13 years - Interview with theater blogger Jill Schafer
One of the ways I've envisioned expanding the platform is supporting the work of theater bloggers in MN. In the run up to launching a new site I came across the process of syndicating content. This lets Playlist republish content being produced on other sites, while crediting that original location for search engines.
And so I reached out to a few folks to see if they would be interested in having their content syndicated on Minnesota Playlist. Jill Schafer was one such person. Get to know Jill a little bit based our interview, then check out all of his reviews at her blog Cherry and Spoon.
the most important thing is that I connect with the show in some way.
DR: What inspired you to start writing reviews and to develop the Cherry and Spoon blog?
JS: I started Cherry and Spoon because I found myself going to more and more theater since I began a subscription at the Guthrie in 2003, and I didn’t really know anyone who was as into local theater as I was. I started writing first as a personal journal to process and record my experiences, and secondly to share with others who may be interested in local theater too. I never thought I’d get free tickets to see and write about shows, or that I would meet my favorite artists and even sometimes be recognized at the theater.
DR: Can you describe your personal criteria for evaluating a theatrical performance?
JS: It’s really hard to describe. I don’t have any training or experience in theater (other than playing in the pit orchestra for a couple shows in high school), so I’m really coming at it from the audience viewpoint. I guess the most important thing is that I connect with the show in some way, that the artists have something to say and put their hearts into it. I can forgive a flubbed line or a bad wig more than I can a lack of connection to the story. I’m less of a critic than an audience representative trying to convey my experience.
DR: You started Cherry and Spoon in 2010, so you’ve seen a lot of performances over the years. What changes have you noticed over the last 13 years? What’s stayed the same?
JS: I’ve definitely seen an improvement in diversity of cast and creators in the last 13 years. It used to be acceptable to have a mostly white cast in something like West Side Story, but not anymore. Part of that is thanks to the innovative casting of Hamilton, part of it is what we learned in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. I’m seeing more women directors and more focus on women’s stories. More new work and innovation in non-traditional venues. What’s stayed the same is the quality of theater in this town, which has always been top notch.
DR: Can you discuss a particularly memorable experience you had while reviewing a production?
JS: I love an opening night post-show party (which we haven’t quite gotten back to fully post-covid). It’s so fun to be part of an opening night crowd full of artists and supporters, and that excitement of experiencing a new production for the first time. I’ve been to a couple gala celebrations at the Guthrie (just as a patron, but I wrote about it anyway) which were chock full of local and national artists and some of my favorite theater memories.
DR: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in becoming a theater reviewer?
JS: Just start writing, and share it with friends and on social media. I wrote for a full year or two before I started to get comps. I think the difference between theater bloggers and theater critics is we’re allowed to get a little personal with things. Sometimes when I’m writing it’s as much about me and my experience as it is the show. Don’t be afraid to share your personal perspective, that’s what makes your voice unique.
DR: Post-pandemic people were worried about the ability for MN theater to return in full force, that doesn’t appear to be the case? What do you think has been lost from the forced hiatus, what’s been gained?
JS: The number one thing we’ve gained is an appreciation for, and more hiring of, understudies. Gone is “the show must go on” mentality. I hope there’s more respect for actors’ mental and physical health, and processes put in place to allow them the time off if they need it. I feel like there have been quite a few collaborations between theater companies lately, so hopefully theaters will continue to pool resources to make everyone stronger. There was a ton of forced creativity in the virtual theater space during the pandemic, which can translate into live theater, and many theaters are still offering virtual options for people who can’t come to the theater in person.
Lost? I think theaters are still struggling to rebuild audiences and financial support, but hopefully that will continue to improve.
DR: What are you looking forward to reviewing in the coming months?
JS: Peter Rothstein’s last show as AD of Theater Latte Da, Next to Normal - one of my favorite musicals directed by one of my favorite theater artists #bringtissues
Into the Woods at the Guthrie - I adored their last Sondheim (Sunday in the Park) and am looking forward to this one, their first summer musical since the pandemic
Daleko Arts’ final show, Bright Star - I’ve really grown to love this scrappy little theater way out in New Prague, especially their musicals done with such heart on their tiny stage
Summer festivals - Great River Shakespeare in Winona, the Fringe, and American Players Theatre in Wisconsin if I can get back to it this year