STORIES FROM THE PARK
PRN Alumni Foundation is comprised of the former employees of Prince, Paisley Park, Paisley Park Records, PRN Productions, NPG Records, Love4OneAnother, any and all of Prince’s companies spanning his impressive nearly 40 year career.
There have been, quite literally hundreds of us in Prince’s employ. The Foundation represents our collective voice.
We are musicians, engineers, managers, lighting directors, wardrobe designers, stylists, makeup artists, drivers, bodyguards, admin staff, valets, drivers (and more!)
This ‘Stories From The Park’ chronicle is a way for our colleagues of all tenures and job types to share a little bit of Prince’s magic with you through our individual voices.
We hope you enjoy getting to know us…we feel as if we’ve known you, Prince’s fans (fam) forever <3
With love and gratitude,
PRN Alumni Foundation
Spotlight: Michelle Streitz
"PRINCE REALLY LOVES WHAT YOU'VE DONE"
HOW ARTIST MICHELLE STREITZ REALIZED A DREAM AND CONTRIBUTED TO THE AESTHETIC VISION OF THE SIGN ’ THE TIMES / LOVESEXY ERA
Interviewed by writer: Tony Kiene
Thirty years ago this past fall, Prince kicked off the North American leg of his Lovesexy Tour with a two-night stand at Bloomington’s Met Center, a historic piece of Twin Cities’ real estate that is now more or less occupied by an Ikea store.
Still considered by a sundry of fans and critics to be Prince’s most ambitious and spectacular tour ever, Lovesexy was presented in the round and featured a multi-layered stage with ascending platforms, elaborate colors and imagery, a regulation basketball hoop, and an elevated full-scale replica of a 1967 Ford Thunderbird which encircled it all (and from which Prince entered and exited the stage).
Of course – as was the case with any Prince show – it was the music ruled that first night in Bloomington. Nonetheless, among the other bells and whistles that dazzled the opening night hometown crowd on September 14, 1988, there was one small wardrobe prop, likely overlooked by most fans that was particularly special to both Prince and one member of the audience. That individual is Michelle Louise Streitz. This is her story.
"MUM… I AM GOING TO COLLEGE IN ENGLAND"
A native of St. Cloud, Michelle spent the entirety of her youth between “The Granite City” and nearby Sauk Rapids. Her passion for all things creative revealed itself at a very young age as she recalls oil painting for “hours and hours each day” on the back porch of her childhood home. Michelle studied art throughout her formative years and at 13 began taking a summer pottery class at St. Cloud’s newly opened Apollo High School. The pottery teacher took note of not only Michelle’s talent, but her drive and thusly chose her to serve as his assistant teacher, a position she would hold for the next four summers.
As a junior at St. Cloud Technical High School, Michelle had already been granted early acceptance into the College of St. Catherine when an opportunity arose that she couldn’t pass up. A program through St. Cloud State University would potentially allow her to study abroad for one year at Alnwick College of Education in the English County of Northumberland. Michelle immediately called her mother, a native of the United Kingdom herself, to declare “Mum. I am going to college in England.” To which her mother replied, “No, you are not.”
Michelle’s stubbornness eventually won out, but now she had to acquire the financial resources to make her wish come true. After doubling up on courses in order to graduate high school early, she began working full-time to save up the money she needed. Her extra effort paid off and in the fall of 1976, she began her college career at Alnwick.
The ten months Michelle spent in England not only allowed her to meet her grandmother for the first time (as well as several aunts, uncles, and cousins), but reaffirmed to her the endless possibilities that the world of art could bestow.
By the time she returned to the states to begin her sophomore year at St. Kate’s, the nineteen-year-old Prince was on his way to the Bay Area to record his debut album For You. In the ensuing years, as Prince steadily began to make waves in the music industry, Michelle was laser focussed on her own future and at the time completely unaware of the singular musical talent emerging on the other side Mississippi River. She had no way of knowing the indelible impact that Prince would have on her life and career.
FRIENDS IN PURPLE PLACES
After earning her B.A., Michelle quickly landed a spot in the set-up crew at the Minneapolis Institute of Art where she worked with the likes of Helen Hiatt. Among Michelle’s responsibilities was handling fabrics for the legendary Romantics to Rodin exhibition. When her boss at MIA, Russ Belk, left to start his own company called Museum Services, he invited Michelle to join him.
