There’s a lot to say about Evelyn Nesbit.
We know. We did a lot of research for VELVET SWING.
Here’s an extremely brief summary of her life to get you up to speed before the show.
At the tail end of the Victorian Era, the most beautiful baby in three counties was born on Christmas day. Her name was Florence Evelyn Nesbit. We'd tell you what year it was, but she lied about her age so often that no one can be sure if it was 1884 or 1885.
Florence was known professionally as Evelyn Nesbit and was an artists’ model, chorus girl and actress. She “set the standard for ideal feminine attractiveness” (eek) according to Charles Dana Gibson, a popular artist at the time who used her face for his famous print “Woman: The Eternal Question.” She was, many say, the prototype for the modern supermodel.
Perhaps the main reason you may have heard of Evelyn over a century later is that she received international attention when her husband, Harry Thaw murdered New York architect and socialite Stanford White on June 25, 1906 leading to what was later called the “Trial of the Century."
Five years before the murder, when she was a stage performer at the age of 15 or 16, Evelyn was groomed by Stanford, then aged 47. He first gained her and her mother's trust, sexually assaulted her while she was unconscious, and then had a subsequent romantic and sexual relationship with her that continued for some period of time. When she became older, and Stanford was less interested in her, she was sent to a boarding school. It has been speculated that she went to have and recover from an abortion, though acute appendicitis was what went on the official record.
Harry Thaw, who had also pursued Evelyn as a chorus girl, turned up at her boarding school offering to take her to Europe for the sake of her health. (Yes, this was an actual thing in Victorian times.) While in Europe, an already contentious mother-daughter dynamic was escalated by the efforts of Harry to get between them. He sent Mrs. Nesbit home early. With her mother out of the way, Harry locked Evelyn in a wing of a castle and tortured her for two weeks until she revealed every detail of her history with Stanford White, who Harry had been obsessed with for years.
During his murder trial, Harry’s lawyers argued that Evelyn’s stories about Stanford had driven Harry temporarily insane, and that the shooting was a single aberrant act. He was not, in fact, guilty of murder - he had only been defending his wife’s innocent womanhood! The Thaw family promised Evelyn money in exchange for telling the court about her relationship with Stanford, which she did, to overwhelming media attention. The press latched onto scandalous details in Evelyn’s testimony like the fact that Stanford would have her swing naked on a red velvet swing in his apartment, or that Stanford had paid to have Evelyn’s front tooth fixed (which Harry later paid to have un-fixed. At a 1900's dentist. Ow).
The press, including "The Sob Sisters," a group of female reporters, took up the cause of swaying popular opinion in favor of Harry. It worked: after two trials spanning several years, Harry was declared to have been insane at the time of the murder, avoided the electric chair, and spent most of the rest of his life in and out of asylums.
Evelyn was pregnant with her son, Russell, at the end of the trial. The Thaws denied that the baby was Harry's, but Evelyn maintained throughout her life that Russell was Harry's son. The Thaws gave Evelyn $25,000 after the trial was over, but to spite Mrs. Thaw, Evelyn donated it to the political anarchist Emma Goldman.
To support herself and her baby, Evelyn worked the Vaudeville circuits and performed in silent films. She had become so famous that she couldn’t go in public without being mobbed and for some time she had to hire body-doubles in order to be able to travel.
In 1915 Evelyn finally divorced Harry and one year later married dancer Jack Clifford, but their marriage was tainted by Evelyn’s notoriety. Jack became known as “Mr. Eveyn Nesbit” and left her in 1918.
In the 1920s Evelyn became the proprietor of a tearoom in the West 50s in Manhattan. During this period she struggled with alcoholism, morphine addiction and attempted suicide. After this attempt, Harry, who had been keeping her under surveillance by private detectives, reached out. The press speculated that they would reunite, but this wasn’t to be. When Harry died, he left Evelyn $10,000 as a “token of pleasant memories of the past when we were happy.”
Evelyn published two memoirs, The Story Of My Life (1914) and Prodigal Days (1934).
