody spent all their time focusing on the play and not on the mechanics of learning how to act. “We forgot about teaching them what it means to be an actor and learning the basics of theater. This time we’re going to end with a low key presentation to family and friends.”
In exchange for not doing a play, however, Redman said that the Above Broadway Players company will do its first full-fledged production this spring.
“We want to make sure we do something and do it right. We’ll have open auditions and we’re encouraging people from our classes to come to them. We’ll post the auditions in local newspapers.”
He added, “People who are company members will have a slight edge.”
In addition to attending ongoing classes, company members get together outside of class and “plan what we’re going to do,” Redman said.
When asked what he’d do with a student who was a terrible actor, he said, “We work with that. Our mission is to bring [them] the experience of participating in and viewing quality theatrical productions. Even if they’re the worst actors in the world, we’ll find a spot for them; selling tickets, making posters, helping out.”
He said he’s found, however, that people generally know whether they’re going to be good or not. He said he has taught more than 125 students.
The classes typically attract more women than men. “We have five men and 15 women. The age range is from 23 to 71, with the average being from the 30s to mid-40s. It becomes difficult to do a play with a group like that; not that many plays that are acceptable for community theater can accommodate that many women. Sometimes you have to write your own plays; once when we had four people in a class we ended up writing a play for four people.”
“One woman showed up for the first class and said she only wanted to do something back stage, or else she said she’d be something like a tree. She was the lead in our next four productions; she turned out to be a real trooper.”
Wayne Anderson, a student who has been with the group since 2004 (he played Scrooge in A Snowbound Christmas Carol and Old Man Warner in The Lottery) said he performed in a Camden-area community theater group in the 1980s.
“This class is very instructive,” he said. “Jeff does a good job. I like the socialization and the productions. I think a lot of people should go out for this if they’re at all interested in acting.”
Lind Bohanon resident Dan Hylton is a student and acting company member. A musician, singer and songwriter (he wrote and produced an album titled “Camden Gardens” several years ago), he said he took his first acting class from Redman a year ago.
“I was used to being in plays in high school and college, where you have six weeks to rehearse,” Hylton said. “Here we were putting on hour-long one act plays with a total rehearsal time of two hours a night for six sessions. It was a crazy sort of seat-of-your-pants way to throw a production together, fun but stressful. I found it so exciting in the spring that I came back for another class in the fall.”
He said he has great hopes for the Camden Civic Theatre. “I found out that we have more theater seats in the Twin Cities, per person, than any other U.S. city. North Minneapolis has a fifth of Minneapolis’ population, but no theaters. We’re needed here.”
Redman said that, so far, money hasn’t been a problem. “Through community education we get the meeting and performance space for free and our props have been donated. We pull together costumes from things we have. I ask for a $25 materials fee in the beginning from the students.”
However, he added, “We’re getting to the point where we’re going to need more money. We’re submitting a proposal to [a North Side non-profit organization] to become our fiduciary agent. If they approve our proposal we can start applying for grants and obtain tax exempt status.”
Redman said that although the class is full, “anybody is welcome to stop by and see if it’s something they want to do.”
For information, check the community education web site, www.mplscommunityed.com, or the theater’s web site, home.mn.rr.com/jjredman or email, firstname.lastname@example.org. com, or call 612-529-2584.