By now, Michelle’s former co-worker Hiatt was working for Prince as was another close friend, Sue Bacheller Segal. It was Segal, a seamstress and gifted designer in her own right, who sewed a number of the famous Purple Rain era costumes worn by Prince and members of The Revolution and designed by the team of Louis Wells, Vaughn Terry, and Marie France. It was through her friendship to Segal, that Michelle became familiar with, and in rather short order, mesmerized by Prince and his music.
Although still working for Museum Services, Michelle was always searching for opportunities to expand and enrich her career. As such, she went on to earn a teaching degree and by 1986 found herself teaching art at Northeast Middle School in Minneapolis, where she befriended school administrator Harvey Winston. One day when Winston asked what she might like to do next, Michelle didn’t hesitate, “I would love to work for Prince."
“Really,” Winston responded, “Well, you should know that I practically raised Prince.” Michelle had little inkling of what he meant by that and decided not to ask. And, before she could say anything Winston was on the telephone to Prince’s mother Mattie. “The next thing I know he handed me the phone and I hear this soft, sweet voice on the other end" recalls Michelle. "I couldn’t believe I was actually talking to Prince’s mom."
With Winston having already broken the ice, Michelle confirmed to Mattie that indeed, she wanted to work for her son. Mattie kindly suggested that she reach out to Prince or his people. However, in lieu of her reticence, coupled with not knowing the first thing about how to contact Prince, she simply decided to let it go, at least for now.
In spite of that initial let-down, it wasn’t long before fortune smiled upon Michelle and her dream of working for Prince would become a reality. In early 1987, Helen Hiatt, still with Prince’s PRN Productions, inquired of her former boss Russ Belk whether Michelle would be available to assemble some mirrored jewelry for Prince’s next big project. When Russ shared the good news, Michelle was overwhelmed with excitement. “Wow,” she thought to herself, "I finally have the chance to work for Prince."
PEACE, LOVE, AND DIAMONDS
Upon learning from her long-time boss Russ Belk that she was being recruited to work on a project for Prince, Michelle Streitz was overcome with emotion. “The news was life-affirming, yet somehow still surreal,” says Michelle.
The assignment that Michelle and co-worker Amy Ouradnik had been tasked with was to hand assemble jewelry to compliment one of the visual motifs for Prince’s 1987 magnum opus Sign ’ The Times and its subsequent world tour. Specifically, Prince wanted earrings in the shapes of hearts and diamonds. And, based on the design by her former MIA co-worker and Prince’s Wardrobe Assistant Helen Hiatt, Michelle and Amy began crafting Prince’s request.
The European leg of the tour, which ran from early May through June of 1987 and consisted of 34 shows in 14 cities, prominently featured Michelle’s handiwork. In addition to the earrings, Michelle, and another colleague from Museum Services, Tom Briggs, created larger pieces that were not only worn as bracelets (Prince and Cat Glover donned the heart-shaped cuffs, while Sheila E. sported the diamond), but also adorned much of Prince’s wardrobe including his iconic denim jacket.
What is more is that the mirrored hearts and diamonds Michelle and Tom made weren’t limited to wardrobe selections; they were also affixed to Sheila’s drum kit and Prince’s acoustic guitar among a number of other places on stage
By this time Prince had decided to scrap the U.S. leg of the tour in favor of a concert movie that would merge footage from recent shows in Rotterdam with a full-performance on the Sound Stage at Paisley Park. Although Paisley Park would not officially open for business until September of 1987, shooting for the Sign ’ The Times film was scheduled over six days in late July.
In advance of filming, Michelle was called upon to deliver another supply of jewelry to Paisley Park. When she arrived Michelle wondered to herself if she might possibly catch a glimpse of Prince. Alas, it was not to be as he was nowhere in sight. Nonetheless, she was captivated by Prince’s new digs and took note of how efficient the operation seemed to be, particularly in the wardrobe department. “It was like visiting Santa’s workshop,” she recalls.
As she walked out of Paisley Park that day it was not lost on her that this “might be it.” Would Prince ever call on her services again? In spite of the fact that she still hadn’t been able to meet him, Michelle took solace in the fact that she had contributed to his vision for Sign ’ The Times. Plus, she’d heard from others that he really dug her work. “Could life be any better,” she thought?
Fate would soon step in again however as Helen Hiatt came calling once more. Prince needed something else.
