Actress Kim Kivens and Director Jennie Ward Dive into a solo performance on women's health

What I Thought I Knew, by Alice Eve Cohen

Limited Run: August 18 - 30, 2018


Alice, an infertile Jewish woman in her 40s, discovers a hard lump in her abdomen. After months of tests, a doctor determines that she is pregnant. Through endless health and wellness appointments during her unplanned high-risk pregnancy, Alice shares her most intimate thoughts and fears as depression sinks in. Told with honesty and humor, this powerful, one-woman-show based on a true story poignantly reveals one woman’s journey through the American health care system. Experience this heartfelt play anchored in motherhood, marriage, and the cycle of life. Based on the book by Alice Eve Cohen that Oprah hailed as "Darkly hilarious... an unexpected bundle of joy."


What I Thought I Knew features Kim Kivens playing nearly 40 different characters in the course of 90 minutes. Kim was previously seen at MJTC in Church & State, Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, Natasha and the Coat, and was recognized by Lavender Magazine as a Best Supporting Actress for her role as Muriel in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Minneapolis Musical Theatre). Read more about the production and the artists here.


Actress Kim kivens

Actress Kim kivens

Kim, what is it like to play nearly 40 characters in the course of 90 minutes?

This is what drew me to this piece…It is a challenge, for sure, but so much fun. I love a good back story and to give these characters in the play that only show up once or have one line or two the same attention to those who are showing up throughout, is so important. It helps me to marry their physicality and voice.

This one-woman performance is based on a true events and the book of the same name. Due to these facts, how have you approached this play differently?

Knowing that you are putting up something on stage that actually happened can be daunting especially when it’s a story such as this. When I first read the play, I had a lot of jaw dropping moments. This story is, in so many ways, unbelievable. Which can create challenges to convey to the audience the reality of it. It’s raw and our main character, Alice, makes herself so very vulnerable and open. She invites the audience into her journey. Breaking that wall with the audience is difficult sometimes for an actor but for this play, the way we want to tell this story, it’s important.

As a mother yourself, what aspects of Alice’s journey do you find relatable? Foreign?

Well, we adopted our amazing daughter, Lily, from Russia in 1999, which is right around the time this story starts to take place. I could relate to Alice, heavily, being an adoptive parent and having my own past personal struggles with infertility. The foreign aspects for me, I have experienced being pregnant and the loss of pregnancy but I have never been in labor. Then there are some of the agonizing thoughts that go through her head throughout. I go back and forth on what I would do exactly if I were in her shoes. That’s something, after working on this piece, I can honestly say I am not sure I could ever have an answer for.

"I could relate to Alice, heavily, being an adoptive parent
and having my own past personal struggles with infertility." 

Director Jennie Ward

Director Jennie Ward

Jennie, as director, how do you make sense of all the changes in time, space, and character within this complex single narrative?

First, you just accept that we are operating outside of linear time and space. This play does not replicate reality. Then you define where we are: in this case, we are in the auditorium at Highland Recreation Center, with Kim Kivens and the particular and specific group of people who have come to hear this story. That may sound obvious, but it’s actually quite specific and defining. We will not sit in the dark and lose track of where we are, lose ourselves in the story. Instead, we remain aware that Kim is using her tools, skills, and immense spirit to bring to life another woman’s story. It could feel disorienting to be without the visual cues that a set and lights and props and costumes can give us – instead, we entrust ourselves to this human, to Kim, and agree to witness her journey through this story. As an audience, we have the opportunity to bring our whole selves, our experiences and memories and points of view, more actively to the story. We sit with our friends and family, we see their faces and they see ours.

Next, Kim and I are working intimately together to build a vocabulary of gesture, voice, and small objects that ground each moment of the story in a context. This play is about sitting in a room and listening to a story. It’s not ABOUT the many different characters and places visited in the story. It’s not ABOUT documenting and repeating characters and stories. It’s about conjuring a point of view, and witnessing this woman retelling her story. She has a need to tell this story – what is that need about? She has a goal, something she needs from the audience -what is it? Will I feel like I want to give it to her? Will it be something I am even able to give? Why is she using these particular objects to tell her story – what is specific and important about each of these objects, how do they help her tell the story? This kind of storytelling is not about finding out what happens next – we all know what HAPPENS – we’re here to understand Alice’s experience of what happened, how she makes sense (or doesn’t) of what happened, how “what happened” has shaped her and her understanding of the world. She’s not always a “reliable narrator” in the sense of objectively describing situations and characters – instead, she exposes her experience of situations and characters, she gives us the gift of seeing her story through her own lens.

"How do we make sense of the things that happen to us?"

Does Alice’s story transcend her very specific medical situation? What do you hope the audience will take away? 

