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Our Directors


James BarnettJames Barnett

Music Director – Striking 12

Bio

James Barnett’s career in theater began with a production of Into the Woods at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.  Since then, he has worked in a wide variety of genres, from experimental theater (The Interrupted Dream) to the Minnesota Centennial Showboat (The Count of Monte Christo, Is There a Doctor in the House?), both at the University of Minnesota.   As a music director and educator he has worked at the Children’s Theater of Minneapolis Theater Arts Training Program (Little Women) and Grand Valley State University (The Light in the Piazza, Threepenny Opera).  Based out of Chicago now, Barnett just made his Chicago-land debut with SLATE productions in Legally Blonde at Governors State University.

Barnett's work as an opera conductor and coach has led him to Des Moines Metro Opera, the University of Minnesota Opera Theater, and Grand Valley State University working on numerous productions including Kurt Weill's Seven Deadly Sins, Suor Angelica, Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea, Leoš Janáček’s Jenůfa, Stravinsky's Renard and Le Rossignol, and Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, Ravel's L'enfant et les sortilèges.  In the spring of 2010 he served as the rehearsal pianist for the male choral ensemble Cantus in a performance of Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra under the baton of Mark Russel Smith.

With his artistic partner, director Laura Anderson, he served as the chorus master in 2007 for Amahl and the Night Visitors which raised money for Heifer International.  December of 2008 marked his debut as a conductor when he conducted a performance of David Conte's The Gift of the Magi which benefitted the food relief organization Feed My Starving Children. In subsequent years he has conducted Amahl and the Night Visitors (2009) and Frank Bridge's rarely heard opera The Christmas Rose (2010), both a benefit for Feed My Starving Children.

Barnett is currently a Doctor of Musical Arts student in Piano Accompanying/Vocal Coaching at the University of Minnesota where he studies under Timothy Lovelace and Noriko Kawai.  Major musical influences in his life include James and Karen Johnson, Z. Randall Stroope.

Shanan CusterShanan Custer

Director – God of Carnage

Bio

Shanan Custer is a veteran of the Brave New Workshop in Minneapolis, where she performed from the reign of Jesse Ventura to the Bush and Kerry election.  An actor, improviser, director and educator, Shanan has more recently appeared as Dot in The Mystery Café’s Mrdr She Tweeted and as Emilie in Theatre Pro Rata’s Emilie: La Marquise du Chatelet Defends Her Life Tonight. She also directed Nora Ephron’s Love, Loss and What I Wore at Theatre in the Round and The Works of William Shakespeare: Abridged at Pioneer Place Theater in St. Cloud.  Shanan’s original play 2 Sugars, Room for Cream with Hennepin Theatre Trust (co-written with Carolyn Pool) was honored with an Ivey Award for Ensemble Acting in 2013.  Other credits: Workhouse Theater (The Mill), Joking Envelope (Nightmare Without Pants), Frank Theater (Standing on Ceremony), Comedy Suitcase (The Smothers Brothers Grimm), Shadowplay Theatre (I Hate Hamlet), Mu Performing Arts (Four Destinies), History Theater (Dudley: Rigged for Laughter) and Park Square Theatre (Dead Man’s Cell Phone). Shanan is also in the cast of Eric Webster’s Shades Brigade radio play currently performing throughout the Twin Cities and improvises with the Theater of Public Policy at HUGE Improv Theater in Minneapolis.

Shanan’s original plays include: 2 Sugars, Room for Cream; Mary Loves Joseph: A Wonderful Love Story; Pride and Plot of Pointlessness (co-writer); Mick Sterling Presents: At Christmas (co-writer); From Here to Maternity (2007 and 2014 MN Fringe Festival Top Ten Show) and Johnny Bocca’s Sex Farce for Swingin’ Lovers (both with Joshua English Scrimshaw with Hardcover Theater), London After Midnight [Episodes 1-5] (co-writer/also with Hardcover Theater).  Her original play The Woman No One Ever Saw was published in Commedia Beauregard’s Master Works: The Rembrandt Plays and her essay “Little Mothers, Mischievous Boys and The Good Little Christian: Character Types in Children’s Parlor Plays in America, 1857-1920” was published in Catholic Theater and Drama: Critical Essays by McFarland and Company.  Shanan also writes and directs at the Science Museum of Minnesota (Splish-Splash, director and Lost in Science, also writer) and was a writer on the television educational sketch comedy series “M@dAbout” with National Theater for Children.   Shanan teaches at St. Catherine University and University of St. Thomas as well as the Guthrie Theater and History Theater as a Teaching Artist for their improvisation, writing, acting and corporate programs.

