Guthrie controversy rages on, 10 new plays open on Monday, and more. News and notes!

by Levi Weinhagen • Apr. 23

News and notes |

Greetings!

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Recently, the Guthrie released their upcoming season announcement. In response, there was something of an outcry from various members of the Twin Cities theater community on Facebook which ultimately led to coverage from the Star Tribune and the State of the Arts blog on complaints of a lack of diversity in the Guthrie’s programming. Ultimately, Joe Dowling released a statement to the Star Tribune which did little to allay any concerns about the Guthrie’s commitment to ethnic and gender diversity in the kinds of artists they work with. The conversation continues, will continue, and has actually been happening for a long time.

I don’t want to talk about the Guthrie. When it comes to concerns of a lack of diversity I’m a white, heterosexual man so while these are issues that do matter to me I’m not sure anyone wants my opinion and I’m fairly certain I have nothing new to add to the discussion.

But I also just plain don’t want to talk about the Guthrie because I never want to talk about the Guthrie. Save one summer I’ve lived my entire life in the Twin Cities. I’ve been going to live theater since I was 10 years old. I saw my first Guthrie production when I was in high school. And for that entire time, including when I was sitting in the Guthrie watching As You Like It in 1995, I didn’t want to talk about the Guthrie. I’ve been performing live theater for nearly 15 years both improvised and scripted shows, and everything in between, on stages large and small. In that entire span I’ve never wanted to talk about the Guthrie.

In the 24 years that I’ve had some kind of relationship with live theater in Minnesota I have never wanted to talk about the Guthrie. Because the Guthrie has never been for me. They don’t make shows for me. They don’t want to make shows for me. And that is perfectly fine. I’ve got plenty of other places where I can put my money and my interest. I’ve got plenty of other places where I can put my creativity as a theater maker. And if I run out of places I’ll make new ones.

Starting in 7th grade teachers always had this conversation with me about my potential. Every year, all the way through high school, two or three teachers would find a moment late in the first half of the school year and pull me aside to tell me that they were disappointed by the quality of my homework and by how little I was pushing myself in class. My teachers remarked on my potential and on how I would only get out of school what I was willing to put in. I wasn’t failing classes. I mostly got Bs and Cs but I didn’t work terribly hard to earn those grades.

It’s wonderful that all of these teachers cared enough about me to try and get more out of me. I certainly could have gotten more out of school than I did. But I remember distinctly in my junior year my social studies teacher, Mr. D, pulled me out into the hallway one day after about a month into the semester. I assumed I was about to get the regular lecture about not living up to my potential so I readied my I’ll work hard bullshit I always used in response. Instead, he looked right at me and told me that I was almost an adult and I had clearly made a choice about how I was going to handle school and that was fine with him. So he was going to go ahead and put his energy into helping the students who wanted to get something more out of the class. He wasn’t going to give me a hard time as long as I did the basic work needed to get through the class.

At the time I thought it was really weird, what Mr. D said. He was true to his word. I didn’t work very hard but I passed the class and he never really gave me a hard time about my shoddy reports or projects.

I’ve thought about it a lot since then. I don’t think Mr. D was giving up on me. I think he looked at what I was telling him with my behavior and said “okay.” And perhaps other students gained from his not wasting time on me.

It’s great to have high expectations of people and organizations. But I wonder if there comes a time when you look back at someone’s track record and have to come to the conclusion that they just aren’t going to meet the expectations you have, they aren’t going to reach their potential. Because that’s not actually important to them. Is the right thing to do then to let those expectations go and put your energy into supporting the people and organizations that have shown that they will strive for more and better things when given the chance?

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Speaking of other people and organizations where you could put your energy. Other local theater companies have recently announced upcoming seasons.

Here's a few:

Theatre in the Round Players

Four Humors theater

Ten Thousand Things theater

Park Square theatre

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New work

Analyze the Bully

If you don’t know Blank Slate theater take a second to read their ‘about us’ on the Blank Slate website. To shorthand it, they are focused on creating work by and with young people intended for an audience of young people, and anyone who has had to deal with being young. In just over a week they are opening a very limited run of a production called Analyze the Bully.

The show is described as an assessment of what goes on in a bully’s head followed by recommendations for bully eradication. Sounds interesting.

The show will play three nights in St Paul and then tour the Midwest.