Absolutely. It’s a story about how she carves agency out of situations that are out of her control. How do we claim choice in the face of overwhelming outside forces? How do we make sense of the things that happen to us? How do we build our life and self out of the things that happen to us? Alice is faced with an impossible situation, and she finds a way to choose her way forward, to actively decide her path. She fights fiercely to retain her ability, her right, to choose her path forward. She finds ways, through humor and imagination, to avoid falling victim to circumstance, to wrest agency from her impossible situation.

I was talking to my sister in law, who is a nurse, and about how the interesting thing about this story, for healthcare professionals, is not about the structural mess of our health care system – which we all battle every time we interact with the system, from inside or out – but about how providers and care coordinators can build a culture where all patients are encouraged to find their own sense of agency, regardless of circumstance or outcome. What are the health benefits of that agency? What are the negative impacts when choice is taken away, when others start to make choices for a patient? How can we build a heath care culture where the patient’s goals are our guide?

"this one is going to be special."

What are you most excited about? 
The real, living, changing, vibrant relationship that Kim will build with each and every audience. While live theater is never an exact replica of itself from performance to performance, this one is going to be special. Kim’s relationship with an audience is going to be so responsive (I promise, she’s not going to touch anybody, or make anyone else perform) that the experience of the story is going to depend as much on the specific humans in the audience as it does on the script. The audience is Kim’s scene partner.

To purchase tickets, click HERE or call (651) 647-4315.

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For more details about the production, click HERE

Audience Member Dick Schwartz Wins Writing Contest

In conjunction with MJTC's production of Collected Stories, audience members were prompted to share their own stories answering the question "How have your collected experiences shaped your identity?". The winner, Dick Schwartz, submitted a nonfiction piece surrounding a mosaic of little moments throughout his teaching career.
We are pleased to share his story with you now. Enjoy.

Dick Schwartz

Dick Schwartz

Peculiar, poignant and wonderfully spontaneous humorous moments shaped my identity as a teacher. Here are some:

In a remote Oregon town, my student, Rory, upon seeing my Star of David, exclaimed with innocent and well-meaning excitement: “Mr. Schwartz! I didn’t know you’re a Jewish! Merry Christmas!”

At the Kiwanis welcome luncheon for new teachers, a burly horse rancher eyeballed my Semitic features and long black hair and said, “Schwartz, huh? That’s yer name?” followed by: “ ’Bout time we have a Native American teachin’ in our school.” What? Huh? Never figured that one out, but it sure sounded like he meant well. It still does.

The father of Billy Gray stared me down for an entire school year.  On the last day of class he entered my classroom cradling a bundle wrapped in blood-soaked newspaper. “Here,” he said.  “For teaching my boy to read.”  I learned — after racing in terror to my principal with the bloody package — it was venison. Billy’s father had shot a deer for his family’s food and wanted to share it with me. He had no money to spare, but “Besides, venison was worth a whole lot more to him,” my principal explained.

There was Christopher, whose Mafia dad diligently attended every teacher-parent conference with two bodyguards.  He always asked if his son was respectful to his classmates and me and if he did all his homework.  In the end he hired a professional film crew to videotape commencement exercises and sent a commemorative copy to every graduate.

And there was my teaching gig at an Orthodox yeshiva in New York: One morning I saw several rabbis huddled in the corner of a hallway, presumably “davening.” Not daring to disturb their prayer, I walked unobtrusively past them but not so fast that I didn’t hear them chuckling. Later, one of the rabbis confided that they were “debriefing” about the previous day’s Howard Stern radio show.

Not long after that (having come from Oregon to New York City licensed to teach First Aid and CPR, as well as English), I asked my students to bring large dolls to class from their homes, since I could not secure CPR dummies from the local Red Cross. Melissa raised her hand and, in a matter-of-fact tone, informed me that she no longer owned dolls but instead would be happy to bring, on any day except Wednesday, her nanny.  (I thanked her but said no.)

About two years later, having moved on to another school, I received a phone call from Michael, who had been in Melissa’s CPR class. Michael’s father had recently suffered a heart attack at their shabbos dinner table. Michael wanted to tell me that he had performed CPR on his father and had resuscitated him just long enough to say, “I love you, Papa,” before his father died.

And here in Minneapolis, where I retired not long ago, there was Brad. Traditionally, we taught Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” at the end of each school year to our soon-to-be grads. Most got a kick out of reading the quite bawdy “The Miller’s Tale.” At one point in his tale, for reasons that you can investigate on your own, the Miller explains that “Nicholas anon leet flie a fart.” As we read this portion in proper Middle English (by the way, students can hardly believe the word “fart” existed in the 1300s), Brad let fly a tremendous (and well-timed) fart of his own, immediately eliciting a rousing standing ovation from his impressed and elated classmates.