Joe ChvalaJoe Chvala

Director – La Cage Aux Folles

Bio

Joe Chvala (Artistic Director/Flying Foot Forum) is the founder and artistic director of the highly-acclaimed percussive dance company, the Flying Foot Forum. In addition to the Flying Foot Forum, Chvala has directed, choreographed, and been commissioned to create new works for a variety of theater and dance companies including the Guthrie Theater, the Walker Art Center, the Ordway Music Theater, the Minnesota Opera, The Children’s Theatre Company, Gothenburg’s Balettakademien, Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, the Great American History Theater, The Alpine Theater Project, Park Square Theatre, and Zenon Dance Company.  He has been the recipient of both Ivey and Sage awards for theater and dance as well as numerous “Best of the Year” honors from various US newspapers and periodicals and numerous choreographic and interdisciplinary awards, fellowships, and grants from such organizations as the National Endowment for the Arts, the Minnesota State Arts Board, Target, and the McKnight Foundation.

The Flying Foot Forum was founded in 1991 by Joe Chvala.  Over the years, the Flying Foot Forum has created numerous original percussive works that have toured both nationally and internationally from New York City to Paris and from the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival to Russia.  The exciting mission of the Flying Foot Forum is to re-imagine the potential of all forms of percussive dance and percussion and to explore their full range of dramatic and musical possibilities. Most percussive dance companies concentrate on one or two traditional forms of percussive dance. The unique contribution of the Flying Foot Forum is its dedication to expanding the definition and the applications of percussive dance.  The company creates new hybrid dances using them to explore ideas and narrative material. Through our forum of percussive arts, we have found that percussive dance and percussion are versatile, malleable, and expressive art forms that are equally potent as the main focus of a work or as one element in an inter-disciplinary collaboration. This idea has led the company into a range of work that has mixed percussive dance with theater, video, music and other performing arts. Historically, we have created a wide range of pieces that deal with universal ideas and issues, creating multi-faceted characters, while telling unusual tales in fascinating new ways. In recent years, the company has concentrated on artistic and choreographic collaborations. Unpredictability is its trademark.  Imagination and virtuosity are its core.. For more information, to be put on our e-mail list, or to contact us, visit our website at www.flyingfootforum.com.

Zach CurtisZach Curtis

Director – The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: Abridged

Bio

Zach returns to BCT for his sixth production, after having staged Gypsy, A Few Good Men, The 39 StepsTwelve Angry Men and Prisoner of Second Avenue. He is in his eighth season as Artistic Director for the Paul Bunyan Playhouse in Bemidji, Minnesota's longest running summer stock theater. He has directed almost thirty shows for PBP.  In a previous life he was Artistic Director for Fifty Foot Penguin Theater in Minneapolis. He has directed over 75 professional productions, including the Actors Equity Showcase of A Streetcar Named Desire, the area premiere of Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical, and the stagings of The Who's TommyChicago and Sisters of Swing with Pioneer Place Theater Company in St. Cloud. His stagings have also been seen at Park Square Theatre, The Commonweal, Jon Hassler Theater, Theatre L'Homme Dieu and Actors Theatre of Minnesota.

Michael Matthew FerrellMichael Matthew Ferrell

Director & Choreographer – Guys and Dolls

Bio

Michael Matthew Ferrell is the 2013 Ivey Award recipient for his work on BCT’s Singin’ in the Rain, the 2007 Ivey Award recipient for Choreography, and 2010 Choreographer of the Year named by Lavender Magazine. Credits include Singin’ in the Rain, Les Misérables, On the Town, 42nd Street and Oklahoma! (Bloomington Civic Theatre); Ragtime and The Fantasticks (Park Square Theatre); Cabaret, Aida, Company, Spring Awakening, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Evita, The Full Monty, Parade, Gypsy, The Rink, and Passage of Dreams (Theatre Latté Da); You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, Grand Night for Singing, and Broadway’s Legendary Ladies (Ordway Center); Shrek, Wizard of Oz, Annie, Babe The Sheep Pig, Tommy, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Disney’s High School Musical, A Year with Frog and Toad, and Fashion 47 (Children’s Theatre Company); Cats, Annie, The Sound of Music, Camelot, The Music Man, My Fair Lady, Forever Plaid, Oklahoma!, and Can Can (Chanhassen Dinner Theatres); Anything Goes (Duluth Playhouse). Additionally, his work has been seen at The Ivey Awards, Children’s Theatre Curtain Call Ball, The Minnesota Opera Company, Minnetonka Theatre, Sesame Street, Stages Theatre Company, Pantages Theatre, Disney World Orlando, and Guthrie Theatre Cabaret shows. He is also the Founder and Artistic Director of Alive & Kickin’, the Twin Cities newest musical ensemble of Rockin’ Senior Citizens for which he won the WCCO Making a Difference Award.

