Illusion Theater Timeline
For over 40 years, Illusion Theater has been a force in pro-active, inspiring, educational and entertaining theater.
We invite you to journey with us back through the years.
Michael Robins and Roberta Carlson create the play Only One Sophie, based on the stories of Michael Robins' grandmother Sophie Simon Robins.
Jeffrey Hatcher, Bill Corbett and Chan Poling create the musical A Night in Olympus for the Fresh Ink Series. Illusion mounts a full production in Spring of 2016. Featuring Adam Qualls, Randy Schmeling, McKinnley Atichison, Tyler Michaels, Norah Long, Dieter Bierbrauer, Aimee K. Bryant, and Mark Rosenwinkel.
Michael Robins and Roberta Carlson create a musical revue Love & Marriage (2012) to combat the negativity, hateful language and politics that surround an effort to pass a state constitutional amendment to ban same gender marriage. The core of the narrative was filmed interviews with 19 Twin Cities' couples talking about their journey from meeting to falling in love to commitment in marriage. This play is a critical and box office success. Lavender‘s editor writes “a great example of art changing to reflect society."
Bonnie Morris with Kathy Anlauf and young women from the Girls in Action project develop a new education program- Keepin' It Real. The goal of the play is to provide real-life situations and skills to help teens navigate the transitions and dramas as they move from Junior High to High School.
Ellen Fenster and Illusion's Lighthouse Group invites the Transatlantic Love Affair to perform Ballad of the Pale Fisherman in the Lights Up Series. That production wins an Ivey. Transatlantic Love affair returns with Red Resurrected in 2012, Ash land in 2014 , These Old Shoes, Emilie /Eurydice in 2015. They present 105 Proof or The Killing of Mack "the Silencer" Klein in the fall of 2016.
Illusion commissions playwright Allison Moore to adapt Willa Cather's novel, My Antonia . The world premiere ( 2010) is in Minneapolis, then goes on to tour Minnesota ( 2011) (2012).In the Company isXXXXXXX
In the summer of 2014 Illusion is invited to present it at the Willa Cather International Festival in Cather’s hometown of Red Cloud, Nebraska. The production and the play win several awards including an Ivey for Katie Guentzel as Antonia , and an Ivey award for Allison Moore for the script.
"I had to look hard to see her face, which I meant always to carry with me; the closest, realest face, under all the shadows of women’s faces, at the very bottom of my memory.”
Also in 2009
Kim Bemis of Hazelden approaches Illusion to see if Illusion will produce the area premiere of Bill W. and Dr. Bob. This is a play by Samuel Shem and Janet Surrey about the founders of AA, Alcoholics Anonymous. Kim Bemis asks if Illusion will present it to be part of a celebration for Hazelden’s 60th Anniversary. The production includes Philip Callan, Carolyn Pool, Terry Hempleman, Beth Gilleland, Angela Haigh and Michael Paul Levin directed by Michael Robins with original music by Roberta Carlson.
The Recovery Community embraces the play ,each performance includes a post- show discussion with representatives of the Recovery Community .Remarkable stories are shared, a father who has struggled with his son ‘s addictions who tells us at the end of the show , that he never understood addiction until he saw this play . An AA group of eight farmers drive up from Winona. A husband and wife who come from Wisconsin through the snow ,on the way home, the wife says to her husband, "You never did that ?" The husband asks "What ? What are you talking about ? "The wife says "You never asked for my forgiveness. " The husband pulled the car off to the side of the road where he opened the door , got down on his knees in the snow and asked his wife to forgive him for all that his addiction had created for their relationship. An Native American woman who offers a welcome in her language from her nation to the Illusion Performing Company in Morehead.. The play is remounted in 2011, and then tours throughout Minnesota in 2013 with Carolyn Pool, Jim Cunningham , Stephen D’Ambrose, Laura Esping, Kate Guentzel and Michael PaulLevin.
Also in 2009
Illusion begins a new education program/play to combat child obesity – Ready Set ACTION! This project is the result of a collaboration with Dr. Dianne Neumark-Sztainer of the University of Minnesota Department of Epidemiology and Public Health under a National Institutes’ of Health Innovation Grant. The play is targeted to 4th through 6th graders. Older students rehearse and then perform the play for younger students. Bonnie and Michael are listed as co-authors in the evaluation published by Oxford Publications. This play continues to be performed in five sites in the Twin Cities.
Act a Lady written by Jordan Harrison and Peter Rothstein.
Stacey Dinner-Levin writes Autistic License a play inspired by the real life stories of her family, a family of six with one amazing son who is autistic. The play first appears on Illusion’s stage and then is presented as an in-service training to schools, community centers, helping professionals, temples, churches and clinics. It is presented for over 5 years.
“Autistic License is a docu-drama, a true to life play that takes audiences on the roller coaster ride of raising a child with autism. It is sometimes exhausting, sometimes exhilarating frequently a terrifying trip that informs, enlightens and entertains. Stacey Dinner Levin knows her material cold and delivers it with unflinching honesty.” —St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Ping Chong comes back to Minneapolis to collaborate with Illusion to tell the stories of six individuals who have lived through war and chaos in Six Lives. This play tours to Bemidji, Buffalo, Duluth, Fairmont, Rochester, St. Paul with support from the Robins Kaplan Miller Ciresi L.L.P. Stage for Social Justice and the Phillips Foundation.
The Young Artists Round Table becomes the Lighthouse Group under the leadership of Artistic Associate Ellen Fenster and Nathan Christopher. They launch the Lights Up! Series to have a place for the Lighthouse Group to produce work as part of Illusion’s Season. Founding Members in the Lighthouse Group include Ellen Fenster, Nathan Christopher, Katie Guentzel, Lindsay Hinman Marcy, and Claudia Vazquez. Works by Noah Bremer, Tim Cameron, Cory Hinkle, Kristopher Lencowski, Steve Molds have appeared in the Lights Up Series.The Lighthouse's first production is Nathan Christopher’s Silent and the Blu Loons.
Sez She with Michael Bigelow Doixon and Liz Engleman
Ping Chong returns to the Twin Cities Company of Undesirable Elements ten years after they first told their stories. Now he adds his own story and also up-dates the original members’ stories to include the ways they have been seen as "undesirable" and as "cherished" since the first performance of this show in the Twin Cities.
Mrs. Man Of God, a world premiere ,written by Beth GIlleland and Donald Bazzini presented—this play is the story of a man who is the partner of a minister who cannot reveal that relationship. He is the "minister’s wife." This play is presented at religious conferences throughout the Upper Midwest.
Charlie Bethel in 2005 Seven Poor Travelers world premiere.
Karen Finley’s 1990 performance ,We Keep Our Victims Ready, which she performed at the Walker Art Center helped touch off a national debate over NEA funding of individual artists .
Jesse Helms and his conservative colleagues targeted Ms. Finley, Tim Miller,Holly Hughes and John Fleck and then successfully amended the statute governing the National Endowment for the Arts to require ”general standards of respect and decency for the diverse beliefs and values of the American public” when awarding art grants. Subsequently the head of the NEA revoked solo performer fellowships from Karen Finley, Tim Miller, Holly Hughes and John Fleck----they became known as the "NEA Four."