During World War II, Evelyn lived in Los Angeles, CA teaching ceramics and sculpting at the Grant Beach School of Arts and Crafts. She was a technical advisor for the movie The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing starring Joan Collins in 1955 for which she was paid $10,000.
She died in a nursing home in Santa Monica, CA on January 17, 1967 and is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, CA. In 1981 she appeared again as a character in the film Ragtime based on E.L. Doctorow’s eponymous novel.
Antonia Perez (Performer)
I’m excited about the ladies in this show. They all come to rehearsal full of ideas and ready to play. It made bonding and being five parts of one woman easy. We also make each other laugh so much. I hope it translates to the audience!
Natavia Lewis (Performer)
For me, the most exciting thing about this show is what each performer brings to their characters. It’s fun to see multiple people play one person, while simultaneously portraying different parts of who she was. I also love that we don’t rush over the hard parts of her story. They are just as important as the rest, no matter how difficult they are to hear.
Michelle Hernick (Performer & Musician)
This production encapsulates what many women have felt: attempting to break out of roles society has created for us. Are we Madonna? Are we Whore? Why do we have to choose? Framing these questions under a guise of a vaudeville show allows us to present these ideas in a palpable context, where we can use humor as a vehicle to explore the molds women are forced into and how it can affect their lives.
Megan Clark (Story Designer)
I am excited for people to see these amazing, brilliant and talented actresses tell an important and serious story in a really funny and charming way. My favorite part of working on this play was how much we could laugh during rehearsals and also honor the serious content.
Alana Horton (Story Designer)
I’m so excited to see this story come to life! VELVET SWING is something that I’ve been dreaming up since 2014 since I first heard the story of Evelyn Nesbit. It’s remarkable, sad, and frustrating to me that a 115 year old story still has such resonance in our current moment.
Stage Manager . . . Jenny Moeller
Costume & Props Designer . . . Josie Everett
Dramaturgy Support . . . Jo Holcomb
Producing Artistic Director . . . Hannah K. Holman
Come join us at VELVET SWING
April 5 - 27, 2019
at Bryant-Lake Bowl & Theater
810 W Lake St
Minneapolis, MN 55408
Dear New Work Lover,
"I love Umbrella Collective because it's just that: it's a collection of ideas, personalities, backgrounds, and artistic voices. Somehow we meld them all together and make beautiful, moving work that puts a smile on your face and sparks real conversations."
- Collective Member Antonia Perez
Over the next few years, we'll be working toward increasing artist pay, exploring new and exciting ways to collaborate with our artists and audiences, investing in organizational sustainability and strategic planning, and continuing to create the stunning and engaging new works of theater that you love. We want to do the work better, bolder, and together with you.
How YOU can co-create new plays with us:
- $10/mo. or $120 — one week of rehearsal venue rental
Sharing space and time is essential to the collaborative process!
- $45/mo. or $540 — costume and props for a production
Costumes and props give place, time, and context for the stunning and thought-provoking stories you see on stage.
- $100/mo. or $1,200 — top-notch talent on stage
We want your experience to be unforgettable, and that means attracting and supporting incredible artists.
See you under the umbrella!
Climate change. Childbirth. Helplessness. Hope. It's all in the water in A SQUID HAS THREE HEARTS, Umbrella Collective's latest workshop, taking place January 28th and 29th.
A SQUID HAS THREE HEARTS follows Quinn, a soon-to-be-parent who is forced to examine the environmental consequences of bringing a child into the world. The piece merges music and fluid physicality to create a story that lingers somewhere between fairy tale and hard reality.
We're so thrilled to have a stellar cast of actors and creators working on SQUID:
siQuinn . . . Gracie Anderson
Gracie is a performer based in the Twin Cities. A graduate of Perpich Center for Arts Education and holder of a B.F.A. in Musical Theatre from the University of Minnesota Duluth, Gracie has worked at Old Log Theater, Yellow Tree Theater, Artistry, 7th House Theater, Renegade Theater Company, and many more. In 2016, Gracie was named Best Emerging Actress in Minneapolis City Pages.
