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‘Here,” said Robert Wilson, making his way through an underground labyrinth of caverns, arches and alcoves, “I want a pile of yellow sulphur.” In the darkness, people around him took careful note. “And here,” continued the American guru of the avant garde nonchalantly, “I want hundreds of golden arrows flying through the air, suspended in mid-flight . . .”
The year was 1995, and the setting was the cavernous Clink Street Vaults on London’s Bankside. I had gone behind the scenes, and was getting my first glimpse into the shadowy workings of an art production outfit known as Artangel. Although the company had been in existence for a few years, its ambitious new commission – HG, a vast installation by the legendarily demanding Wilson, based extremely loosely on The Time Machine by HG Wells – was on an altogether more monumental scale.
Following Wilson, the Artangel crew (producers Michael Morris and James Lingwood, plus an army of support staff) were unblinkingly jotting down even the most outlandish request. They then spent the ensuing months transforming this subterranean expanse into an immersive dreamscape of dripping lightbulbs, glittering sphinxes, mummified corpses and ruined temples…
For the past 20 years, Artangel has been playing a crucial, if backroom, role – as curator, facilitator, fundraiser, administrator, babysitter and celestial guardian – to some of Britain and the world’s most radical, daring and provocative artists. Even before HG, the company had already made a splash in 1993, as the unseen hand behind Rachel Whiteread’s House, a concrete cast of the insides of an entire terraced house in London.
Evoking the religious and the sublime … The Weather Project, an installation by Olafur Eliasson in Tate Modern, 2003.
It is not especially original, but it’s hard not to notice the striking similarities between theatre and organised religion: the communal experience, the gathering together in one place to bear witness; finding a space within a crowd to reflect in silence on one’s thoughts; the civic, social and, to an extent, pastoral needs which both can fulfil.
For the ancient Greeks, theatre clearly played an important part in the intellectual and moral life of the city; it’s probably reasonable to speculate that the day-long performances of tragedies must have accrued some of the heady atmosphere of the religious trance.
But in Shakespeare’s deeply sectarian Christian world, while frowned on by protestantism, theatres seemed to distance themselves from overt expressions of religious faith. And so, the raucous, secular, circular space of the Globe offers an almost precise opposite of the hushed, reverent cruciform of a cathedral.
From the 17th century onwards, an essential secularity seems to have been established in theatre, both in terms of content and architecture. There are superficial similarities between the narrower proscenium arch theatres and more ornate churches, but such similarities tend not to resonate. If the wings of the stage are the choir, then the altar has been excised; in theatre, at least, the cross has been decapitated.
While the British theatre scene prepares for Edinburgh, in New York, the International Fringe festival begins on 14 August, and I’ve been planning my schedule for the opening weekend. In two and a half days I’ll see more than a dozen shows, and, if this year is anything like the last 10, I’ll also have to deal with too little sleep, too much pizza, freezing air conditioning, boiling sun, torrential rain and several of the worst plays I will see all year.
Photo: Time Out
While I love my work as a drama critic and used to very much enjoy my days of frantic Fringe-ing, I have begun to view this late-summer ritual with something approaching dread. It’s not the fault of the Fringe, but rather the fact that in recent years New York has come to suffer from a condition called festival glut. And it’s an acute case. Not very long ago, Manhattan theatre used to take a summer holiday. A few shows demanded attention, such as the Public’s Shakespeare in the Park, but, for the most part, a critic could have a holiday – some time to relax and indulge in other passions. Dagger-sharpening, say. Or making small children cry.
In 1996, the Lincoln Center festival opened its doors to counter the theatrical summer doldrums. The Fringe festival started the following year. Now New York is overwhelmed with dramatic events. These last two months have already seen the Summer Play festival, Summerfest, Summerworks, the Summer Solo Series and a dozen others. The Fringe has even spawned a knock-off: the International Cringe festival, at which I witnessed several (more or less intentionally) execrable shows last week.
I should say I’m not in the least anti-theatre. Last month I spent my holiday in London and Manchester, seeing plenty of plays. Nor am I anti-festival. Every year a critic friend and I hatch schemes to get ourselves to the Festival d’Avignon; they’ve yet to work.