Karen Finley was one of the National Endowment for the Arts Individual Artists whose grants were struck down in the culture wars
Michael Robins,Illusion's Producing Director was the NEA reporter who reviewed Karen Finley ‘s show at the Walker Art Center and his report about Ms. Finley’s work was a part of the case at the Supreme Court.
Karen performs Shut up and Love Me at Illusion and then returns to perform Make Love.
In the New York Times Mel Gussow wrote about Shut Up and Love Me—"In her highly visceral, startling monologues, Ms Finley forthrightly confronts urgent issues: prejudice, censorship, and most of all, the abuse of women." The Village Voice in its review of Shut Up and Love Me reports "…. A non-intimate evening with her is nearly inconceivable. Beneath the salaciousness, the ribaldry, and the disco soundtrack, Finley can invoke remarkable vulnerability, pathos, and beauty—as she proves at the end of the show, when she joyfully cavorts on a plastic –covered mat slathered in honey."
Composer of Two Weeks with the Queen, Rob Hartman recommends Illusion look at the new play Bubbly Black Girls Sheds her Chameleon Skin by Kirsten Childs, with musical direction by Roberta Carlson and starring Aimee K .Bryant. The Pioneer Press writes “ as effervescent as a show can get …. The bubbly mixture of humor and pathos makes for an entertaining—but not featherweight show. Illusion Theater has mounted a delightful production of the musical that deserves to attract a broad audience…”
Clear the Air written by Bonnie Morris, Michael Robins, Sima Rabinowitz.
With the Tobacco Legacy Funds Illusion is chosen to be a part of the Minnesota Department of Health's Youth Tobacco Prevention Initiative. Illusion creates a play performed by high school students aimed at middle school kids. Research tells us that if a kid doesn’t start smoking until age 18 there is a likelihood that they will not become a smoker. Research also tells us that many kids begin smoking at 9th grade, so the play is designed for 6th thru 9th graders , the goal of the play is to reach the students before they start to smoke.
The play's objective is to create a social environment where the use of tobacco becomes undesirable and unacceptable. The Tobacco Initiative’s goal was to decrease kids starting smoking by 30% over 5 years.
Illusion trains Teens to perform Clear The Air in Bemidji, North Branch, Fairmount, Staples Motley, Asian Media Access, Chicanos/Latinos United in Service. The project ended when the Tobacco Trust funds were diverted by the Mn Legislature when they faced a shortfall. When the funds stopped the Initial research showed that there was an actual 20% decrease in kids not starting smoking.
In the Fresh Ink Series Amy Anderson and Aimee Bryant create How Come Ain't No White People in this Show?
Also in 2002, Patty Lynch and Kent Stephens write Mrs. Mackenzie's Beginner's Guide to the Blues
A new piece for the Education Program No Laughing Matter ,a play about seven high school friends who experience the pressures and tensions of adolescence as they strive to develop a healthy self–image. All of the high school characters have a questionable relationship with food, one never eats, one is constantly eating, one talks incessantly about food, and another is a picky eater.
The impulse to create No Laughing Matter came from Illusion’s high school students at Highland Park Senior High in Saint Paul who felt it was an issue among their peers that no one was talking about. The play is made possible by contributions from Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation, The Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund and The Elmer L. and Eleanor J. Anderson Foundation.
Illusion Partnered with the U of MN Tucker Center to put on a conference Food For Thought in conjunction with the play to raise awareness about eating disorders. Dr. Dianne Neumark Sztainer was the keynote speaker at this conference which was the beginning of the relationship between Dr. Neumark Sztainer and Bonnie and Michael.
This year lllusion was the first professional theater to produce The Laramie Project, written by Moises Kaufmann with the Tectonic Theatre Company. It is the story of Matthew Shepard's murder, the trials and the aftermath in the town of Laramie Wyoming. The Company here includes Beth Gilleland, Aimee Bryant, Terry Hempleman, Zach Curtis. This production also features photos by Wing Young Huie. The critics here write "Prepare to be moved, provoked and rewarded."
The audience here in Minneapolis reports that by seeing this play, "This community will not let what happened in Laramie happen here." Several high school students see this production at Illusion and then request to produce The Laramie Project in their high school.
Illusion receives the Coming Up Taller award from the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, and National Endowment for the Humanities for Illusion’s National Peer Education Program.
Illusion launches a Young Artists Round Table run by Artistic Associate, Peter Rothstein to create a more formal way for Illusion to connect with young artists. Robins and Morris want to offer an opportunity to young theater artists who, like themselves, were actors interested in creating and developing new work. In this first group of Young Artists are Suzanne Warmanen, Paul De Cordorva.
Bonnie and Michael receive the Sally Ordway Irvine Award for Vision.
Bonnie Morris, Michael Robins and Karen Gundlach are invited to attend and present our educational work at the European Conference of the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect inJerusalem, Israel.
Illusion opens the renovated home on the 8th floor of the Hennepin Center for the Arts with the very first edition of Miss Richfield’s Holiday Pro’grum—Fall on Your Knees. The seats for the audience are being installed on the afternoon of opening. We are still waiting for the carpet installers to arrive to cover the floor when the show "goes on" but the bathrooms are in working order. Miss Richfield 1981 's show is a sell-out.
Connie Evingson who performed in Richard Thompson, Sanford Moore and Garry Q. Lewis’s Together brings her tribute to Peggy Lee Fever to Illusion. Connie follows that with Let It Be Jazz, a collection of Beatles hits.
Miss Richfield 1981’s Signed, Sealed and Delivered in Illusion's Fresh Ink Series.
Two Weeks with the Queen, an adaptation of Morris Gleitzman’s beloved book. The story follows a 12 year old Australian boy who travels to England to meet the Queen in order to find a cure for his brother’s cancer. While in London, he meets another Queen, a gay man who teaches him about what is important in life. Peter Rothstein directs and Rob Hartmann composes the music. The Company includes Michael Mahler, Jacob Mahler, Aimee K. Bryant, Beth Gilleland, Jonathan Rayson, Tod Peterson, Patricia Nieman, Clark Cruikshank.
MICAH—The Metropolitan Interfaith Council on Affordable Housing asks Illusion Theater to create a musical about justice in housing , Like Waters Rolling Down. A grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Fair Housing Initiatives Program partially funds the project. Like Waters is also sponsored by the United Way of St. Paul, Mn Dept. of Human Rights, House of Hope Presbyterian Church, Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church.
The play is written by Bonnie Morris Michael Robins, Kim Hines with music composed by Michael Keck. Included in the Company is Jeany Park, Michelle Cassioppi, Brian Page, Aimee K. Bryant, T. Mychael Rambo, Michael Paul Levin, Vanessa Murasa, Amy Anderson, Aimee K.Bryant, and Kim Schultz.
Willie Bridges, President ,with the Board of Directors launches a $1,500,000 Capitol Campaign to renovate the 8th floor Lobby and Theater and the 7th floor offices.
The Campaign is co-chaired by Colleen Carey and Linda Danielson. The Campaign was successfully completed with the support of a wide variety of small and large donors. The Dream Design Team includes Jonathan Baker, Architect; Suzanne Maurer, Interior Designer; Lighting Design by MichaelDiBlasi from Shuler and Shook; Concession and Box Office Design by Illusion Resident Designer Dean Holzman.Nadja Reubenova joins Illusion's Staff to be Managing Capitol Campaign Director.