Ramona . . . Alexandra Nedved
Alexandra is a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota BA Performance Creation program. She also holds a double major in Global Studies with concentrations in South America and Environmental Sustainability along with a Gender Studies minor. Alexandra has a love of experimental art/theatre that blends language and movement to tell visceral stories. Theatrical creation has become a vehicle for personal as well as community-engaged transformation for her. In using theatre as a tool to explore complex social topics she hopes to create work that questions normalized institutions, invites discussion, and deepens our understanding of the interconnectedness of our world(s).
Squid . . . Cameron Reeves
Cameron Reeves is back again creating work with Umbrella Collective! Cameron comes from McHenry, Illinois and received his BFA in musical theatre from Drake University where he performed in several productions. He has had the pleasure of working other companies such as The Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis Musical Theatre, Sidekick Theatre, Frank Theatre, Playhouse on the Square, Nebraska Shakespeare, Heritage Theatre Festival, The Repertory Theatre of Iowa and Stagewest Theatre Co. He would like to thank his friends and family for their constant love, support and advice.
Miles . . . Courtney Stirn
Courtney Stirn is a jack-of-all-arts living in the Twin Cities, and is thrilled to be collaborating with old and new friends on this musical journey. Recent credits include As You Like It with 21/40 Productions, FRIGID with Umbrella Collective’s Night of New Works, TART with The BAND Group, The Ravagers and Ex-Gays with Umbrella Collective, Much Ado About Nothing with Desperate for Approval, and The Smitty Complex with 20% Theater Company’s Q-Stage. When not in a designated performance space, Courtney makes one by inventing silly voices with friends, noodling on musical instruments, and writing good words for the future.
Dana . . . Amber Davis
Amber has been working with Umbrella Collective in various capacities since 2010. They have a BA in Theater from Augsburg College, and studied at the School of International Training in Bali with emphasis in Balinese dance and puppetry. Amber is a person in their thirties. They like beer and roller skating.
Project Leader / Composer . . . Mark Sweeney
Mark Sweeney is a performer and writer based in the Twin Cities. He's performed at Actors Theatre of Minnesota, Artistry, Troupe America and HUGE Theater among many other local stages. As a producer, he co-created Perpetual Motion Theater Company and Catalog Models, both having sellout runs in the Minnesota Fringe Festival. He is a Nautilus Music-Theatre Composer/Librettist Studio participant and a proud company member of Umbrella Collective. Mark holds a BFA in Musical Theatre from Millikin University in Decatur, IL.
Music Director . . . Keith Hovis
Keith Hovis is a playwright and composer based in the Twin Cities. His work has been produced by Freshwater Theatre, Market Garden Theatre, Revisionary Theatre Collective, the University of Minnesota, Six Elements Theater, Box Wine Theater, Luther College in Iowa, and the Minnesota Fringe Festival. Keith's one-act musical, Mrs. Housel: A Suicide Suite was featured at the 2014 Ivey Awards, and his first full-length musical, Pioneer Suite, premiered with Freshwater Theatre in October 2015. His hit 2017 Minnesota Fringe Festival musical, Jefferson Township Sparkling Junior Talent Pageant, is currently in development with Park Square Theater, and a full-length version will premiere in June 2019. As a composer, his work has been commissioned by Theater Mu, Mixed Blood Theater, and Fortune's Fool Theater. Education: University of Minnesota - Twin Cities, Nautilus Music-Theater Composer-Librettist Studio.
Dramaturg . . . Laura Leffler
Laura is the Emeritus Artistic Director of Umbrella Collective. She led the company from 2007-2018 and dramaturged, performed, directed, wrote, and produced over 29 projects in that time. Additional theatrical adventures include assistant directing THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA McBRIDE (Guthrie), REFUGIA (Guthrie/The Moving Company), COME HELL AND HIGH WATER (The Moving Company), FISHTANK (Theatre de la Jeune Lune), BY THE BOG OF CATS... (Frank Theatre at the Guthrie), and more. She was named "Best Director" in 2018 by City Pages. She is the Associate Artistic Director at Park Square Theatre and will be performing in ANTIGONE there in February, and directing JEFFERSON TOWNSHIP SPARKLING JUNIOR TALENT PAGEANT there this summer.