But I’m unconvinced that the typical strategy of taking in as many shows as you can is a particularly functional or pleasurable way to experience theatre. It’s an efficient use of time, I suppose, and encourages associative thinking as you try to make sense of so many disparate works. But every year, even if I take assiduous notes and drink too much coffee, the shows start to blur together in my head – tragedies mixing with musicals, parodies with confessional solo works. I also find that festival-going itself appeals to me less than it once did. Experiences I used to love in my 20s – bad food, lack of sleep, quick-fire romance – no longer seem quite as fun.
I would never call for a moratorium on festivals; I’d just prefer that New York’s were fewer and better assembled, and brought more experimental companies to the city. Alas, many are overbooked, under-curated, and rely exclusively on local talent. What I miss most from 10 years ago isn’t so much the opportunity for a holiday but the chance to uncover a really exciting new voice. It’s that aspect that still makes me look forward to January’s Under the Radar festival, as well as September’s Next Wave and the Lincoln Center event. But it has been years since I anticipated the Fringe with such relish – or hoped to find there the next great writer, performer or company.
There is very little that playwrights, film directors, fiction editors and journalists agree on. But on one subject there does seem to be an almost universal consensus, and that is that you – the reader, the listener – are bored, most of the time. Look at any contemporary guide to making art, or working in the media, and the assumption is that an audience’s natural state is one of restless ennui. Our job as writers is to provide a sort of espresso shot. Grab them quickly, grab them hard – otherwise they will change channels or walk away.
And so we throw spectacle at you, make sure there are three laughs on every page, grip you with the power of ‘what happens next?’, do what we can to shock you with graphic sex and violence. From the worthiest of new-writing theatres to the brashest of musicals, from the Booker shortlist to the BBC newsroom, the assumption is the same – that you out there are very easily distracted.
Maybe we should blame the invention of the TV remote control: people often do. At some point around 30 years ago, it became possible to hop aimlessly between channels. Programme-makers became convinced that they had to make a pitch for their show in its opening few seconds, and then keep on pitching just to keep the audience on side. But why has this requirement to grab, grip, deliver a punch (the language is nearly always that of physical violence) infected nearly every other medium? After all, you’ve already chosen to buy that novel, or theatre ticket; the chances are you’re going to stick at it even if the story moves slowly, if it rambles or pauses to digress. But more and more, it seems, we treat every audience as though they carry a phantom remote control. We are terrified of losing them.
Polish theatre director Krystian Lupa isn’t scared of his audience. He never seems to consider that we might all be suffering from some kind of attention deficit disorder. And the chances are you haven’t even heard of Lupa. His work isn’t much known in our rather inward-looking island, though he is big news in the rest of Europe. I knew nothing about him myself until recently, when I was invited to Wroclaw in Poland to see him receive the Europe Theatre prize, an influential award given to those considered to be major figures in contemporary theatre.
I arrived in Poland a day too late to see Factory 2, Lupa’s eight-hour homage to Andy Warhol. But, before the prize ceremony, I was fortunate enough to see his Marilyn, a three-hour work-in-progress that will eventually form part of a nine-hour exploration of ‘personality’. It wasn’t at all what I thought it would be: I suppose I was expecting some kind of spectacle – maybe abstract, maybe symbolic – but nevertheless, a burst of theatrical pyrotechnics. In fact, what is remarkable about Lupa’s work is its simplicity, its slowness, its longeurs.
On a realistic-looking reconstruction of a movie backlot, Lupa showed a series of long dialogues between Marilyn Monroe and her acting coach, a photographer and a studio doorman, as Monroe prepares (as she was reportedly doing shortly before her death) for a New York theatre adaptation of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. One thing struck me very soon into the show: this was the first time I had seen Monroe as a truly dignified person, entirely apart from the screen persona she created. Here was a woman whom you believed might seduce Arthur Miller with her mind, as well as her body.
Apart from an arresting final few minutes, featuring video and the sudden appearance of a crowd, the three-hour performance was slow and talky. At first, I found it hard to watch. Here were actors who didn’t seem to care whether I was engaged or not. But Lupa’s work is about the thought and the emotion taking place right at that moment, and his actors aren’t afraid to take their time; he is not interested in rushing us forward, or building suspense. So yes, I was initially frustrated. But then I suddenly became hugely excited: for almost the first time in my theatre-going experience, I was truly being treated as an adult, someone who didn’t need to be constantly diverted, who had chosen to be here and was being given space for my own responses. And it seemed OK to sometimes engage fully with the performance, and sometimes drift off into my own thoughts. Here was theatre that didn’t stop to worry that I might get bored. Sometimes it was boring: it was really, really boring. But it was never dull – and it was all the better for it.