Miss Richfeld's My Very Very Very Best
David Feldshuh is attending medical school at the University of Minnesota but he continues to do theatrical work with Illusion. In medical school he learns how the U.S. Public Health Service conducted a Study on the effects of syphilis in African American tenant farmers in Macon County, Alabama. He brings a draft of a play inspired by the Tuskegee Study to Illusion. It takes 2 days to read David’s first draft. Our first take is that it isn’t a play, but it could be a mini -series.
Miss Evers' Boys, premieres in 1990. The play portrays a fictional Nurse and four fictional men of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments. Performers include T. Mychael Rambo, Lester Purry, Mark Cryer, Danny Johnson, Dion Graham, Faye Price, Denise Micklebury, Brent Henson, Peter Moore and J. C. Cutler.
The Star Tribune writes, “Miss Evers Boys is a play that should be seen for its telling message and its theatrical power.”
The play is remounted in 1991 as the centerpiece of a National Symposium on the Legacy of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. Led by Bonnie Morris, partnering with Art Caplan of the U of MN's Center for Biomedical Ethics,Dr. Cassius Ellis Dean of the University of Mn Medical School and Kenyari Bellfield of the Urban Coalition, the Symposium includes researchers, scholars, legislators, health care leaders, community health workers. The United States Public Health Service began the Tuskegee Study in 1932 and continued it over 40 years. When the Study ended, led by Massachusetts’s Senator Ted Kennedy and Minnesota's Senator Walter Mondale the Senate initiated hearings to investigate how this could have happened. Here in Minneapolis, at the Symposium is the first time a member of the government,the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Dr. Louis Sullivan condemned the Study.
The play is a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize. It is the most produced play in America in 1992. In many communities symposiums patterned after our symposium about the history and ethics of the Study are held in conjunction with the play. In each town where the play is presented newspaper articles are written describing the history of the Study and the Legacy of the Syphilis Study's effects on contemporary healthcare issues for African Americans.
In 1997 It is made into an HBO movie by Laurence Fishbourne with Alfre Woodard, Joe Morton, Ossie Davis, Babatunde, E.G. Marshall. Alfre Woodard wins the Emmy, A Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild award for her performance as Nurse Eunice Evers.
The awareness generated by the Play, the Symposium and the HBOMovie prompts President Clinton on May 16, 1997 to invite the survivors and heirs of the study to the White House where he makes a formal apology for what the United States Public Health Service did.
"The United States government did something that was wrong, deeply, profoundly, morally wrong. To the survivors, to the wives and family members, the children and the grandchildren, I say what you know—no power on Earth can give you back the lives lost, the pain suffered, the years of internal torment and anguish. What was done cannot be undone. But we can end the silence. We can stop turning our heads away. We can look at you in the eye and finally say on behalf of the American people, what the United States government did was shameful, and I am sorry."
Herman Shaw, one of the survivors of the Study aged 94, is at the White House when President Clinton makes his apology. Mr. Shaw expressed gratitude to Clinton "for doing your best to right this wrong and to resolve that Americans should never again allow such an event to occur."
Michael joins the Board of Minnesota Aids Project, eventually serving as President of the Board. While there he meets the Aids Project Publicity Director Russ King. Michael invites Russ’s alter ego Miss Richfield 1981 to perform in Illusion’s Fresh Ink Series.
Miss Richfield’s physical humor and on the spot- zingers win us over. Since 1999 Miss Richfield has welcomed people from as far away as Fridley, Wayzata, and even P-Town to her annual Holiday Pro’grum on Illusion’s stage, creating a cherished Holiday tradition for over 2500 Minnesotans each year.
Russ introduces Illusion to his first videographer Karl Reichert—who eventually serves as President of the Illusion Board.
Also in 1997
Denial by Peter Sagal directed by Kent Stephens featuring Michael Paul Levin, Stephen D’Ambrose, Michael Tezla, Wayne Evenson.
Bill Venne moves from Development Director to become Managing Director.
Karen Gundlach becomes Education Director .
1996 Always and Forever Richard D. Thompson, Sanford Moore and Garry Q. Lewis’s musical features the talents of T. Mychael Rambo, Dennis Spears, Julius Collins III and Togba Norris. They play centers on four guys in a barber shop who share their perspectives about love through the R&B songs of the 60’s and 70’s. This show is sold out for 3 months. The team of Richard D. Thompson, Sanford Moore and Garry Q. Lewis go on to create two more R&B musicals 2gether (1997) with T. Mychael Rambo, Dennis Spears, David Fischer, Yolande Bruce Fisher , Connie Evingson, Gevonee Ford and Angela Joy and Living Beauty (1998) with Aimee K. Bryant, Yolande Bruce and Dennis Spears.
Later in 2010 with the assistance of Angel Karen Sternal Always and Forever is re-mounted to sold out houses, and again is remounted in 2012.
Also in 1996
Michael Keck’s Voices in the Rain.
Michael is in North Carolina visiting his family when an intruder tries to break in to his family’s home. When he is on the phone describing the intruder, he realizes that he fits the description of the man he is describing. At the police station he looks through the list of potential men who have prior offenses he sees many of his former school friends have served time . What is the difference between him and the guys who are incarcerated? This incident leads him to create Voices in the Rain—portraits of African American men in prison. The piece is a co-commission with Illusion and it is first seen in Illusion’s Fresh Ink Series directed by Kent Stephens and then in the Main season directed by Stephen Kent.
The CAPS Program, a collaboration between the Hennepin CountyJuvenile Probations Community Alternative Probation Supervision Program and Illusion where Illusion works with teens in the Juvenile Probation Program to create a play based on the young teens experiences. The first play titled No Stranger to Violence (1996) is a success for the kids in the program. Illusion continues working with juveniles in the County Probation Program for 7 years.
Dimly Perceived Threats to the System is created by Jon Klein, directed by Kent Stephens and featuring Beth Gilleland and Chris Denton. Jon’s play goes on from Illusion’s production to performances at Arena Theater in Washington, DC.
For Our Daughters is written by Bonnie Morris, Kim Hines and Michael Robins with music by Roberta Carlson. For Our Daughters is created from the stories of breast cancer survivors. Joan Wernick and Gail Hartman as if Illusion could create a piece portraying living through the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. They want people to know the importance of emotional support and connection as one travels through the journey of this illness, and how important it is to not go through the illness alone. Corky Einzig mobilizes a collection of friends of hers, Joan and Gail's to raise the funds to create the play. Coffees are held in homes across the metro area asking for contributions. Illusion's Managing Director Bill Venne coordinates the effort. There are 41 coffees and over 300 people contributed, to raise over $150,000 to bring the play to life.
The play includes filmed interviews with eleven survivors, each with a different supportive partner who travels through their journey of a diagnosis. Sometimes it is a husband, a friend, a son, a daughter or a sister. There is music written by Roberta Carlson, the performers include Beth Gilleland, Yolande Bruce, Thomasina Pettus and Michelle Francois.