Umbrella Collective believes the audience is a vital part of the creation process. Come experience a fresh new play-in-progress, and lend your voice to the play-making process! Umbrella Collective brings the rough drafts, big ideas, and burning questions to the audience par-baked to give YOU a chance to help shape the future of the work. Come join us at...
A SQUID HAS THREE HEARTS Workshop
January 28 & 29, 2019 at 7:30pm (Doors open at 7pm)
at SpringBOX, 262 University Ave W, Saint Paul, MN 55103
Please join Umbrella Collective as we celebrate our outgoing Artistic Director Laura Leffler at a special post-workshop reception on Tuesday, January 29th, 2019 from 9:00 - 10:00 PM.
I suppose I’m going to make a bit of a speech.
It’s a big thing, so I have been trying to find a way to organize my thoughts. I considered making a list. Then I remembered a notion I heard recently at a theatre convening - time is a colonial construct - and so then I figured that list making is probably a colonial construct, too.
So I turned to an old friend, that big queerdo from 19th century America, Walt Whitman. I turned to him, as I often do in times of questioning and times of worry, and I re-read “Song of Myself” in Leaves of Grass. And near the end of the very long poem in stanza 51, was the sentence that caught me. Diminutive in its parenthesis, but grand in its message: “(I am large, I contain multitudes.)"
“I and this mystery, here we stand.”
On January 29th, 2019 I’ll be stepping down from the Core Collective and move to Emeritus Artistic Director, in an advisory capacity. Hannah Holman will become Umbrella Collective's Producing Artistic Director. Core Collective Members Alana Horton and Megan Clark will take on more responsibility. The beating heart of the collective thumps on.
“Urge and urge and urge,
Always the procreant urge of the world.”
Like an irritating emeritus professor who still hangs around campus too much, I intend very much to keep "office hours", as it were, with Umbrella. I am not leaving. I’m not moving. I have stories I still want to help tell with Umbrella Collective--WOLF SONG, and TWO RUM PARTIES, and A SQUID HAS THREE HEARTS, and all these other new beautiful, nascent ideas continue to live and breathe and move forward. I’ll be around. Just differently than before.
“You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.”
See ya real soon.
I know it’s not quite the end of the year, but I always feel reflective around Give to the Max Day. (I suppose any annual event tends to offer a benchmark in that way.) As I think back on the past 365-ish days of art-making, I’m feeling a mix of celebration, amazement, some exhaustion, and immense gratitude. It feels good to think back on the moments of joy and discovery in rehearsal rooms and audience conversations. To be honest, it feels necessary and healing
We started 2018 with the beautiful monster of a show that is THE RAVAGERS — with a cast of 20 in a haunting and crumbling basement. Then, we dug into the mythology of the WOLF SONG workshop presentation with open hearts and unending questions. During the summer, we created space for Beth Ann, Ricardo, Suzanne, Jex, Sabrina, and Steven to challenge, learn, and play through our Night of New Works incubation program. We also had a big, ol’ party because we turned 10+1 years old! Oh, and we changed our name!
It seems apt to end this big year with a party — more specifically the workshop presentation of TWO RUM PARTIES OF SIGNIFICANCE, our take on swashbuckling, mermaids, and reckless romance in the Golden Age of Piracy. In January 2019, the workshop presentation of A SQUID HAS THREE HEARTS will enchant and challenge us as we explore what it means to be a parent in current environmental climate. (You may remember the beginnings of this project from Night of New Works 2017!) And finally, we’ll invite Evelyn Nesbit back to the stage for the full production of VELVET SWING in April 2019.
Your support on Give to the Max Day helps us continue to create bold and vibrant new works that spark vital conversations. Together is better, and we’re better together with you.
