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DL native working in New York theater

Last summer, in early July, Detroit Lakes High School graduate Brian Flanagan and his former classmate, Mark Potvin, organized a special musical event, "There's No Place Like Holmes," which raised over $6,000 for DL's Historic Holmes Theatre.

It was a dream event, bringing together many alums of DLHS's storied musical theater productions for a one-night-only production that re-created some of the greatest highlights of the era, from 1992-2005.

A little over a month later, Flanagan was on a plane bound for New York City, and the realization of a dream of his own.

After interviewing with a prestigious Manhattan law firm for a job as a paralegal (a profession which had helped fund his theatrical aspirations in the Twin Cities for several years), Flanagan found himself packing up his belongings for a cross-country trek from Minneapolis to Manhattan.

When he arrived, Flanagan moved in with a friend in Harlem for what he thought was going to be an extremely short stay.

"I left (Minneapolis) Sunday, got there (New York) on Monday, and knew I would have a place (to rent) by Tuesday," he said.

It turned out, however, that his confidence was misplaced: All the stories Flanagan heard about how difficult it was to find a place to live in New York were absolutely true.

"It is impossible to find a place out here," he said. "I didn't think it would be that big a deal." But every time he found a place he liked, he would hand them a check for first and last month's rent and damage deposit -- then find out he was at the end of a long waiting list.

"After about 10 days, I finally found a place," he said -- an apartment in Brooklyn.

In the meantime, however, because he had nowhere to unpack, Flanagan said, "I had three changes of clothes to wear."

After settling in, Flanagan also advertised for and found a roommate -- a student from Mexico who is seeking a master's degree in computer science.

"She's the sweetest girl in the world," he said. "It's working out really, really well."

The location of the apartment has also turned out to be fortuitous -- it's only about nine blocks away from the Park Slope theater where he is currently spending his weekends, as a member of the cast of the Gallery Players musical, Violet.

It is the second production by The Gallery Players in which Flanagan has been cast since completing the move to New York City in October.

The first production was a drama, Dedication or the Stuff of Dreams, written by Tony award-winning playwright Terrence McNally.

"It was the first straight theater (i.e., without music) piece that I'd done in quite a while," Flanagan recalled. "I was so delighted to be doing something just a little bit different, but at the same time, it also helped me appreciate how much I really love musical theater."

Which was why he was so pleased to win a part in Violet, which is revival of one of the most acclaimed off-Broadway productions of the 1990s. Its music was created by Jeanine Tesori, composer of the critically-acclaimed Caroline, or Change and Thoroughly Modern Millie (the latter was produced as the 2006 fall musical at DLHS).

Set in 1964 during the early days of the Civil Rights Movement, the story follows the growth and enlightenment of a bitter young woman accidentally scarred by her father. In the hope that a TV evangelist can cure her, Violet embarks on a journey by bus and along the way, meets a young black soldier who teachers her about beauty, love, courage and what it means to be an outsider.

The play opened Saturday, Feb. 17, and will be running Friday, Saturday and Sunday performances through March 11.

Flanagan said he feels extremely fortunate to have been cast in two separate productions this winter.

"This play (Violet) is really great," he said. "The entire cast of 14... every one of them is from somewhere different."

Which is not all that uncommon in New York City, Flanagan noted. "It's such a melting pot."

In a twist that Flanagan says is slightly "bizarre," however, one of his cast mates is from Hermantown, Minn.

"Everyone in the cast gets along really well," he added. "Any one of these people would have reason to be absolute divas -- they're amazing -- but there's not one bit of attitude to any of them ... it's a nice, unexpected treat."

Once his run in this play is over, however, it's back to auditioning for Flanagan -- a process which he says can be quite exhausting, especially when you work a full-time job during the day.

"I have a friend here that hasn't auditioned in years, because it's so tiring," he said. "I hope to goodness I don't do that -- I have to remind myself all the time that the reason for me to come here (to New York) in the first place was to be in theater."

And for now, that's exactly what he's doing.

"I'm really happy with how things have progressed so far," he said. "It's been such a pleasure, meeting so many different people, with so many different stories ... It's really a blessing."

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454