She’s mean at the beginning and even meaner at the end. For her first trick, she mercilessly derides a sweet old lady’s brand new hat. Later she uses a visiting guest for target practice in the backyard. And for a big finish, she consigns a baby to the flames. (A metaphorical baby, that is.) Through it all she exudes tetchiness, weariness and a general contempt for everything in sight. She finds everybody a bore, and even bores herself — to death, essentially.
A more repellent personality would be hard to imagine, and yet Hedda Gabler is one of the eternal fascinators of the world stage. Since she sprang from the imagination of the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen in 1890, this coldhearted antiheroine has maintained a tight grip on the attention of audiences across the globe, outstripping all the many other complicated women in Ibsen’s oeuvre, even the door-slamming Nora of “A Doll’s House.” This month “Hedda Gabler” sweeps back onto Broadway — for somewhere around the 20th time over the course of a century — in a new production from the Roundabout Theater Company starring Mary-Louise Parker and directed by Ian Rickson.
In a review of the first Broadway production, way back in 1898, a critic for The New York Times described Hedda as a “degenerate,” “selfish, morbid, cruel, bitter, jealous, something of a visionary, something of a wanton, something of a lunatic.” Another writer for the paper, on the occasion of a revival in 1903, moralized that “her soul is too small even for human sin.” Critical responses have calmed over the centuries as we’ve all become more comfortable with neuroses, our own and everyone else’s. But there’s no pretending that Hedda herself has gotten any warmer. Locked in the fastness of art, she is as she ever was, a scorpion in amber.
So what is the mystery of her attraction? Probably her mystery itself. No matter how many times we encounter her, how many new angles we view her from, Hedda remains strangely inscrutable, her essence as elusive as the murky depths of our own tangled psyches.
If she were created by a playwright today, a new-model Hedda Gabler would probably stride onstage waving the standard flags of dysfunction and emotional disorder. Between bouts of pistol-polishing she’d be blabbing away about her issues with daddy worship, her husband’s inability to fulfill her needs, the oppressive social order and the sterility of Norwegian towns.
She’d have done some time in rehab and maybe had cosmetic work done, although at the time of her marriage to Tesman she had not yet hit 30 (30 was the old 50). A Hedda Gabler newly minted would probably be a lot like the insufferable mascara-dripping gamin played by Anne Hathaway in the cinematic whine-fest “Rachel Getting Married.” “But what about me?” would be her rallying cry.
Actually, that line comes directly from the Rolf Fjelde translation of the original play. (The new production, opening Jan. 25, uses a new adaptation by Christopher Shinn.) One of the hallmarks of Hedda’s modernity — one of the keys to her constant contemporaneity — is the depth of her narcissism. She was far ahead of the curve in the rampaging ego department, obsessively self-involved before it became an acknowledged strain in the modern character. She seems contemporary, too, in the pettiness of her dissatisfactions and her irritated sense of entitlement. And her attitude toward marriage strikes a similarly current note: “To be everlastingly together with one and the same person,” she moans in complaint. Both Miranda and Samantha on “Sex and the City” evinced similar skepticism about the till-death-do-us-part part of marriage.
But Hedda also resists self-revelation. She keeps her deepest secrets to herself, hiding the truth of her motivations behind the steel-gray eyes so peculiarly specified by Ibsen. The deepest roots of her malaise are probably obscure even to her. She admits to Judge Brack, her father confessor figure, that she doesn’t really know why she took that nasty swipe at dear Aunt Julie’s hat. She just felt like it, really. For Hedda, actions do speak louder than words, and all her actions are destructive.
“The odd thing is that she is not particularly introverted or self-analytical,” Elizabeth Hardwick wrote in an illuminating essay on Ibsen heroines in from the collection “Seduction and Betrayal.” “There is not much pleasure in her self-love. It is of an unproductive, even useless sort and so in the end she looks in the mirror endlessly and yet does not feel ardor for what she sees there.”