Head over to https://www.givemn.org/story/umbrellacollective to make it possible.
at Theatre Latte Da
On the streets of Dublin, an Irish songwriter and a Czech immigrant are drawn together by their shared love of music. Over the course of one fateful week, their unexpected friendship and collaboration quickly evolves into a powerful but complicated love story, propelled by emotionally charged music. Winner of 8 Tony Awards including Best Musical, Once is an artistic triumph about the power of music to connect us all.
Antonia Perez quadruple threats her way through the show; singing, dancing, acting and playing instruments. Foster Johns coached dialects for this well received regional premiere.
September 12th - October 21st, 2018
The Ritz Theater, Minneapolis
$34-51 | Tickets
Dial M for Murder
at Gremlin Theatre
Emily Dussault is 'characteristically superb' (Jay Gabler, City Pages) in this classic thriller.
September 7th - 30th, 2018
Gremlin Theater, St. Paul
$25-28 | Tickets
Anyone under 30: pay half your age
at Frank Theatre
Allison Witham joins the cast which also features a handful of friends of the Collective
September 28th - October 21st, 2018
Minnesota Transportation Museum, St. Paul
$22-25 | Tickets
2018 Twin Cities horror Festival
The Twin Cities Horror Festival returns for its seventh season of horror based-theatricals.
This year Leslie Vincent joins friend of the Collective Keith Hovis in creating a new song cycle about serial killers entitled A Morbid History of Sons and Daughters.
While Nissa Nordland goes behind the scenes to stage manage Dangerous Productions' Home.
We've produced at the horror festival in the past and it is always equal parts entertaining and chilling--perfect for late October.
October 25th - November 4th, 2018
The Southern Theater, Minneapolis
$15 per show | All Access Pass on sale now
It was a beautiful - if sweaty - night. It was a lovely alchemy of artists all working and learning together. It was intimate and vulnerable and loud and challenging. Anxious, jittery, moment-before-the-storm electricity flowed through us all.
And the best part of it all? We’re inviting you in.
Join us and be a part of the conversation. We can’t wait to see you there.
Night of New Works is less than a week away. We are excited to reveal what's been brewing in the rehearsal room. Have you reserved your tickets?
Kat Purcell from the Ensemble of Spook
As a white artist, I am deeply humbled to be trusted and invited into the rehearsal room and on stage for this project. I'm excited to support the work of Ricardo, Suzanne, and the ensemble, and to learn and grow from that process.
What are you most excited about for the public works-in-progress showings?
I am excited to see in what way Umbrella Collective formats feedback sessions, to see how that shapes audience response and what it can accomplish for both audience and artists.
How would you describe SPOOK in three words?
Arresting, Sensory, Contemplative
KJER WHITING From the Ensemble of Frigid
I think it's exciting to be able to approach the ages old concept of frigidity through a modern lens. The concept has barely changed in the cultural eye, while the science of the day has evolved throughout time. Putting a queer spin on it is important to me personally.
What are you most excited about for the public works-in-progress showings?
I am most excited to see how the people who choose to come explore these new works with us will critique the three projects.These are not completed scripts, and the input will be extremely beneficial to the creators.
How would you describe FRIGID in three words?
Average American experience.
ERIKA KUHN From the Ensemble of FOILED
This devising process has been super exciting because it's combined a beautiful medley of writing, improvisation, and honest conversations between the creators. I find devising produces stunningly vulnerable and earnest art; everyone has brought so much of themselves to make this story, and I'm so excited to share it.
What are you most excited about for the public works-in-progress showings?
I'm most excited to see what gets people reacting, or what makes people feel most. From the inside it's easy to miss what moments are the funniest, or most tender; sharing these pieces shows us what works.
How would you describe FOILED in three words?
Heartfelt, refreshing, paranoid.
Night of New Works
September 10 - 12, 2018 at 7:30 PM
Bryant Lake Bowl & Theater
810 W Lake St, Minneapolis, MN 55408
Sliding Scale Tickets: $5 - $20