Youth theater group takes on marriage amendment

Harbor Theatre Group’s debut performance explores gay marriage debate

THE WEDGE — A new Whittier-based youth theater ensemble dramatizes the gay-marriage debate in its first full-length production, debuting this weekend at Intermedia Arts.

Combining improvised and scripted theater, song and dance, “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” was collaboratively developed by the teen actors in Harbor Theatre Group, a company formed just last year. The play explores the meanings of love and marriage in the context of a national debate over marriage rights for gays and lesbians and, in Minnesota, ongoing campaigns for and against an amendment to the state constitution that would define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

Harbor founder James Rone said the theater’s actors, aged 15 to 19, were brainstorming play ideas last fall when they decided to focus on love and romantic relationships. A discussion of the so-called marriage amendment set to appear on Minnesota ballots in November arose naturally as the play developed, Rone said.

With a topic in mind, Harbor company members developed their theme through a series of interviews.

Said Rone: “When we were sort of talking about this, we were like, ‘Who gets to hear a lot of stories about love and relationships?’”

The interviewees included a single blogger who wrote about her experiences with blind dates, religious leaders, young and old couples and even a salon stylist who, naturally, has heard a lot about her clients’ love lives.

Bits of all of their experiences made it into the play, including the views of both those for and against the marriage amendment. The final product is “almost like a sketch show in terms of (its) variety,” although it follows one story through from beginning to end, Rone said.

“It’s one story that is peppered with a collection of scenes,” he said.

Rone is a veteran of the Inver Grove Heights-based CLIMB Theatre, a company that produces and performs educational theater for K-12 schools. He studied improvisation at the Brave New Workshop and has improvised on stage at ComdeySportz and HUGE Theater in Southwest.

Rone said his experiences in theater while in high school provided him with the social and emotional support he needed at a critical time in his life, and he envisioned Harbor as a safe place for creative teens who were serious about acting, like he was at their age. The Harbor ensemble develops its ideas through improvisation and collaboration, the same techniques Rone has developed as a professional actor.

The group met twice weekly in the Whittier neighborhood over the fall and spring semesters. Rone plans to offer a four-day intensive theater program this summer and then recruit actors for another season next fall.

“What’s Love Got to Do With It?” runs June 1–3 at Intermedia Arts, 2822 Lyndale Ave. S. Performances are 8 p.m. June 1 and 2 and 2:30 p.m. June 3. Tickets are $12 ($10 for students).