It tours throughout Minnesota, and with special support, from MaryMilroy throughout the state of South Dakota. Illusion produces a Symposium with the play as the centerpiece, noted author Dr. Susan Love gives the keynote address. The title For Our Daughters comes from Bonnie’s mother who underwent experimental treatments for her breast cancer in the hopes that something would be discovered "for her three daughters."
Also in 1995
Rez Road Follies adapted from the book Walking Along the Rez Road which won the 1994 Minnesota Book Award, written and performed by Jim Northrup. The St Paul Pioneer Press writes,
“When Northrup cautions that if we are to judge why his people chose to live in the Fond Du Lac, then we are seeing things 'through white eyes.' Rez Road Follies eloquently details this other way of living, where the lack of suburban comforts is made up for in family and community. There's a message in the punch line of Northrup's joke, 'What was the Indian name for Duluth? Home.'"
Michael Robins and Peter Rothstein create the musical revue Hey Boy featuring Peter Rothstein, Togba Norris, Jonathan Rayson and Joe Wilson Jr.
Michael Keck introduces his fellow collaborator James Still to Illusion. Illusion begins a relationship with playwright James Still as he writes and performs The Velocity of Gary, Not His Real Name in the Fresh Ink Series.
Illusion then produces Still’s Iron Kisses (2007) featuring Dane Stauffer and Beth Gilleland; then The Velvet Rut (2009) starring John Catron and Terry Hempleman; and I Love To Eat (2013) with Garry Geiken. Illusion commissions a new play from James Still for the 2015-2016 Season Miranda. It has a workshop production in Illusion’s Fresh Ink Series in 2014 with Carolyn Pool, James Cada, Delta Giordano, Beth Gilleland, and Darius Dotch. It is performed at Illusion in February 2017 featuring Carolyn Pool, Steve Hendrickson, Delta Giordano Ricky Morriseau and Beth Gilleland.
Undesirable Elements: Twin Cities with Ping Chong. The play uses the stories of a diverse group of individuals who were seen as "the Other" or "Undesirable" here in Minnesota or in their own culture. Performing their own story are Dennis Hines, Jose Alberto Panelli, Elsa Batica, Nkauj’lis Lafoung, Ariada Magril, Sharon Day, Mustafe Musse, Mai Moua .
Ping writes, "Undesirable Elements draws its power from the simple act of naming oneself in public. Since each individual's experience encompasses that of his or her ancestors and culture, the piece is a journey through the turbulent history of the twentieth century from a global perspective."
Undesirable Elements is invited to be an orientation piece for freshman in college, a diversity training piece for corporations, utility companies, state departments, lawyers, judges. It tours for over fifteen years.
Tad Simons in The Twin Cities Reader writes,
"The audience witnesses the creation of a 'community' of people brought together by courageous bewildering and occasionally odd transcultural experiences. The cumulative power of these shared stories is nothing short of astonishing."
Kent Stephens begins his creative career with Illusion, going on to direct Patty Lynch’s play Earthly Delights, then their joint collaborations Death Valley Scottie and the Mystery Mine (2002), Mrs. MacKenzies "Beginners' Guide to the Blues" (1999), and then he writes and directs a tribute to Allen Ginsberg Angel Headed Hipster (1998). In the Ginsberg piece are performers TR. Knight, Brian Goranson, Michael Tezla, T. Mychael Rambo, Terry Hempleman, Michelle Cassioppi.
Also in 1994
Three Viewings begins Illusion’s relationship with playwright Jeffrey Hatcher and director Kent Stephens. The play features Wayne Evenson, Mary McDevitt and Shirley Venard. Three Viewings goes on to a celebrated production featuring Buck Henry at the Manhattan Theater Club in New York, and then is performed and continues to be performed in many other cities.
Since that first outing with Mr. Hatcher Illusion has commissioned/produced nine plays of his including No Strings (1996), his adaptation of Henry James’s Turn of the Screw (1998), Good N’ Plenty (2001), Murderers (2005), Mercy of a Storm, Mrs. Mannerly (2008), What’s the Word For (2012), Jeffrey Hatcher’s Hamlet (2014), and A Night in Olympus (2016).
Kim Hines brings From Slavery To Freedom: Let Gospel Ring with the Minneapolis Gospel Sound to Illusion’s stage, directed by Richard Thompson and featuring Kimberly Elise and Terry Bellamy. This begins a long creative period with Kim Hines as a writer. She writes Do Not Pass Go (1992), Cut on the Bias (1993), Don’t Let Them Catch You (1995), I’ll Believe I’ll Run On and See What the End’s Gonna Be (1999), Jus’ for a While (2001), If You Don’t Really Want to Know, Don’t Ask Me (2003), collaborates on the books for Always and Forever (1996), 2gether (1997) and Living Beauty (1998).
She is also part of the team that created For Our Daughters (1994) and Like Waters Flowing Down (1999).
In addition, Illusion will always be grateful to Kim when she encouraged her father, Dennis Hines, to be a part of the Company in Ping Chong’s Undesirable Elements (1995).
Hard Times Come Again No More is created by Martha Boesing adapted from Meridel LeSueur's stories and directed by Steven Kent. The Company includes Michael Belfione, Randy Latimer, Elizabeth Albrecht, Jennifer Boesing, Nancy Marvy, Mary McDevitt, and Aaron Kjenaas. Meridel LeSueur aged 94, attends the opening. Peter Vaughan writes, "Set in a boarding house during the truckers strike in 1934. Hard Times is an enriching human document filled with humor, truth and compassion."
Patrick Scully, who choreographed Illusion’s signature work, Orlando performs Queer Thinking in Illusion’s Fresh Ink Series. The Star Tribune reports, "Scully is a gay activist who talks about the rules of conduct for living in a heterosexual world, how he survived a gay bashing incident and what it is like living with HIV. Scully doesn’t preach, he shares using the rich details of his full and interesting life. Kudos to the artist for creating such an uncompromising show and Illusion for staging it."
Later Mr. Scully performs The Naked Truth (2001) and with Djola Branner Forever Hold Your Piece (1996) and in 2014 Patrick Scully launches his signature piece Leaves of Grass Uncut about Walt Whitman in Illusion’s Fresh Ink Series. Quote XXXXX
Miss Dessa by Shirley Hardy Leonard, directed by Shirley Jo Finney and featuring Kimberly Elise, Kevin Linell, Stephanie Lusco, T. Mychael Rambo, James Craven, Lester Purry, and Fawn Wilderson.
Shirley Jo Finney returns to direct Endesha Ida Mae Holland's From the Mississippi Delta (1993) and later directs Cindi James Gossett in The Hand of God (1996).
Enlightenments on an Enchanted Island is created by Marion McClinton. Marion is well known as a director, but it is harder and harder for him to get the time to write. For Illusion, he writes Enchanted Island featuring Kimberly Elise, Kathryn O’Malley, Trudy Monett, Jim Craven, Mark Cryer, Mary McDevitt, Elizabeth Teefy. He pens Beauty is a Rare Thing (2007) and he later adapts Toni Morrison’s novel Jazz. When McClinton finishes it, Illusion is ready to produce McClinton’s Jazz.