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On Facebook I recently posed the question, “Where’s the strangest place you’ve ever staged or seen a show?”

My favorite response was probably this one from Amy Rummenie – “Walker show. A Machine to See With (?), where it was entirely via telephone as it sent me running around St Anthony Main in a failed bank heist, peppering me with phone calls.”

Now I want to know if there are place people have always wanted to stage a show been haven’t tried it yet for whatever reason?

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In addition to the above mentioned Blank Slate show I would be doing everyone a disservice if I failed to point out that on April 30th and May 1st Pillsbury House theatre’s Chicago Avenue Project will be premiering 10 new 10 minute plays that are all collaborations between 4th and 5th graders and professional theater artists. If it’s anything like previous Chicago Avenue Project productions there’s no chance you won’t be moved by what you see on stage.

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The whole Guthrie dust up certainly dominated the most recent news cycle so I’m sure there’s cool stuff I’ve missed. If you want to tell me about cool stuff or just point out mistakes feel free to send an email to levi.weinhagen@gmail.com. And remember, every time I’m wrong I get one step closer to getting it right.

I hope you have a week full of joy, passion, and hugs. What? I don’t know.

-Levi

Comments

The Guthrie

Hi, Levi;
I'm with you, pal. The Guthrie has screwed me for years with their productions. Whenever they get me interested enough to actually buy tickets, the show 'itself' drops me off the cliff. Take the Tony Kushner marathon a while back. I've seen both parts of 'Angels' three times, and was knocked out every time; unfortunately, none of those times was at The Guthrie..... they've never 'done' 'Angels'...... they chose to do about 57 of Kushner's lesser-known works.... which are lesser-known for a 'reason'. So I go to see 'Caroline or Change'; actually I'm 'invited' to go with some good friends. The set... great; musicians... great; actors... great (except for the children; they were less than mediocre); the play... miserable... what I saw of it; the music... one interminably long blues lick; the songs... terminally stupid. By the end of the first act, I leaped out of my seat and profusely apologized to my friends, explaining as best I could that I could not endure one more 'second' of this crap musical. I escaped back to Minnetonka.
Then there was 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom', written by the august, August Wilson. The set... great; the actors... wonderful; the 'play'... at the end of the first act, my guest simply asked, "You ready?", and we stood up to flee the theater. A friend stopped me halfway up the aisle.... "Hey! You look like you're leaving"!......
me... "Your perception is mindblowing"...... him... "You don't like it?"..... me.... "I'm just not in the mood to sit here for another hour, so August Wilson can explain seventy-three 'more' ways the White man has screwed the Black man. I'm sure the other ninety percent of the White folks in the audience 'will' stay, for one of two reasons; they're all masochists, and/or they will sit through to the end, being bashed all the way by August Wilson, just to feel they got their money's worth".
To my most recent Guthrie experience, I gave qualified approval; the Judy Garland piece, "End of the Rainbow". However, the quasi-approval had ulterior motives. First, the production got extra points for being a 'British' production, not a Guthrie one. And second, the producer is my former business partner from London. At his request, I saw 'Rainbow" three times, because he asked for my input before they left Minneapolis for Broadway. The very first performance, we sat together, and I explained some of the quirks of a Guthrie audience. This was the first performance for an American audience and the production team was a bit nervous. Act one.... so far so good. At the half, I told the production team to not get overly excited when the audience gives them an ovation at the final curtain, because Guthrie audiences will give a standing ovation to a cheese sandwich. I 'liked' the show, I didn't 'love' it, but they made adjustments to the show for the second and third performances I saw. Still, I was extremely nervous for my producer friend; I thought the show was going to get creamed in New York. But then, opening night on Broadway, and the show got good reviews... 'money' reviews, so I am very happy for my friend!
The past year or so, of the three shows I saw at the Guthrie, the first two, I only made it to the end of the first act (and I was being polite), and the third was 'ok'. What a ringing endorsement.
Levi, keep telling the truth, and maybe one day you'll make 'em honest. The Guthrie acts like Sir Tyrone was still wandering around the place. They do Shakespeare and other plays that nobody likes, because the attitude is 'we're not here to 'entertain' you, we're here to bring your low-brow up to our high-brow, so we'll do what we damn well please!' I 'hate' Shakespeare, but that's a whole other matter. Don't get me started on bloody Shakespeare!