Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Mark Rosenwinkel knows how to find drama in life

Concordia University grad is a familiar face at the Guthrie and Chanhassen

Twin Cities actor and playwright Mark Rosenwinkel excuses himself to take a call on his cell phone during our interview over coffee. When he hangs up and returns to our conversation, the expression on his face is an indecipherable mix of worry and excitement.

“Now I’ve got a decision to make,” he tells me.
The call was from John Miller-Stephany, associate art director for the Guthrie Theatre. He had called to offer Mark a part in an upcoming production of “The Merchant of Venice.” According to Mark, the part pays well and is a coveted opportunity to work with some of the most gifted locals in the business. Unfortunately, Mark explains to me, he has already committed the proposed dates to the “Easter Parade” production at Chanhas-sen Dinner Theatre. Such is the life of a working actor, Mark tells me.

Rosenwinkel began acting seriously while a student at Concordia College (now University) in St. Paul. After getting the opportunity to act in the school’s production of “Luther,” his life was never the same. Although he graduated with the Director of Christian Education de-gree (Concordia did not have a theatre degree at the time) he has never worked full-time in the church.

A self described “character actor,” Rosenwinkel joined the University/ Resident Theatre Association after graduating from Con-cordia. This experience led him to the MFA program in acting at Asolo Conservatory in Sarasota, Florida. It was in graduate school that he met Elizabeth, his wife of 25 years.

His wife says he is a dedicated actor who “sinks his teeth into whatever it is that he is doing.” Although he prefers Shakespeare and slapstick, “he can get the most out of whatever [part] it is that he is currently doing.”

When he’s not acting, Rosenwinkel is writing for the stage. He’s authored a number of plays and re-ceived acclaim for his work. In particular, his adaptation of “Moby Dick” was chosen as the North American representative to the International Association for The-atre for Young Audiences Festival in Russia in 1996, and his play “Sanctus” was the winner of the 2002 Writer’s Digest literary award. Most recently, his play, “Wellstone,” based on the political life of the late Senator Paul Wellstone, opened to audiences this fall at the History Theatre in downtown St. Paul.

Although Rosenwin-kel never accepted a call to Christian Ed-ucation service, he has found a way to incorporate his love of acting with his background in ministry. In cooperation with Pastor David Buuck of Bethlehem Luther-an Church in Minnetonka, he regularly holds lector training sessions called “Scripture Coming To Life — Presenting the Word with Power and Pathos.” The workshops are shared with members of area congregations, teaching worship assistants how to articulate Scripture reading in ways that better convey the message of the text.

“Theatre in essence is language,” he says.
Rosenwinkel finds that this is a great experience for many lectors, and he is often asked to come back to churches to help train new readers.

He claims that his training sessions, in which he handles most of the speech training and Buuck discusses interpretation of the texts, are “kind of a visceral Bible study,” as many of the trainees come to have a better understanding of the meaning of biblical passages by learning to evince the emotion of the Scripture.

Regarding Scripture reading, Rosenwinkel says, “You have to read the power of words, because the text demands it.”
He adds later, “If you read [Scripture] like a phone book, you are doing it a disservice.”

As an actress herself, Elizabeth Rosenwinkel has helped her husband in these training sessions. She also reads regularly at her church, and says that “[lector reading] has very much been my theatrical venue.”

And then there’s the connection this actor maintains with the great reformer. Rosenwinkel integrates his faith directly into his acting through his one-man interpretation of “Luther,” which he often performs for area churches on Reformation Sunday.

Although early in his career, Elizabeth says, “Mark never gave himself a chance to relax,” work — and life — seem to be more steady now for him. You might not sense this from speaking with the energetic and animated actor.

During the course of this writer’s interview with him, Rosenwinkel never did divulge his decision regarding the phone call from the Guthrie Theatre. As our conversation come to a close, he seemed far less concerned about it. After all, having to decide between two jobs is, for an actor, nothing less than a luxury.