Celebrating Diversity is created as a play designed to be used in the workplace to highlight a variety of workplace diversity issues. Developed in such a way that Illusion could tailor it to fit any kind of workplace and be used as part of a company-wide or department only training. This play tours to corporations, churches, schools and colleges. NSP invites Illusion to perform it for all of its 7000 employees.
Also in 1993
Endesha Ida Mae Holland's From The Mississippi Delta is directed by Shirley Jo Finney. Delta explored Dr. Holland’s journey from street-walking in Mississippi to the Voting Rights Movement in Mississippi to getting her Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota. Ms. Holland comes to see the play and is honored by the University of Minnesota with an honorary doctorate. Kim Hines, Tonia Jackson and Andrea Kim White perform in Delta. It receives a Critic’s Choice award.
Also in 1993
Beth Gilleland creates her one woman show Whistling Girls and Crowing Hens. The title’s origin is from the saying "Whistling Girls and Crowing Hens always come to some bad ends." In this piece Beth deals with how girls are raised to be quiet, indecisive and modest. The critics said she "merrily exposes the small absurdities that have misshapen us and mashes them under the stiletto-sharp heel of laughter."
Girls sells out, is remounted, tours, and tours to Off-Broadway.
Bonnie and Michael create the position of Artistic Associate to give a home and health insurance to a number of artists important to Illusion—the first group is comprised of Kim Hines, Beth Gilleland, Dean Holzman, Peter Rothstein and Kent Stephens. Sima Rabinowitz joins in 1998, Kim Hines leaves in 2000, and Ellen Fester joins.
Illusion launches a Commissioning Program Arts Over Aids to ask playwrights to write work inspired by the HIV/Aids crisis.
William Yellowrobe pens a play, Eric Anderson writes Christopher’s Shirt and Kim Hines writes Do Not Pass Go.
This Commissioning Program starts relationships with these playwrights that continue for several years. Eric Anderson pens No Place to Park featuring Bonnie Morris, Walton Stanley, Mary McDevitt and Paul Law with music by Gary Rue. Eric then writes an adaptation of two of Willa Cather’s stories–The Sculptor’s Funeral and Song of the Lark titled Among our Own. In 1998 he writes Leap in the Dark for the Fresh Ink Series.
In the Fresh Ink Series, Beth Gilleland creates If We Never Meet Again with Sue Scott, Mary McDevitt and Josette Antomarchi directed by Louise Smith. Later Beth writes Whistling Girls and Crowing Hens (1993) and she creates Spirit House in 1999 with composer Mary Ellen and director Casey Stangl.
Karen Gundlach joins the Illusion as a Production Stage Manager, then grows into the role of Education Director. She has been at Illusion for over 20 years.
David Feldshuh introduces Illusion to the actor /composer Michael Keck. He composes music for several Illusion productions including Hard Times Come Again No More.
Two Company Members, Mark Cryer and Lester Purry, who acted in Miss Evers' Boys, write Objects In the Mirror Are Closer The They Appear which explores the differences within the African-American community on issues of police profiling and everyday racism. T. Mychael Rambo and Peter Macon appear in this play. Objects was the center piece for a local look at the disparities within the community on a variety of issues and it toured the Mid-West as part of college orientation programs. The Star Tribune writes, "A compelling first play, taut as a knotted muscle and as explosive as a gunshot in the night."
After the Rodney King case, members of the audience tell Illusion by seeing Objects they had a deeper understanding of what happened in Los Angeles.
Bonnie Morris and David Henry, Walker’s Education Director take on the leadership of a new organization PASS, Partners: Arts and Schools for Students. Pass is a collection of fifteen arts organizations who join together to create partnerships between arts organizations and secondary school teachers. What if we arts organizations build long term institutional partnerships with the schools? What if the artists were in the high schools and the teens were in our arts buildings? The PASS program teamed arts organizations with high school teachers to make the arts organizations programming available to be incorporated into schools' curriculum knowing the profound influence that the arts can have upon teaching, learning and living. Funding came from the Minnesota State Legislature, the Bush Foundation. The McKnight Foundation and the Minneapolis Public Schools. The program then moved to the Perpich Center.
Bonnie began teaching through the PASS program at South High in 1991 and she continues to teach a class there to this day.
Karla Ekdahl and Susan Weinberg ,Co-Chairs, launch the Future Fund, our first Capitol Campaign. The goal is to raise $50,000 for an Adventure Fund for Innovative Programming and a Cash Reserve for the future stability of the Theater. The campaign is successful .
Illusion invites Dane Stauffer who appeared in Ping Chong’s Snow to perform his one man show to Illusion Duesenberg 55 directed by Lesley Orr. Dane then writes a show for the Illusion Company Letters From Hell (1989). The cast includes Jim Cunningham, Mary McDevitt, Bonnie Morris, Walton Stanley. Dane also invites his favorite theatrical partner, Beth Gilleland, to appear in Letters from Hell, introducing Beth to Illusion. Later Dane writes Honeymoon (1991) directed by Myron Johnson, Guise( 1997), and Songs.
Both Sides Now was created with attorneys Tom Kaiser and Judith Langivan from the Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi Law Firm, and Illusion Company members Mary Sue Moses and Alfred Harrison on the issues of sexual harassment in the workplace. Although the play was created before the Anita Hill case, after her case in 1991, Both Sides Now toured across the country for three years.
Peoria with Jon Klein, Walton Stanley, and Mary McDevitt.
The playwright Jon Klein and Illusion receive a Rockefeller grant for a Commission for Jon to write a play about the South. Southern Cross intertwines six stories about the South including General Sherman, Runaway slaves, Huey Long, Martin Luther King, and Elvis Presley. In the Company are Walton Stanley, Marysue Moses, Faye Price, James A. Williams.
“The play attacks a huge amorphous subject with sensitivity, humor and respect. It emerges as a challenging imaginative treatment of very difficult material.” —Star Tribune.
The Bush Foundation and the Jerome Foundation help to support this commission.
Kevin Kling stars in his play Lloyd’s Prayer about a boy raised by raccoons, with Michael Sommers playing Lloyd, directed by Steven Dietz. Later in 2002, Illusion reprises the play with Brian Goranson directing, Nathan Christopher playing the Raccoon Boy, and Angie Haigh as the Angel and Zach Curtis as Lloyd. The Critics call Lloyd’s Prayer, “a fanciful comedy about the outsider in our society.”
Michael Robins and Gary Rue create a musical revue Men Sing. This is the beginning of Illusion’s interest in musical revues. Peter Rothstein, Joe Wilson and Dennis Spears are a part of the Performance Company.
The Star Tribune writes, "the songs are bright humorous balanced looks at the many sides of the male equation."
At the early part of the AIDS epidemic. Ryan White was one of the first children to be diagnosed with the disease. He was a hemophiliac. There was not much known about AIDS. His community forced him out of his middle school.
Members of our Twin Cities community asked Illusion to develop a theater piece for high school students to dispel myths about HIV/AIDS.
Amazing Grace—“If you can talk about sexual abuse to high school students, can you talk about sex and death? Can you talk about HIV/AIDS?"
The Bush Foundation, the Blandin and the Sheltering Arms Foundation support the Amazing Grace work. The play is a portrait of a community that confronts its own ignorance when one of the high school football players has AIDS. The play also includes filmed interviews with Company Member Drew Tillotson and his partner Archie Harrison who is HIV positive. Later Drew and Archie become the subjects of a Series of Radio Interviews on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered to chronicle what life is like living with HIV/Aids.
