Play Inc.

Keilley Kulhawy (Claire) and Sam Nordlund (Jason) sing reminisce about exploring New York City. Photo Submitted          

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Cambridge-Isanti High School band director Aaron Knudsvig was in his second year of teaching, sitting at the piano, when he heard the news from fellow band instructor Frank Wells.

“Frank Wells, he was the other director here, he had been to the office and heard about it and came in, and we had to teach class,” Knudsvig recalls from Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. “And when the ninth graders came in for choir they hadn’t heard anything because they had been either in band or study hall. No one had computers or phones. But by the time second period came, the kids who had been in social studies classes and things like that, they were all abuzz.”

Knudsvig, who is the president of Play Inc. Arts, said at the time the high school was also rehearsing for its fall musical, “Peter Pan.”

“Frank (Wells) was always the first to say, ‘We’re going to do what people do in these situations, and we’re going to sing and make music and bring something beautiful into the world,’” Knudsvig said. “So he was always really good at that. ... You know, there’s gross things, but we can’t control that, but we can control what’s in here, so let’s try to contribute in our way, doing what we do.”

Knudsvig explained he and Play Inc. Arts Vice President Shannon Shogren were introduced to the musical “Ordinary Days” by former Princeton High School choir director Mark Potvin. Potvin had a student audition with the song “I’ll Be Here,” from “Ordinary Days.”

“That’s the song that really connects with 9/11,” Knudsvig said.

“Ordinary Days” will be performed at the Play Inc. Studio and Gallery attached to the Cambridge Public Library on Sept. 10-11, Sept. 17-18, and Sept. 24-25 beginning at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 and available at playincarts.org and are limited to 36 per performance. With limited capacity, it is expected that there will be very few, if any, walk-up tickets available.

Throughout “Ordinary Days,” Knudsvig explained the audience will be introduced to four main characters: Warren, Deb, Claire and Jason.

Knudsvig explained “Ordinary Days” is set a few years after 9/11, and the events of that day play a significant part in Claire’s journey. She sees herself as a before and an after. Through the course of the 90-minute musical, Claire and Jason reminisce, fight, get engaged and break up.

Deb and Warren meet each other as Warren is trying to return a lost graduate thesis of Deb’s that he found. The two are not kindred spirits but eventually Deb starts to see Warren’s view of the world and the beauty in the things that don’t stand out.

Knudsvig said it’s Claire’s story that really connects with 9/11.

“Claire and Jason are dating and he just moved into her apartment, and their part of the story revolves around her becoming really standoffish and feeling like she’s not herself. The reveal is in the song, ‘I’ll Be Here,’ where you find out she was married and their first anniversary was Sept. 11, and her husband worked in the trade centers. He was going to take the day off but had to run in to get something; it’s her completion of the story where you finally figure out what she’s been talking about, why parts of her past have been closed off and are gone.”

Knudsvig said “Ordinary Days” is the kind of musical where the audience will learn how things connect throughout the duration of the musical.

“It’s not the kind of theater we’ve gotten to do a lot of. Stuff that has extra heart, extra emotional baggage, stuff that makes people think and feel,” Knudsvig said. “But this is the kind of stuff that Shannon (Shogren) and I really like. We have three casts, so we’re seeing the show a lot and every time it’s like, ‘I didn’t think about that.’”

Knudsvig said Play Inc. Arts officially announced “Ordinary Days” as part of its official 2021 play season in March, but he and Shogren had been thinking about performing it for the past four years.

Knudsvig said one great part of “Ordinary Days” running for three weekends in a row is that there is a different cast each weekend.

“One actor is the same through all of them, but the other ones are completely different. There’s been very little theater that’s been like this,” Knudsvig said. “It has wide variety of music styles, but it’s funny, it’s poignant and it’s sort of reaffirming at the end. I just love doing different things as a director, that I’m not always doing the same thing, and I think Shannon (Shogren) is similar as well. This musical is not flashy song and dance, it’s very cabaret style, solos and duets. There’s only a couple moments where all four actors are on stage together.”

Knudsvig said the musical runs 90 minutes without any intermission.

“When people leave, I think a lot of them are going to really feel like they’ve really experienced something different. And I think some will be very uplifted and some will be maybe introspective. And despite the big second-to-last number, which is very emotional, I don’t think people are going to leave feeling sad. I think they’re going to leave feeling like they have gotten to go on a journey of a variety of feelings.”

Knudsvig said he really didn’t see any television footage about 9/11 until his lunch period where there were TVs in the teacher’s lounge.

“And we were all sitting there watching, ‘What on earth is going on,’” Knudsvig said. “I remember just sitting there watching the news for a week.”

Knudsvig said he’ll talk to his students about the different songs that were written in memory and commemoration of 9/11. He’ll also note the poetry for “The Star Spangled Banner” was written on Sept. 14, and the Constitution was created on Sept. 17.

“There are a lot patriotic things this time of year that you can connect in different ways,” Knudsvig said.

Knudsvig mentioned he and his wife, Sarah, went to New York and Washington, D.C., for their honeymoon after getting married in March 2002, and they have been back to that area many times since.

“I think it was in 2006 and we were in that area and it was still rubble,” Knudsvig said. “We went with the band and choir, I don’t know, four or six years ago, and we saw the memorial at that time. It’s a very well done site, it’s amazing. During one of my first trips to New York I was at the World Trade Center and I have a picture from the top looking down. I remember digging the picture out that week and going, ‘What?’ It’s still hard to process.”

Average Cast (Sept. 10-11)

Warren: Scott Tolzmann

Deb: Lena Scullard

Claire: Meghan Malley

Jason: James Person

Ordinary Cast (Sept. 17-18)

Warren: Scott Tolzmann

Deb: Bekah Nordlund

Claire: Keilley Kulhawy

Jason: Sam Nordlund

Common Cast (Sept. 24-25)

Warren: Scott Tolzmann

Deb: Elizabeth Budahn

Claire: Melissa Carle

Jason: Joshua Malley

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