Gary GisselmanGary Gisselman

Director – Carousel

Bio

Gary was raised in Bloomington where his grandparents settled in 1910. His first professional work in the theater was as artistic director for Bloomington Civic Theatre in 1964 until becoming the founding artistic director of Chanhassen Dinner Theatres in 1968, a position he held until 1980. Gary then took on the artistic directorship of the Arizona Theatre Company in Tucson and Phoenix from 1980 to 1991. He and his family then moved back to Minnesota and he was the associate artistic director of the Children's Theatre Company until 1995 when he accepted the directorship of the Opera Workshop at the University of Minnesota. Since 2000 he has been teaching full time at St. Olaf College and freelance directing. He  directed eight years of Guthrie Theater's A Christmas Carol as well as A Delicate Balance and Lost in Yonkers. He lives in South Minneapolis with his wife, Margo, the executive director of Jungle Theater. They have two sons, a daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. Gary has worked for over 40 years with Anita Ruth.

Rob GoudyRob Goudy

Director – Other Desert Cities

Bio

Rob is honored to work with BCT again this season following his work on Agnes of God (Director), Les Misérables (Associate Director), and Sunday in the Park with George (Associate Director). As a freelance director, assistant director, and stage manager, he has worked with myriad companies in the Twin Cities, including the Guthrie, Theatre de la Jeune Lune, the Children’s Theatre Company, Gremlin Theater, Theatre in the Round, and the Minnesota Fringe Festival.  Favorite projects include A Christmas Carol (5 seasons) and Lost in Yonkers (Guthrie), Bach at Leipzig (Gremlin), Bus Stop and The Burial at Thebes (Theatre in the Round), Maria de Buenos Aires and The Little Prince (Jeune Lune), and I Make No Promises, But Someone’s Probably Going to Die (2013 Fringe).

David MannDavid Mann

Director – The Odd Couple

Bio

Actor, director, and playwright David Mann has been a theatre artist in the Twin Cities for over 15 years. He created the Schools On Stage program for the Guthrie, and remains its Lead Teaching Artist. At Park Square Theater, he has directed To Kill a Mockingbird, Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club, and several other shows. He is Associate Artistic Director at Torch Theater, where he has directed Turn of the Screw, True West, Glengarry Glen Ross, and more. In 2010 He directed Mulan, Jr. at Children’s Theatre Company. He has written five critically-acclaimed solo shows and received a Bush Foundation Artist Fellowship for Performance Art/Storytelling. His play Queens of Burlesque was performed at History Theatre, and his play Corleone: The Shakespearean Godfather was a hit at the Minnesota and New York Fringe Festivals. As an actor, David has performed at the Guthrie, Park Square, and the Great River Shakespeare Festival. Apart from theater, David is a frequent commentator on MPR, and he is also a prominent speaker and presentation specialist for corporations and law firms nationally.

Robert NeuRobert Neu

Director – Death of a Salesman

Bio

Robert Neu has directed over sixty productions of operas, musicals and plays in the Twin Cities and around the country.  For the Minnesota Orchestra, he has directed productions of Candide, Fidelio, Tosca starring Deborah Voigt, Carmen, La Boheme, Peer Gynt (for which he also co-wrote the adaptation), Bernstein’s Mass, Hansel and Gretel, La Traviata and The Magic Flute. In the Twin Cities area, he has directed for New Breath Productions, Phipps Center for the Arts, St. Cloud’s Paramount Theatre, Bloomington Civic Theater, Skylark Opera, Lyric Arts, Dead Composers Society, Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera, and the Minneapolis Fringe Festival. Upcoming productions include Candide for Skylark Opera, Don Pasquale for Lyric Opera of the North, and Tosca for the Colorado Symphony.

Neu teaches master classes in audition techniques for the University of Minnesota’s opera department, and he is a Resident Director at Lyric Arts Theater. He is a graduate of The Juilliard School.