Unraveling the coils of her psychology is, of course, what attracts so many stars to the role. For an actress, bewitching an audience through the vehicle of a manifestly unlovable character is a challenge hard to resist. Famous interpreters on Broadway have included Minnie Maddern Fiske, Alla Nazimova and Eva Le Gallienne, the great champion (and translator) of Ibsen in the 1920s. But the list of distinguished actresses who have portrayed Hedda could be elaborated endlessly: Ingrid Bergman and Diana Rigg in versions currently available on DVD, Glenda Jackson in another filmed version from 1975, Claire Bloom on Broadway in 1971, Annette Bening in a Los Angeles production just about a decade ago.
There is danger in trying too cleanly to diagram the roots of Hedda’s pathology. That way lies reductiveness. In fact, another remarkable aspect of Hedda’s character is how reliably she confounds or confuses even formidable actresses. (Brooks Atkinson was underwhelmed by the interpretation of Le Gallienne, whom he admired more in other Ibsen plays, describing her Hedda of 1928 as being at times “perfunctory rather than artful.”) Every actress with the right aptitude and intelligence wants to play Hedda, but relatively few stars manage to triumph in the role.
The urge to clarify — and to forge a connection with the audience by evoking sympathy or amusement — can trip up an actress in this role perhaps as in no other. Hedda must captivate without seducing, and that can rub against the grain of an actress’s natural instinct. Attempt to reveal too much about Hedda that Ibsen did not specifically plant in the text, or settle too firmly on a neat psychological formula, and you risk reducing her to a bored housewife, a frustrated neurotic, a thwarted artist. She is all these, in part and in theory, but she must be more, too, larger somehow than both her personality and her predicament.
In recent years I’ve seen half a dozen productions, and only one — the New York Theater Workshop production from the experimental director Ivo Van Hove, starring Elizabeth Marvel — was satisfactory. By yanking the play from its naturalistic frame Mr. Van Hove helped restore some of its resounding mystery, and Ms. Marvel’s coolly entrancing performance shimmered with eerie intensities.
Without having any inkling of how she will approach the role, I’d venture to say that Ms. Parker is a promising choice. There is a cool, withholding quality in her economical acting style that seems right for Hedda, a suggestion that calculations and assessments are continually going on behind the big, dark eyes. Even in the Showtime series “Weeds,” for which she is currently best known, Ms. Parker uses this elusiveness to strong effect, infusing her performance as a suburban mom trafficking in drugs with a sense of suppressed desperation.
Her director, Mr. Rickson, whose sensitive, resonant production of “The Seagull” was a highlight of the fall season on Broadway, would seem capable of bringing forth the richer currents of the play. “Hedda is unable to live,” Richard Gilman wrote in the chapter devoted to Ibsen in “The Making of Modern Drama.” “At the deepest level of Ibsen’s vision she is caught not so much in a particular set of circumstances — these make up the dramatic occasion, providing the details by which the dramatic vision is made possible — as in human circumstance itself. She is a victim of the way things are.”
This sharp insight points toward the fundamental appeal of so superficially repulsive a woman. Life just isn’t good enough for Hedda Gabler. That might seem dismissive, making her sound like a teenager having a tantrum. But there are surely passages in every life when the soul sends up a similar cry of frustration. Admit, please, that there are moments when we are all inclined to feel that this frustrating business of existence — as it is lived on the darkest days — isn’t good enough for us either.
New York Times
Harold Pinter, who died Wednesday after a long bout with cancer, will go down as the most important modern English-language playwright after Samuel Beckett. He wouldn’t have minded coming in second. Plus he gave the world a sharper adjective — Pinteresque.
Beckett was an idol and mentor to Pinter, as well as a friend. Pinter took inspiration from the Irish writer’s profound concentration of language and metaphor, breadth of literary and philosophical knowledge, Proustian appreciation of the subjectivity of memory, recognition of the power struggles in human relations and harrowing comedy in the face of the 20th century’s apocalyptic worst.
In effect, Pinter brought Beckett’s game indoors, transferring it from barren heaths, garbage cans and mounds of earth to recognizable domestic English settings. Shabby in Pinter’s early years, these rooms became posher as he began to reap the fruits of his success in both theater and film, where he was a noted screenwriter (enjoying an especially productive relationship with Joseph Losey), a pungent actor and an occasional director.