Amazing Grace tours throughout Minnesota. It plays in Cambridge, Gaylord, Elmore, North Branch, Red Wing, Duluth, Bemidji, Redwood Falls, Appleton Thief River Falls, Ely, Brainerd, Marshall, Grand Rapids, and Cass Lake among others. At some locations there is fear and resistance to illusion's performance. At one community there was a prayer circle. In Shakopee, over 400 people attend the performance. The Company is asked "Who in your company is gay?" A minister who led a post play discussion is told that she is "godless" and that she will "go to hell" because of her advocacy of the play. Another audience member announces to the audience that “The play isn’t about building HIV/Aids, awareness, it is about recruiting Homosexuals.”
In Mora, Minnesota, the presentation of the play triggers a movement to suspend sex and HIV education in the public schools, even though current Minnesota law requires AIDS/HIV instruction.
The pastor of the Assembly of God church in Mora, Pastor Squire speaks out against the play. He reads a statement, "Parts of the play seem to endorse homosexuality as an acceptable, alternate life style. We believe it is an aberrant lifestyle and a perversion of natural desires."
He begins to go on the talk show circuit, protesting Illusion's production. Later he said, "Am I to stop condemning sin as sin? I would have been remiss if I hadn’t spoken out, I could just as well have spoken about gossip, lying, cheating, adultery, drunkenness or drug abuse."
This leads to protests in Mora, outside Pastor Squires’ church when the church lets out its Sunday services. "Hey Ho Homophobia has got to go." signs are held as well as "I'm gay and I come from a small town." The Aids activist group ACT UP plans demonstrations, the Dykes on Bikes arrive adding their voice. The protests continue through out the summer. Right before school is to start, sex education is re-instated in the Mora School District.
In Appleton, Minnesota the pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church wrote to the Illusion Theater,
"All students in health classes wrote a one-page reaction paper of the performance. Overwhelmingly the students enjoyed the performance, they appreciated the factual, forthright, straight-talking production. They liked the characters, the humor, the students also appreciated speaking with the actors after the performance. Teachers had used the Illusion Theater’s excellent curriculum guide and that helped prepare the students for the production."
Amazing Grace plays to high schools, community centers, over 150 sites across the country. Bonnie is quoted in an article in the Star Tribune describing the title "the way a community deals with AIDS can be with grace, and that can be amazing."
One of the filmed segments in the play is a frank discussion between Archie and Minneapolis High School students whom Illusion has come to know as they teach in the schools. Archie tells the students they can ask him "anything they want."
Many myths and misperceptions about HIV/AIDS are dispelled. Several students present decide this conversation should not be limited to this exchange at the Illusion Theater. Two students petition the Superintendent of the Minneapolis School District to allow Archie to come to a Social Studies class at South High. At the time the Minneapolis District has a policy of prohibiting anyone who identifies himself or herself as gay, from entering a District school building. The superintendent Robert Ferrara allows Archie Harrison to come to South to share his story. Over 100 students cram into the classroom to hear Archie speak. Again he answers every and any question the students ask.
Also in 1988
Ping Chong creates with Illusion’s Company and two of Ping's Company Members John Fleming and Louise Smith the piece Snow. The production is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and the completed script is selected to be printed in the American Theater magazine.
Peter Vaughan writes, "The theater pieces of New York artist Ping Chong are invariably fascinating, challenging excursions into strange waters. This is certainly the case with Snow. Illusion Theater’s beautifully realized exploration of death, life, nature and human folly all built around snow as an apt and graceful symbol of the ephemeral essence of life. This is one of Illusion’s most ambitious undertakings and well worth a visit."
Illusion’s Board under the leadership of President Karla Ekdahl creates a signature fund-raising event, The Crystal Ball which takes over the IDS Crystal Court for the first time and sets a trend in non-profit fund-raisers. Illusion continues this theatrical event for five years. The Saturday afternoon of the 1987 World Series Kirby Puckett hit a dramatic home run that tied the Series at three games apiece sending the Twins into the final 7th game. That Saturday night all of Twin Cities was celebrating and illusion's Crystal Ball was the place to be.
Illusion’s Board brings back The Crystal Ball as a Halloween event with the expertise of super- event Maestro Scott Mayer and holds it first at the new Hotel Meridian (2004), and then at The Soap Factory (2005).
Once the Illusion moved from their Warehouse Theater to the 8th floor Theater in the Hennepin Center for the Arts, the expectations for the work to be seen in this new space changed. There was an anticipation that the work would match the upholstered chairs, the separate restrooms for women, men and the acting company, and a well appointed lobby on the 8th floor of the building. Illusion's mission was to generate work. New work created in the Illusion's Warehouse Theater on Washington Avenue, or in the New French Café building seemed to belong in those raw, more undeveloped spaces.
Bonnie and Michael realized that they needed to create a place within the Illusion season for Illusion to be able to continue to experiment and develop new work. They begin the Fresh Ink Series for new playwrights, new plays, and new ways to do theater, a place where Illusion artists get to try out their freshest ideas.
Also in 1987
Dean Holzman first becomes Illusion's Technical Director, then Production Manager and eventually Resident Designer. He has designed many sets for Illusion and was the first set designer to receive the McKnight Theater Artist Award.
Illusion develops a series of news and public affairs programs with WCCO Television-the CBS Affiliate-called Project Abuse which includes two weeks of programming on the nightly news to highlight the issues of child sexual abuse and Minnesota’s efforts at prevention. Included is a statewide broadcast of Touch made available to all school districts followed by a half hour facilitated discussion with a class of 3rd grade students in a Minneapolis classroom. This discussion is led by teacher Kathy Anlauf to model the handling the sensitive issues of talking about sexual abuse with elementary students.
Don Shelby leads a live Town Hall Forum about the issues. Illusion and WCCO win a Regional Emmy for Project Abuse in the Community Programming category.
Target Inc., a division of the Dayton Hudson Corporation asks Illusion to develop a play similar to Touch "to celebrate the spirit of family." Target’s plan "Project Family" is to present the new play as they move into new markets. Illusion creates Family a musical that celebrates all the new ways family is being defined. It is first performed at the Walker. Family tours from 1986 through 1995.
Spalding Grey presents A Retrospective—six of his monologs—over a two week span in Illusion’s Washington Avenue Warehouse Theater to sold-out houses. A reviewer calls it
"eccentrically personal, revealing a deeper commentary on our collective lives and times."
Illusion invites Jon Klein, one of the playwrights Illusion commissioned in 1983, to collaborate with Paul D’Andrea to write a piece inspired by Einstein’s life. The great paradox of Einstein’s life was that he was a pacifist, and yet was drawn to play a decisive role introducing atomic warfare to global politics.
Klein and Andrea’s The Einstein Project directed by David Feldshuh with music by Kim D. Sherman premieres at the Walker, then plays encore performances in the Cricket Theater on the 8th floor of in the Hennepin Center for the Arts. Ben Kreilkamp plays Einstein. The Company includes James A. Williams, Walton Stanley, Mary McDevitt, Alfred Harrison, Mary McDevitt, Leslie Ball, Bonnie Morris. Dean Holzman builds the set. It is brought back for encore performances in 1987.