Neu is the co-founder of Angels & Demons Enterprises, an arts and production consultancy company.

Anita RuthAnita Ruth

Music Director

Bio

Anita Ruth is an orchestrator, arranger and musical director, having worked on over 180 musicals in the last forty years. She has music directed every BCT main stage musical event from the 2005 50th Anniversary Gala to On The Town in 2013. She also conceived and music directed NEO Cabaret’s On Our Own. Anita collaborated with Bonnie Erickson to create, music direct and produce the acclaimed 2008 and 2009 breast cancer awareness fundraiser, The Breast of Broadway. She music directed for Chanhassen Dinner Theaters from 1968 to 1988, and has since been a freelance music director and orchestrator at Guthrie Theater, Children’s Theatre Company, Park Square Theatre and Theatre Mu, among others. For several years now, Anita has worked with Project Success, a widely respected youth development organization serving over 11,000 middle school through high school students over a seven-year program period. Their unique approach to developing life skills recognizes the deep benefits of arts participation for kids, and Anita enjoys training sixth, seventh and eighth grade students in the delights of Broadway musicals.

Joel SassJoel Sass

Director – Next to Normal

Bio

Joel Sass is a stage director, designer, and adapter based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he specializes in the creation of new work for the stage and devising imaginative reinterpretations of classic plays. Joel has spent several years with the Jungle Theatre, where he has directed and designed over 15 productions including Venus in Fur, The Birthday Party, The Seafarer, Blithe Spirit, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, I Am My Own Wife, The Syringa Tree, Shipwrecked!, Mary’s Wedding, Hitchcock Blonde, Shining City, and Last of the Boys. Joel was the artistic director of the award-winning Mary Worth Theater Company (1994-2003), where he designed and directed Valley of the Dolls, Titus Andronicus, The History of the Devil, and Crazy Face, among others. Joel has also directed at the Guthrie Theatre (The 39 Steps, Pericles, 9 Parts of Desire, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike), California Shakespeare Theater (Pericles, Titus Andronicus, Macbeth), Theatre de la June Lune (Lettice & Lovage), Arizona Theater Company (The 39 Steps), and Park Square Theatre (Oliver Twist, Noises Off, Dirty Blonde, The Mystery of Irma Vep, Triumph of Love). Joel is the recipient of a 2005 McKnight Theater Artist Fellowship, two IVEY awards, the 2007 Alan Schneider Director Award, and multiple Best Director and Best Designer awards.

Karen WeberKaren Weber

Director – Striking 12

Bio

As an actor, Karen has been a favorite of BCT patrons with roles including Lucy Harris (Jekyll & Hyde), Eva Peron (Evita), Irene Molloy (Hello, Dolly!), Beggar Woman (Sweeney Todd), Phyllis Stone (Follies), Desiree Armfeldt (A Little Night Music), Margaret Johnson (The Light in the Piazza), Maria Callas (Master Class), M’Lynn Eatenton (Steel Magnolias), The Witch (Into the Woods), Aunt Eller (Oklahoma!), Fraulein Schneider (Cabaret), Dr. Martha Livingstone (Agnes of God), and most recently, Diana Goodman (Next To Normal). Karen returns once again to her artistic roots as a director. After completing her degree in theater at the University of Minnesota (Direction and Scenic Design), Karen went on to direct locally for over five years. Working with professional and aspiring actors alike, she enjoyed working behind the scenes and never thought to become an actor herself. After stepping away from theater altogether for more than ten years to start a family, she returned to the stage as an actor when her children expressed an interest in it themselves. Away from BCT, she has worked with History Theatre, Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, Park Square Theatre, Minneapolis Musical Theatre, Plymouth Playhouse, Troupe America, Actors Theater of MN, Theater Latté Da, Theatre in the Round, Gremlin Theatre, Playwrights’ Center, Jon Hassler Theater, Pioneer Place on 5th, The Empty Space Collective and Nautilus Music-Theater. Her local, regional and national work as an actor has allowed her to learn from many talented and respected directors. She is looking forward to bringing that knowledge and perspective back to the director's chair as she facilitates a remount of the original Striking 12, after BCT director Christine (Weber) Rivera’s recent move to Los Angeles.

Each year our directors and choreographers produce nine productions that typically include four musicals and five plays from other genres. A live orchestra plays the full and complete score, as written, for every musical.