But Pinter was always his own man. And to understand him, one has to recognize the specifics of his background, as a Jewish kid from the East End of London whose adolescence was darkened by the Second World War and as an actor who gleaned as much about playwriting from working as a rep player alongside such British acting legends as Donald Wolfit as he did from studying Beckett.
Where Pinter grew up, violence and anti-Semitic hatred weren’t abstract matters. After the war, in his economically debilitated, politically explosive part of town, he learned to avoid physical confrontations — a danger, he acknowledged, for anyone who “remotely looked like a Jew” — by talking to thugs hanging out outside the club he used to frequent: “Are you all right?” “Yes, I’m all right.” “Well, that’s all right then, isn’t it?”
Language, which is so often a weapon in his plays, is also a reliable shield, “a constant stratagem to cover nakedness,” as the playwright himself once described it. David Hare was right to pay Pinter the ultimate Auden compliment of having “cleaned the gutters of the English language, so that it ever afterwards flowed more easily and more cleanly.” But Pinter’s poetic density, shot through with those signature gaping silences, wasn’t deployed for its own sake.
The assaultive threat hovering over his characters is what shapes their jagged conversation. In Pinter’s view, Kafka was one of the few writers who had got it right: The nightmarish knock on the door isn’t just a paranoid delusion. The urge to dominate is fundamental to our territorial natures. We know we’re not safe, and our canine vigilance readies us to attack and defend.
Pinter’s rough-and-tumble roots also informed his political perspective, which became more explicit in his plays in the 1980s and could admittedly become rather truculent in his speeches and editorials, most notably in his 2005 Nobel lecture, “Art, Truth & Politics,” in which he took the opportunity to rail against what he saw as the long-standing brutality of American foreign policy.
But for all his vehemence and posturing, Pinter was too gifted with words and too astute a critic to be dismissed as an ideological crank. He was also too deft a psychologist, understanding what the British psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott meant when he wrote that “being weak is as aggressive as the attack of the strong on the weak” and that the repressive denial of personal aggressiveness is perhaps even more dangerous than ranting and raving. (All that stiff-upper-lip business can be murderous.)
Los Angeles Times
“There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall.” That’s what writer and critic Cyril Connolly reckoned in 1938. Back then of course he had yet to come across an Arts Council funding form. All these documents seem interested in is how you fit in with government social policy. Never mind the art, feel the diversity quotas.
So, is it time artists got together and elected their own parliament? That’s the issue under public debate at the Young Vic theatre tomorrow night.
Is there even anyone out there who still respects this 50-year-old funding body? Admittedly, it’s become hard to imagine art without the Arts Council. The nation’s high culture would surely collapse faster then banking system without government handouts. Where, for example, would the National Theatre find the £18m that makes up 38% of its revenue?
Amazingly, though, art did actually flourish before the Arts Council was founded in 1946. People acted, danced, painted and wrote. Some of that culture may have been clog dancing – but we shouldn’t be too judgemental. Today, however, the Arts Council looks more and more like a quaint, antiquated bureaucracy, blandly charged with “developing the knowledge, understanding and practice of the arts”. Or, to put it another way, a salaried midwife to Westminster’s cultural largesse.
The Arts Council is of course supposed to have its blushing integrity guarded by a flimsy chastity belt known as the “arms length” doctrine. Funding decisions are supposed to be “taken by experts, not ministers”. But do they really believe they are safe from government molestation? The Arts Council’s chair, for example, is obliged to take “proper account of guidance provided by the secretary of state or the department”. Which translates as, “do as you’re told”.
I have no great problem with many of the covert political objectives with which the council is encumbered – accessibility, inclusivity and so on. I just don’t think the arts are the place to pursue them. It’s about time we got away from the Stalinist idea that art is a proper vehicle for social engineering. The best and probably only way to do this is an independent parliament of artists along the lines suggested by Mark Ravenhill on this blog back in May.
Obviously, any such parliament would have problems. How would it be constituted and voted for? Would it not lead to in-crowd cliques looking after number one? And, isn’t it far too easy to imagine a parliament of artists turning into a Tower of Babel – with all the delegates talking different languages and the whole edifice collapsing under the weight of its self-importance?
