Staff Writer, Ashley Kronebusch
The Playwrights’ Center, just a couple blocks away from Augsburg, was packed on Saturday, Nov. 16 for a performance of “The Garden,” a play directed by Eshay Brantley and produced by Ambiance Theatre, a Twin Cities theatre company co-founded by Augsburg alumni Atlese Robinson and Malick Ceesay. The atmosphere was energetic and lively, as everyone waited for the play to begin. It ended up being a unique experience unlike any other play I had seen before.
“The Garden” was Ambiance Theatre’s second play, and it was about the experiences of black women told through short, independent acts. Six performers took on various roles through these acts, taking on different styles from monologue to dance to rap. Themes reflected upon included generational trauma, parenthood, relationships, religion and self-acceptance.
Each scene was meticulously put together without any wasted time. An intense air of artistry permeated the whole show, and I was constantly taken aback by the incredibly insightful writing. There was also a particular focus on the movement of the body. Each line of dialogue felt perfectly paired with the intentional and impactful movements. There was not a moment where I was not engaged.
This play is of particular note to our community because the large number of Augsburg graduates on the cast and technical crew. Half of the actors are former Auggies, including Se’Anna Johnson, Whitney Blount and actor/producer Atlese Robinson. The production team is full of Auggies as well: sound designer Saberina Calle, stage manager Sunny Thao and lighting designer Malick Ceesay, who is also directing Augsburg’s upcoming sesquicentennial musical All That We Carry.
Blount described the process of working on the play as “A good mourning… When the opportunity came, it was like– I can’t run from this, any everything agreed.” Blount performed an act called “Chronic Wellness,” discussing her experiences and struggles with chronic pain. “In between shows, I go to the chiropractor, and then I go to PT, so that when I come here, if I am moving, I can move well and still take care of myself. Self-care and wellness are so important but it’s also important to not trade your passion just to appease your pain,” she said.
Robinson, one of the founders of Ambiance Theatre, was inspired by the production. “The Garden has been a very transformative experience. From the inside out, I see so much more personal growth in myself, in my caste, in our director, in our production team; it has really given me a lot of inspiration and power… Being present with why this is important to us is really beautiful.”
Robinson takes pride in her work with all roles in a theatre production, from actor to tech to usher, which she partially credits her experiences at Augsburg, “All the different things I’ve learned at Augsburg influenced the way I look at being a leader of my own theatre company because I know what it takes to do all these other jobs… Michael Burden [was a great professor] in particular. [He had] a program that’s intentional about having students of color learn more about technical theatre… That’s something that I’ve wanted to see more black folks in, not just on stage.”
“The Garden” is a stunning example not only of what Auggies can achieve after graduation, but as an emotionally resonant piece of art. Ambiance Theatre is still a relatively new company, and this performance shows how they are already impacting our community.