LOVESEXY IS THE ONE ‘TIL MY DAY IS DONE
While on the streets of New York City, Prince’s Executive Assistant Karen Krattinger and former fiancé Susannah Melvoin gazed into a store front window where something caught their eyes. It was a lucite wand filled with glitter. Thinking that Prince might appreciate such an item, they purchased it for him as a gift. Not only did he like it, but now he wanted a cane to match.
Hiatt brought the wand to Museum Services, where Michelle and Tom Briggs were now charged with fashioning an identical cane for Prince to use on the upcoming Lovesexy Tour.
Although it might have seemed like a simple task, there were a multitude of variables involved. Not entirely sure how to proceed, Michelle and Tom set forth on a journey that found them pounding the Minneapolis pavement in search of all the right ingredients.
After some trial and error, the two of them found the right mix, which included among other things: a plexiglass tube; a toaster oven borrowed from Michelle’s sister; just the right combination of mineral oils (so the glitter would float); a dremel tool for finishing; and of course, lots of glitter.
Once they mastered the timing, temperature, and other additional technical aspects of the process, Michelle and Tom had a small scale model for Prince to look at. And, when the word came back that he approved, they got to work on the real thing.
The first leg of the Lovesexy Tour weaved through Europe for two months beginning in Paris and ending in Dortmund, West Germany. During this time, Michelle frequently wondered how Prince was utilizing the cane onstage. Five days after the European finale, she would get the chance to see for herself.
OPENING NIGHT AT THE MET (CENTER)
As a thank you for the work she had done, Prince sent Michelle a pair of tickets to the tour’s first American date, one of two hometown gigs at the Met Center in suburban Bloomington. As her date for the evening, Michelle chose to invite Jeff Lund, a close friend from St. Cloud.
Completely entranced by Prince’s performance, Michelle wasn’t even thinking about the cane. Toward the end of the show, as was the case with most nights on the tour, Prince sat down alone at the piano and raced through classics such as “Venus De Milo,” “Condition of the Heart,” and “Strange Relationship.” Upon completing this medley, Prince nimbly leaped onto the lid of his piano. He grabbed the cane, twirled it a few times in front of an adoring crowd, jumped down and did a few twirls himself strolled into the darkness (cane in hand) before re-emerging for the show’s big finish.
"Exhilarated doesn’t begin to capture how I felt at that moment," says Michelle, “I grabbed Jeff by the arm and just shook it. That’s my cane! That’s my cane!”
Michelle and Tom had actually made several canes for Prince as occasionally one might break or leak. And toward the end of the North American leg, Prince developed a penchant for tossing them into the audience. So, with eight final Lovesexy dates set for Japan in early 1989, Prince commissioned a literal stockpile of his beloved prop. “He asked that we make like 25 of them. I sometimes wonder how many fans in Japan might still have them in their collection.”
That wouldn’t be the last time Prince looked to Michelle and Tom. He later asked for one more cane to give to his close friend Miles Davis who’d recently been hospitalized in Los Angeles. And that was the last thing she ever did for Prince, still having never met the man. Yet the bond she felt with him was unbreakable.
When she heard that Prince had passed away the morning of April 21, 2016, Michelle was devastated. She remembers receiving a voicemail from her 90-year-old mother Patricia Kasimor who sensed how much her daughter must be hurting. "Just remember," said her mum, "The whole world is grieving."
While commiserated with friends, a number of Prince associates, including Karen Krattinger, reminded her how much Prince loved that cane. And as she perused many of the stories and written tributes to Prince during the ensuing days, Michelle came across a piece that featured the friends and family of Miles Davis discussing his “obsession” with Prince.
In the article, Jason Miles, a longtime bandmate of Davis was quoted as saying,"When Miles was in the hospital… Prince had sent him this cane that had all kinds of glitter… He really loved that gift."
Still in mourning, Michelle couldn’t help but crack a smile. "Wow. Who knew," she asked herself? Today, Michelle does her part to keep Prince’s legacy alive with her own studio exhibit "Prince Love: Minneapolis Collections," which not only showcases some of the work she did for Prince, but the art, photography, and fashion created by other Prince associates including Sue Segal.
Could life be any better for Michelle? "Yeah," she says, "If Prince were still here."
But alas Michelle, he is.
For more from Michelle Streitz, visit Elle Louise Design and Fine Art Gallery
© Tony Kiene & PRN Alumni Foundation