Mike Steele writes in the Star Tribune
"This is provocative stuff...dealing with large concepts in an entertaining and theatrical way, it deserves mighty praise in an era of tiny–minded plays."
Also in 1985
Illusion invites Ping Chong to come to Minneapolis. Ping mounts Angels of Swedenborg which is performed first at the Walker and at the Southern. The entire stage floor is covered in white turkey feathers.
This begins an over twenty year creative relationship with Ping. Illusion produces Nosferatu (1987), Snow (1988), Kindness (1992), Undesirable Elements (1995), Undesirable Elements Ten Years Later (2005), and Six Lives (2007).
Two of Ping’s company members join the Illusion Company to create Snow—Louise Smith and John Fleming. They continue the relationship with Illusion producing Gold (1992), Interfacing Joan(1997), and Donkey Skin (2001).
Joann Verburg photographs the angels in Angels Of Swedenborg.
Lighting ignites a fire in Illusion’s Washington Avenue Warehouse Theater and Offices. The sprinklers ran for over 8 hours, the water damage is devastating. Illusion returns to the Hennepin Center for The Arts. The Cricket Theater has recently left the building, so space is available. Illusion has made its home here since 1985, now renamed the Cowles Center.
Illusion presents The Marx Brothers’ musical The Cocoanuts in their new home featuring Jim Haun as Groucho, Steven Epp as Chico, Alfred Harrison as Harpo, and Marysue Moses as the Margaret Dumont character.
In 2005 Illusion remounts The Cocoanuts with Jim Cunningham as Groucho, Kevin Dutcher as Chico, Michael Paul Levin as Harpo, Beth Gilleland and Michelle Cassioppia as the Margaret Dumont character and Dieter Bierbrauer as Zeppo. The Company includes Patricia Neiman, Randy Schmelding, Ann Michaels, Mary McDevitt, Bonnie Morris. Brian Sostek and Megan McClelland are the choreographers.
Kevin Kling performs his new play 21A in Illusion’s Washington Avenue Warehouse theater.
In 1983 Illusion transforms their award-winning play Touch into a film. The Bionic Woman, Lindsay Wagner is the celebrity spokesperson in Touch with music by Libby Larson and featuring students from Southside Family and Learning School.
Illusion forges new territory by aligning with a for-profit LLC to produce and market the film and the study guide.
This movie was the most purchased educational film in 1985.
Illusion initiates a program with five local playwrights, Nancy Beckett, Marisha Chamberlain Frank Pike, David Michael Erickson and Lee Blessing to commission work for the Company. The Company includes: Steve Epp, Marysue Moses, Alfred Harrison, Mary McDevitt, Bonnie Morris and Michael Robins. This commissioning program continues for the next three years including commissions to writers Eric Anderson, Chris Cinque, Gabrielle Cody, Steven Dietz, Kevin Kling, Jon Klein, Jaime Meyer, Ric Ponzio, Michael Smith, and Ken Cavender among others.
City Pages Robert Collins "writes For a theater dealing in collaboration this has to be the ultimate collaborative effort: seven writers, four directors, and eight actors."
Illusion continues to expand its reputation and repertory of Education Plays and Program. Nancy Riestenberg joins Illusion as Communication Director then the Outreach Director and growing into the position of Prevention Education Director.
She stays at Illusion for XX years.
Also in 1982
Illusion built the walls, refinished the floors, and carved out a rehearsal area from the raw warehouse space for their studio in what became known as The New French Cafe Building on 2nd Avenue North. Illusion is one of the pioneers of the Warehouse District. In July rent triples at their studio. This rent increase forces Illusion to move further into the Warehouse District, Illusion finds a place at North Washington and 3rd Avenue North, across from the Monte Carlo restaurant. Once again Illusion begins the process of reclaiming a warehouse space—renovating two floors to create space for Illusion’s 75 seat theater and offices all under the same roof. Illusion is introduced by artist Michael Sommers to designer Dean Holzman, who designs and builds Illusion's Warehouse Theater on Washington Avenue .
After touring Touch around the country, Illusion realizes that another way must be worked out to meet the needs of all the people who request to see it. The solution becomes Illusion’s award-winning Peer Education Program. Illusion licenses the script Touch to a high school or college community. The licensing includes a 2-3 day retreat training of the Peer Educators, they are trained in the issues of the play’s content, they learn about the community’s resources, and they stage and rehearse the play. Peer Educators then perform the play to their community over the next 5- 12 weeks. Originating with Touch, this program has shared over eight Illusion scripts in over twenty-five communities in 10 states since 1981.
Scripts that have been licensed include Touch, No Easy Answers, Peace Up, What Goes Around, Everyone's Business, and No Laughing Matter.
Some of the communities presenting Illusion’s scripts have been partnering with Illusion for over 30 years. Susan Letheby began her Illusion Licensing program in Lincoln Nebraska in 1993. Jean Bratvold, the guidance counselor of Bagley Public Schools in Minnesota performed Touch in the Clearwater County for 27 years. Jean won the 1996 Counselor of the Year Award, she attributes the awar as a result of her work in sexual abuse prevention and youth service.
Peter Brook‘s theater company, the International Center of Theater Research comes to Minneapolis to perform The Ik sponsored by the Walker Art Center. The Ik, inspired by Colin Turnbull’s book is presented at the Southern. Illusion welcomes Brook’s company to their warehouse studio and the two companies share stories and theater techniques.
Also in 1981
Becoming Memories written by Arthur Giron directed by David Shookoff devised from the stories of the grandparents of the Illusion Company Members- Bonnie Morris, Michael Robins, Steven Epp, Alfred Harrison, Mary McDevitt and Marysue Moses. Photographer Joann Verburg creates portraits of the characters of Becoming Memories.
Becoming Memories is produced, tours throughout the Upper Midwest, and in 1984 with help from Jim Binger is done in a workshop production Off-Broadway produced by Liz McCann and Nell Nugent .
Becoming Memories continues to be performed by college and community theaters for over forty years.
Also in 1981
John Montilino becomes Managing Director and holds that position for fifteen years.
Also in 1981
No Easy Answers a follow-up piece to Touch is developed for high school age youth on sexual abuse, date rape, incest and violence prevention. No Easy Answers tours extensively and was made it into a video in 1987 by Jonathan Carlson with our local CBS affiliate WCCO Television with support from Northwestern Bell.
A student writes to the Company:
"No Easy Answers is one of the kindest things you can give a student next to a diploma."
Since Illusion has worked so much in the areas of adolescent sexuality Illusion commissions playwright Nancy Beckett to do a new adaptation of the Frank Wedekind play Spring Awakening. It is presented first in DK Studios, featuring Bonnie Morris, Marysue Moses, Mary McDevitt, Craig Benson, Steven Epp, Kate Fuglei, Donald Hutera, D. Scott Glasser, Alfred Harrison, and Michael Robins directed by David Feldshuh with music by Kim D. Sherman. This play is then remounted for encore performances at the Southern Theater.