But let’s have a bit of faith. Maybe it would be good for artists to be responsible for how they use money taken from people with no interest in their work. It might even better represent the interests of those the government seeks to reach with its social policy. It could also be less patrician, with decisions made by minorities not for them.
The alternative is the continued dominion of grey, unaccountable bureaucrats.
A million free theater tickets to people younger than 26? American producers will no doubt be green with envy over the British government’s largess. But reports about the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s initiative, designed to spark a love affair between Shakespeare, Shaw and Stoppard and a generation that has spent its youth blankly gazing at screens, made me wonder if there might not be another, less politically correct reason for the program.
For years, there have been whispered complaints among unpensioned theatergoers about the “gray menace” — you know, the invasion of cumbersome canes and aisle-blocking walkers at matinees, the crinkling of lozenge wrappers during pivotal plot points and that unignorable combination of listening devices and hearing aids that tend to explode just as opening numbers start getting good.
Theater producers are perennially wringing their hands about the difficulty of attracting twentysomethings to their musty warhorse offerings. But couldn’t this ticket giveaway be a sneaky way to lower the median age of audiences from where it’s been for the last few decades (somewhere around 62, by my unscientific estimate)?
Playwright Richard Greenberg stirred up controversy a few years back when he spoke out against the geriatric cacophony of Manhattan Theatre Club’s audiences. His comments may have been misjudged, but he’s not the only one to have wondered why seniors can’t get their sucking candies all lined up before the curtain rise.
With economic Armageddon upon us, there’s no chance of this kind of cultural food-stamps program happening in the States any time soon. And that gives us time to reflect on some of its flaws. For example, do we really want to make 27-year-olds feel like they’re over-the-hill? And will constant texting and BlackBerry-fondling be quieter than fishing for Kleenexes and butterscotches in bottomless pocketbooks?
All joking aside, without the AARP crowd, American theater would have collapsed ages ago. If anyone deserves free tickets, it’s those stalwart patrons on fixed incomes who have made theater a regular part of their lives. If college kids would rather replace yet another iPod left at the gym than see a show at the Mark Taper Forum or Geffen Playhouse, so be it. As adulthood grows more complicated, so too will the desire for more complex drama.
In the meantime, let’s advocate for a theater that’s affordable for people of all ages. One that invites everyone on a risk-taking adventure, without having to justify exorbitant ticket prices. Age discrimination (or favoritism) is never a good idea. Think about it: If we’re to go that route, where would it end? A twenty-dollar Treasury check for watching “60 Minutes” and the “NewsHour”?
Los Angeles Times
Michael Boyd, announcing the artistic direction of the Royal Shakespeare Company for the coming three years this morning, suggested that theatre was in rude health in this country – not just because of regular, decent funding from the government, not just because of the healthy filtering upwards of energy and inventiveness from the fringe into the mainstream – but also because the very nature of theatre means that it is the artform that speaks most powerfully to the Zeitgeist. “It is the artform for now, at this fragmented time,” he said. “It has to do with how we can connect with each other. In theatre you deal with that – that is why theatre is important right now.”
“It is on its way to reasserting itself as the most urgent artform now, at a time when we are so disconnected. I cannot remember a time when the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre, the Royal Court were so ‘on song’. The hit rate at the moment is tremendous.”
I suppose he means that as communities become more fragile, the pull of sitting in a theatre and being part of a group of people engaged in a communal experience is all the more powerful. What he said reminded me of something Lee Hall (Billy Elliot, Spoonface Steinberg) said to me in an interview the other week: “In miniature, drama is like a metaphor for how life and politics should work – you come together to create a common entity and you try to express yourself with and through other people. Whether you are a writer or an actor or a stage manager, you are trying to express the complications of life through a shared enterprise.”
Theatre, of course, is the medium of debate, of getting-to-the-bottom-of-things, of hammering things out – unlike more visceral and emotive performing arts, such as dance and classical music. It’s an intriguing idea of Boyd’s – that, above all other artforms it is theatre’s time and theatre is what we need now: not just because there are some good people making and directing plays and running theatres, but because of some deeper cultural forces. I’m not sure I entirely buy Boyd’s position – but it is one to chew on.
Woeful tidings concerning the announcement of the demise of Theatre de la Jeune Lune are forcing me to postpone my perky blog post for another day.
