It's a dark, windless night at Hidden Falls Park. There's a chill in the air, but not quite so cold as a Minnesotan might expect this many weeks deep into October. We're sitting on hay bales, herded in close by the volunteer ushers, closer to strangers than our standard personal bubbles allow us to be in the the normal world. There is some happy tittering from the crowd, some excitable anticipation, but all of it slightly muted by the cool night air and our properly toned-down Midwestern etiquette. The band starts up the music as a crowd of kids dressed as tigers out in the playing area at the bottom of the hill start their pre-show frolic under the temporary rigs lighting up this otherwise darkened corner of St. Paul. The light slips upward, highlighting the skeletal lines of trees overheard, painting a wild theatrical arch against the black night. Soon the procession of lights will begin, and the ceremony will commence. We don't yet know what strange figures will emerge from the night, what lights and costumes and puppets will fly across the lawn, what fantastical beasts they will conjure with flashlights and cardboard, what arcane fires will dance before our eyes. This is the Barebones Halloween Show.
I always look forward to this strange puppet ritual. I was lured to it the first year I took up residence in Minnesota thirteen years ago. Because life happens, I haven't made it every year, but even when I can't physically be there, I always think of it. Every year, the pageant is different, except for one moment in the middle, the most important moment, when the huge cast drops their puppets and sings to the audience. In this moment, we are all allowed to shout out the names of the people we have lost, to keep them alive in some way by remembering that they existed and that they mattered. Back in 2003, I put the name of my grandmother, Jean, into the air. At the time, she was the only person I could think of that mattered to my life who had passed on. I don't actually have any memory of her. She died when I was two months old. In truth, at the time I had barely experienced loss in my life at all.
Things are little different now. 23 years old is a long time ago.
This year, when the time for names comes, there are all the standard friends and family members that people will go light candles for once the ceremony is over. As you might expect, the names of Philando Castile and Jamar Clark hung heavy in the air. "PRINCE!" is shouted into the night. There is crying, nay, sobbing coming from somewhere behind me.
And, in front of me, are a group of young folks—teenagers, maybe early twenties—who are just so over this whole thing. They've been fidgeting and shifting the whole show, getting up repeatedly to go stand at the side and smoke. You can practically hear their eyes rolling in their heads, that carefully crafted lack of élan of young adults draped around them like fine silk. The guy sitting next to us in our row wearing a renaissance shirt and puffy hat has been super into the show, shouting "Woooo!" at every opportunity. They must hate him so much. During the calling of names, one of these kids shouts out the name of a muppet and snickers at his grand wit and irony, probably too young to know that the death of Jim Henson was a deep, personal loss to an entire generation before him.
I'm sure things will be a little different for them thirteen years from now. At least I hope.
Things can end at any time of the year. Loss knows no season. But there's something about late October in Minnesota that calls such attention to it. The trees point their bony fingers to the heavens, reminding us all that everything comes to an end eventually. The endless action of time will make sure that we all blow away like leaves at some point.
I've been thinking about this a lot lately as I prepare to step down from the theater company I have worked with for a decade. Thirteen years ago, I couldn't even conceive of the idea of anything in my life lasting a decade. It seemed such an unfathomably long time at the time. Now, here is another Halloween coming round, and, my god, where did the last year go? Where did that last ten?
This is to say that this week's edition of News and Notes is mostly a meditation on people and things passing on. Maybe it's just my particular mood right now, but here in the Twin Cities, there has been such a confluence of endings packed into the last month that I can't help but take note. I don't know what it means, or if it means anything, but the world has turned once again, and here we are, soon to be missing things that once seemed so fixed.
It was just two weeks ago when we all found out about Jeff Larson leaving his position of Executive Director at the Fringe Festival. What I failed to mention back then was that this resignation happened at the same time that Tom Hoch, founder of Hennepin Theatre Trust, left that organization. You could fill a book with all the things Hoch has done to try to revive downtown Minneapolis, and I didn't even notice it at the time.
And now, two weeks on, Jeff Larson's second-in-command at Fringe, Ann Ericskon is also leaving.
Of course, this was quickly followed by an announcement from the Southern Theater that Executive Director Damon Runnals is stepping down to take another job. Runnals originally got his position at the Southern after a whole bunch of other things at that theater came to an abrupt end, and he's leaving behind the ARTshare program that he birthed to give it new life.
For twelve years, the Sage Awards have honored achievements in dance in the Twin Cities. This year was no different in that regard. What is different this year, though, is that this year is the very last Sage Awards. With such a large, active and imaginative dance community here, it's sad to see the passing of such a program.
But we're not even done there. We just received word that Bedlam Theatre will be closing up shop on its Lowertown location on November 2. (Fittingly, their last hurrah will be a Day of the Dead event). After so much hope and anticipation leading up to its 2014 opening, the major money problems that surfaced last year and the management changes that hoped to bring it back from the brink, it wasn't enough. At the end of a recent interview, Bedlam co-founder Maren Ward warns that this same fate could be in store for other non-profits. Sometimes, no matter how badly you want something to continue, it must come to an end.
Don't read all this as some sort of sad elegy for the past, though.
The Barebones Halloween Show began this year with a procession of giant blades of grass, glowing from within, bending and swaying in the wind. After all the hubbub and chaos, after all the crying and laughing, it ended as it began, with that same grass bending and swaying. The end of every ending is a beginning, and the world always swings back around again.
The one thing I have always appreciated about the arts world in Minnesota is the constant churn, the unceasing willingness of new people and new ideas to flow in and create the world anew. No single one of us can be the whole book on the thing; we're all single sentences in it. Some of us get to be byzantine George Eliot constructions that run on and on for pages. Some of us are short, dense Hemingway hits. All of us are part of a story that goes on after we're done being read.
Over at Minnpost, which has held on in its coverage of the arts even as other news outlets cut back, they are passing on leadership to a new generation. While we may mourn the loss of some performance venues here in the Twin Cities, new ones are taking root.
Halloween is a celebration of beginnings as much as it is endings, because a new day is implied by the setting of every sun. We don't always know what that day will bring, but we can all take heart in knowing that it will come. In the meantime, we must always remember the things we lost on the way to that new day, because carrying the story forward is what makes getting to that new day worth it.
In her personal announcement that she was leaving Fringe, Ann Erickson said on her Facebook wall, "…I'm also really excited to take the next step and start a great new adventure. What's next for me? As we say in the land of Fringe, TBD."
Every time fall rolls around and winter sits on our doorsteps, we can take heart in knowing that the world will always turn again. When you get down to it, everything is always To Be Determined.
And that is exciting.