From Mike Steele’s review in the Tribune—
“The Illusion Theater under David Feldshuh’s perceptive, sensitive direction is giving the play such a graceful, loving, gentle production that the tragedies that run through it have an immense, moving power leading to constantly fresh insights into adolescent pain.”
Sue Haas and Michael Sommers arrived from Milwaukee to come live in Minneapolis. Sue was told by her theater professor at U of Wisconsin Milwaukee ,Herb Felsenfeld, to look up Bonnie when she got to Minneapolis ( Professor Felsenfeld was also one of Bonnie’s teachers). Sue met Bonnie in the staircase of the apartment building where they both lived. Sue designed costumes for Becoming Memories. Michael Sommers did sets for Illusion’s production of Edward Bond’s Restoration.
Later Michael creates Ein Hungerkunstler adapted from Kafka’s The Hunger Artist (1988) and The Darren Cycle ( 1991) in Illusion’s Fresh Ink Series.
Cordelia Anderson, a co-creator of Touch, leaves the Hennepin County’s Attorney’s Office , and serves as the illusion Theater’s Prevention Education Director. She holds this position for 12 years.
The Illusion Theater is one of the first theaters to perform in the former Guthrie II , now renamed as The Southern Theater. For our performance Illusion’s David Krchelich rewires the electricity in the proscenium arch of the Southern –getting those light bulbs to work for the first time in over 75 years.
Illusion performs at The New Theater Festival in Baltimore, Maryland. There, Bonnie and Michael meet Bill Irwin, Spalding Grey and Ping Chong.
Minnesota Reporting law established.
Illusion presents Bill Irwin in his first appearance in the Twin Cities.
Illusion is one of the first organizations to move its offices into the renovated Masonic Temple on the corner of 6th and Hennepin in downtown Minneapolis, which is renamed the Hennepin Center for the Ars,later becoming the Cowles Center .Brooke Portmann becomes Managing Director.
Marlow Burt, Executive Director of the St. Paul Ramsey Arts Council and Jim Howland, Managing Director of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, become friends and advisors to Bonnie and Michael. With their mentoring, Illusion hires Jane Stamstad, Illusion’s first Administrator.
With University of Minnesota ‘s English /Shakespeare Professor Toni McNaron, Bonnie and Michael create Several Stray Matters adapted from the works of Virginia Woolf. This is performed at the Walker Art Center. One of the stories the three perform is from Virginia Woolf’s fantastical novel Orlando. The Illusion Company decides to do a physical adaptation of Orlando. They read the book aloud, and then spin out theatrical ideas, musical impressions into a 200 note-card script. David Feldshuh directs, Kim D. Sherman composes music, Patrick Scully does the choreography, the Company includes Robin Taylor, Louis Linder III, Marysue Moses,Mary McDevitt, Alfred Harrison and Bonnie Morris and Michael Robins . The resulting work develops into a signature piece for Illusion, it remains in the repertory for three years, tours extensively across the country both to the East and West coasts. This piece introduces Illusion to the national Theater Community.
Bonnie and Michael become Co-Producing Directors of the Theater.
Bonnie and Michael take a working sabbatical and travel to England to study the British Theater- in-Education- programs. The British system of theater is a way of engaging people in a dialogue of ideas.
Mary McDevitt. who studied physical theater in France with Michael, returns to Minneapolis to work with the Company.
"The play is derived not by a single playwright ‘adapting’ the novel, but through hundreds of hours of group improvisation honed into a script only at the end. Thus the work has a sense of immediate inspiration and is so involving that, watching, I felt as though I myself had become inspired…Only for work of surpassing quality will allow myself to be enticed to stand at performance at performance ‘s end. For Illusion Theater I was first to my feet." —
A review from Eugene, Oregon
Also in 1977
Touch is created in partnership with the Hennepin County Attorney's Office.
Cordelia Anderson and Deborah Anderson of the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office receive a grant from the McKnight Foundation to research the incidence of child sexual abuse. Research has shown that sex offenders often were abused as children, if the children could be educated, perhaps the cycle of abuse could be stopped. Motivated from their training in the British –theater- in- education work Bonnie and Michael sign on to the HCAO ‘s program as the ” media partner.” Together we develop a theatrical way to illuminate the difference between nurturing touch that feels “good,” confusing touch, and exploitative touch that feels “yucky.”
Touch launches Illusion's approach to education locally and nationally. When Illusion tours Orlando to the West coast, they perform Touch at a District Attorneys’ Conference in the state of Washington. The Company is then invited to present Touch at the National Child and Neglect Conference in LA. Soon calls are coming from all over the country requesting a performance. Federal grant guidelines are rewritten for prevention education funding in order for Illusion Theater to apply for support from the Health and Human Services Department. Illusion is the first theater to receive a grant from the HHS of the federal government.
Touch changed the way sexual abuse of children is understood not only in America, but also throughout the world.
Larry Batson in the Star Tribune writes about Illusion’s Touch—
“If you can, watch a performance of “Touch”. It carries an audience of small children and their parents a great distance in a few minutes .From embarrassment and distaste to open exchanges. It is non-threatening ,never judgmental . There is no nudity or obscenity. The language is plain and simple, the vocabulary of Touch is quickly learned and established ,smirks and giggles die away swiftly . To a degree, a performance sets its own pace. And before it is over, the audience has come a long way from an awkward beginning.
A child learn many things in the give and take among actors, moderators ,and audience ….What sexual abuse is, that the victim is not to blame, that somebody should be told parents, a friend, teachers, police, to trust feelings—if you’re uncomfortable or don’t like it, don’t do it--- and a child has a right to say no.”
In Albuquerque New Mexico Pamela Salmon writes:
“They call themselves the Illusion Theater, yet they portray reality. It is a child’s reality, one which can be threatening or inviting ,offensive or pleasurable …”
The Pioneer Play exploring the stories of the European families who came to make a home in Minnesota created by Michael Robins, Carol Harris Lipshultz, Bonnie Morris, Sheila Gowan, Nancy Joseph, Pam Hansen and Delton Silberstein, tours to ten Minnesota communities to celebrate the Bicentennial. This tour begins Illusion’s connections to communities across Minnesota.
Carol leaves the Theater to pursue other professional opportunities.
Illusion renovates and moves into its first home. Located on the corner of 4th Street and 2nd Avenue North in Minneapolis, it is the first artist -run building, eventually known as the New French Café Building, in what will become the Warehouse District in downtown Minneapolis. David Krchelich’s studio is across the hall, he becomes Illusion’s Set Designer, and later Illusion performs in the warehouse theater he built DK Studios.
During these years Illusion performs in every available venue in the Twin Cities including the Walker Art Center, Guthrie II (which later becomes the Southern Theater), O’Shaughnessy, St. Paul Arts and Science Center, the Walker Church and Gibbs Farm Museum.
Michael Robins and CarolHarris Lipschultz study in Paris - with Etienne Decroux, Ella Jaroszewiczand Marcel Marceau.Theyreturn tothe Twin Cities teaching at the Guthrie ,CTC, the University ofMN. They find an eagernessfromactors, dancers tostudyphysicaltheater. My Illusions is presented at the Walker Art Center.The performanceat the Walker launches theIllusion Theater.
Illusion Theater is founded by Michael Robins and Carol Harris Lipschultz. in May 1974. Bonnie Morris is a founding member.