And then there was Cameron, who enthusiastically volunteered to read Shakespeare’s sonnet 54 that offers the lovely sentiment, “O, how much more doth beauty beauteous seem.” Cameron unintentionally but with passionate intonation, read it this way:  “Zero, how much more beauty beauteous seem.” His classmates chose to ignore his snafu and not correct the sincere young man.  Neither did I.

Or my students, bless their hearts, who recited Macbeth’s glorious “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” soliloquy in their native Hebrew, Ukrainian, Chinese, French, Spanish and Ewe. More beautiful, heartfelt renditions were never heard.

In end, we become, if we’re lucky enough, those who we teach.

-Dick Schwartz

More audience stories and poems are on display on the back wall of the theater, and can be read before and after each performance of Collected Stories. 

Designer Chris Griffith Talks About Puppets

Chris Griffith (Z Puppets Rosenschnoz) returns to MJTC this holiday season with brand new puppets for a brand new production of Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins. Chris won an Ivey Award for his puppet designs in MJTC 's Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins (2008). Read what Chris has to say about the art of puppetry! 

two-headed goblin in  hershel and the hanukkah goblins  (2017)

two-headed goblin in hershel and the hanukkah goblins (2017)

"For twenty five years, I have been exploring the art of puppetry. As a builder and designer, I revel in creating circus troupes out of ping pong balls, monkeys out of fur coats, and papier-mache crocodiles. As a performer, I delight in giving inanimate objects the illusion of life.

We all know the goblins aren't alive, for instance, but we (the performers and the audience) agree for a minute to believe that they are. The puppeteer's job is to create in her imagination an image of that goblin that is so real and complete that we all forget they are not alive. If that image is strong enough, an eerie thing begins to happen: we start to see things that aren't actually there. Our imaginations fill in what's missing, and this is where puppetry gets very exciting. Did we just see an eyebrow raise up in surprise? Did that puppet just blink? A minute ago, the goblin was crying, but now the same face appears to be laughing.

"The puppeteer's energy mixes with the energy of the audience

to create the illusion of life in the puppets."

Puppetry is a collaboration between the puppeteer's and the audience's imaginations. The puppeteer's energy mixes with the energy of the audience to create the illusion of life in the puppets. My favorite performances are the ones where the performer's imagination meets the audience's imagination at the edge of the stage, and they explode in a magical moment of the puppet springing to life. When this happens, everybody in the room feels it on a primal level, and suddenly, the room is filled with real goblins.

If this is your first experience watching puppets in action, get ready! You are about to enter a world where anything is possible if you can only imagine it. Have a wonderful and festive season of light. Happy Hanukkah!"

Chris Griffith.jpg

Chris Griffith (Puppet Design) is a co-founder and Creative Director of Z Puppets Rosenschnoz. Additionally, Chris is a Teaching Artist with the Children’s Theatre Company, a clown and juggler, and an arts education consultant. Previously, he was a co-founder of Galumph Interactive Theater, Education Coordinator for In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, and editor of The Puppetry Cookbook. His work has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Minnesota State Arts Board, Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, Jim Henson Foundation, Puppeteers of America, Jerome Foundation. Chris received an Ivey Award for his puppet designs in MJTC’s Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins (2009).

Set Designer Michael Hoover Discusses Inspiration

Michael Hoover returns to MJTC to design Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins after designing several previous MJTC productions (most recently, Via Dolorosa). Here's what he had to say about his inspiration behind the set design: 

"The production takes place in the fictional Russian town of Helmsbergville.  The playwright describes it as "a worn-out village, the kind of village in which the houses droop off of hillsides and the people droop through the streets."  In my research I discovered a painting by the Russian artist Antonov Nikolay (see below).  The painting is simply titled “In Village”, and it provided the initial inspiration for the set design. 

antonov nikolay "in village" 

Set design, hershel and the hanukkah goblins, michael Hoover.

Another aspect of the design is that I hoped to keep the set pieces from feeling too heavy or clunky.  I challenged myself to try to create a setting using only sticks of lath board cobbled together.  The design then evolved into a morph of the painting onto the compilation of sticks, resulting in a playfully abstract little setting in front of which our story can be told!" 

Michael Hoover square.jpg

Michael designs sets locally for many theaters, including Uncle Vanya, Choir Boy and Proud to Present at the Guthrie Theater, Ragtime and Gypsy at Theater Latte Da and Idiot’s Delight at Girl Friday. In addition to his freelance career as a scenic designer, Michael is on staff as the Lead Scenic Artist at the Guthrie Theater.