The news that the seminal Minneapolis-based theatre company is shutting its doors shouldn’t have come as a shock to me. After all, stories about the company’s lamentable financial situation have been circulating for a while and imminent closure was on the horizon months ago.
Yet I was thrown completely off-balance this morning by the realization that the company’s shut-down was no longer a rumor that probably wouldn’t come to fruition, owing — I was certain — to some knight in shining armor stepping in to pull the company out of debt, but a horrible truth.
Jeune Lune is one of the best companies working in this country today. I count the troupe’s production of The Miser, which I caught at Berkeley Rep a couple of years ago, as one of the five best theatre experiences I’ve ever had in my life.
Jeune Lune’s stopovers in the Bay Area have long been a highlight of the local theatrical calendar. Promises of the company’s arrival to these shores kept me going through some hard times.
Now what? Can nothing be done to save the company? Surely someone somewhere must have a few million to keep artistic director Dominique Serrand and his amazing collaborators afloat. If this company ends up going down, then it will take a piece of what’s glorious about this country’s theatrical imagination with it. In short, this lunar eclipse must be stopped.
I leave you with Serrand’s statement concerning the closure from the company’s website:
In 1978 Barbra Berlovitz, Vincent Gracieux, and Dominique Serrand began an adventure called Theatre de la Jeune Lune. They were soon joined by Robert Rosen and eventually Steve Epp and innumerable other collaborators. Over the past 30 years we have created nearly 100 productions, performed for hundreds of thousands of people in cities across the United States and in France, but primarily and most importantly in Minneapolis. For the first 14 years we were itinerant, making the most of any venue we found ourselves in. Then in 1992, with an amazing groundswell of support, we purchased and renovated the Allied Van Lines building in the Minneapolis warehouse district. We excavated the interior of this historic building to create a stunningly innovative and award winning performance space, opening our new artistic home to the public on November 18th of that year.
Sixteen years later we are faced with an excruciating decision. With the organization burdened by mounting and unmanageable debt, the Board of Directors has voted to put Jeune Lune’s home up for sale. After much soul searching and extensive fundraising and debt management efforts, we have determined it to be the only prudent and fiscally responsible choice. What has been acclaimed, as one of the most striking and unique theatre spaces in the country will go dark. It is a huge loss, a loss for us, for all of the artists who work with us, for our audience and for the community at large, both locally and nationally.
And with the building, we have decided that the time has come to bid adieu to the theatre ensemble we have all known as Jeune Lune.
We have always believed that the making of theatre is an important and essential act. We have always believed in the power of theatre to provoke, inspire, and excite. We have always created our work for and because of our audience. Over the years we have cultivated a loyal audience locally, regionally and nationally. We have garnered numerous awards and accolades, and of course at times we have elicited criticism and consternation. We have benefited enormously from the support of foundations, corporations, state and national organizations, all those who have served as board members, staff and volunteers, the incredible generosity of thousands of individuals, and especially all of the artists. Without all of you we would never have survived this long or created as much. We can never thank you enough.
It has been an amazing thirty years. Few theatre companies last as long. We never sought nor desired to be an institution. Our home was always intended to be a playground in which we could gather with other adventurous souls and create the unimaginable. A place in which to grow, change and evolve. The theatrical experience is an event truly of the moment — immediate, fleeting and ephemeral. Yet in the space of that moment something takes place that is transformative to the human spirit and remains indelible in our memory — the stuff that dreams are made of, the stuff we carry with us forever. We hope you will treasure well the memory of Jeune Lune.
But, as this story ends, a new one begins. We live to create. To do what we know best, what the artist’s responsibility in society has always been — to invent, to dream, to imagine.
Starting today, we begin imagining a new way of working. What should a theatre-generating organization of the 21st Century look like? How can artists create truly groundbreaking art in a fast changing world? Times have changed and so have we. Building upon our artistic legacy, and facing a different future, we are exploring ways to reinvent an agile, nomadic, entrepreneurial theatre with a new name. One that can embrace the concentric circles of artists we have worked with over the years. Together we will create essential and innovative theatre for today’s changing audience. It’s an exciting new journey and we hope you’ll join us with your support, with your presence, with your belief. Fear not: the art is alive and coming soon to a theatre near you. Keep in touch.
Lies Like Truth