Pillsbury House Theater’s Naked Stages 2013 opens

Naked Stages 2013 helps young artists shape worlds on stage.

Zainab Musa rehearses for

Juliet Farmer

Zainab Musa rehearses for “Habeas Corpus” on Monday at the Pillsbury House Theatre in Minneapolis. Habeas Corpus is one of three productions in the Naked Stages series, which seeks to provide a mentorship opportunity to emerging performance artists in Minnesota.

Joe Kellen

Molly Van Avery’s eyes beamed when she was asked about her job as the director of Pillsbury House Theatre’s Naked Stages program.

The program has been close to her heart for a while now. Though it’s her first year as director, she’s worked as a coordinator for the program in the past.

Naked Stages is an immersive, seven-month development program that gives emerging artists an opportunity to focus on a single piece of their work. They’re provided with funding, mentorship and full access to Pillsbury’s resources.

 “Watching artists sort of fumble their way through the creative dark to allow themselves to figure out their voice is so satisfying,” Van Avery said.

Naked Stages allots over half a year to its participants ­–– an anomaly in the theater world. Van Avery said that time is crucial to the project’s success.

“How do you find a process as an artist that works for you, unleashes your own creativity and helps you think about how to maximize your full potential? It’s a big question,” she said.

Since the program focuses on developing and fine-tuning, the applicants are chosen based on how ready they are to realize their idea. The board that makes the decisions changes every year and is made up of one Naked Stages alum, an artist that doesn’t work with the performance and a local producer.

The three selected artists –– Zainab Musa, Emily Zimmer and Moheb Soliman –– have kept consistent goals since the beginning of the project.

“How can I create the work that I want to see? That’s been my question throughout the year,” Musa said. “I’m looking for a creative home and they’ve been really welcoming.”

Musa, who recently moved to Minneapolis from Winnipeg, said Naked Stages has been an ideal venue to produce her work “Habeas Corpus.” The piece experiments with the human body and the culture surrounding it, using choreography to explore physical freedom.

Musa said Pillsbury’s mentorship has allowed her to work through rough patches and get as close as possible to fulfilling her vision.

Soliman said his experience has been similar. His work, “A Great Lakes Vista,” depends on projection and visual art in order to create its desired effect.

“How much time you get to just be here and explore things without having to always focus on the final product was really special to me,” he said.

The piece mainly uses poetry to illustrate a journey across Canada and the United States. “Vista” aims to capture how location mixes with identity, delving into the particulars of the places we call home. Soliman is from Egypt and he’s lived in Canada as well as the Midwest, which explains his penchant for geography.

Emily Zimmer’s work “3 Figure$” is rooted locally. After witnessing multiple foreclosures in her Minneapolis neighborhood, Zimmer figured it was time to speak out.

 “Theatre has always been the way I learn about the world and interact with it,” she said.

Zimmer portrays three characters who directly confront the housing crisis. She hopes by showing her audience different perspectives ranging from the philosopher that inspired our political system to a struggling homeowner, she’ll be able to investigate how money influences our minds and our hearts.

Alan Berks, a local playwright and Pillsbury’s director of communications, said the program assists in developing an audience for experimental theater.

“We get a lot of people from the surrounding community for Naked Stages,” he said. “A lot of it is dependent on whether somebody in Naked Stages lives in the community.”

 Mentioning a past Naked Stages participant that lived near the theatre, Berks said it felt as though “every single person from Powderhorn Park came [to the shows].”

Now that the program is coming to an end, the three performers are anxious for show time.

“It’s been an exponential creative slope, because in the last two months so much more has happened than the last five months combined,” Soliman said.

Each artist is entangled in the web of their work, looking for opportunities to improve their craft.

“I’m gonna use every minute,” Zimmer said.


What: Naked Stages 2013
When: 7:30 p.m., Dec. 5-7 and 12-14
Where: Pillsbury House Theatre, 3501 S. Chicago Ave., Minneapolis
Cost: $15 or Pick Your Price