Be your own advocate
Hey, friends. How are you doing? I mean, really, how are you doing? We're two weeks into the Trump presidency, and based on my Facebook feed, it doesn't look like you're doing too well. I'm only asking as a concerned friend. It doesn't look like you've been sleeping well lately, and, well, I'm worried. Actually, that's the problem. We're all worried. And that's exactly where Trump and his cronies want us: in a state of constant worry and exasperation.
That's why you've got to have a plan. You, the theater community, are really trying to figure that out right now, and I applaud your efforts. Many of you are shifting your focus to more immediately responding to what's going on in the world. That's awesome! Keep doing that. If nothing else, it helps get us out of the collective rut of constantly remounting old, outdated works; and if you're going to stay relevant to the modern world, that's exactly what you need to do, Trump or no Trump.
I know you're all still worried about the possibility that the new regime may cut all federal arts and culture funding, but you've got to fight against that worry. Recently, Chris Jones at the Chicago Tribune put out an opinion piece urging Trump to give in to the rumor that he was going to appoint Sylvester Stallone to head the NEA. Jones actually lays out some compelling reasons why the position could use some of the vacuous razzle-dazzle that would come with such an appointment. "Vacuous razzle-dazzle" is Trump's major guiding principle in life, after all.
(Jones' plea does have one flaw. He repeatedly implores the president to "Keep reading" his missive. Unfortunately, it's pretty apparent to close observers that our president can't read. Seriously, guys: he cannot read).
But, you, my readers, are good, old-fashioned Americans. This means that you should never be content to just sit around and trust that your elected officials are going to get the job done for you. No! It is a proud tradition of Americans to be loud and argumentative and generally bothersome. If you think something is not working, you should be following the precedent of your forefathers and complaining vociferously about it to anyone who will listen, as well as anyone who would rather not be listening, including said elected officials.
If, for example, you think that arts funding from your state arts board is being awarded based on a shaky process, you should definitely stand up and ask for change.
Why not start with getting your voice heard at a meet up sponsored by the Minnesota Theater Alliance on February 13 to discuss arts advocacy for theaters. After that, why don't you take all that splendid American anger straight to the capitol on February 28 for Minnesota's Arts Advocacy Day?
After that, why not continue the proud tradition of being all up lawmakers' grills? Why not augment those pithy Twitter posts you've been making with a little bit of shoe-leather politicking?
You say goodbye…
Pour one out for friends at Savage Umbrella. This little theater company had the incredible fortune of receiving a $20,000 Golden Ticket during the 2014 Give to the Max Day event. How did they choose to spend down this windfall? By opening up their own rehearsal/performance space in St. Paul's Midway area. They charged very little money to rent the space to other folks, started a new works festival to support new work and generally treated their good fortune as if it should be shared by all. Plenty of small companies walked through the doors of SPACE. Hell, a production of Equus that they hosted pulled down an Ivey Award. But that good fortune has run out. After barely two years, Savage Umbrella has pulled the plug on SPACE. Fortunately, they came to this decision before the costs of the venue could sink the company (which is not the usual choice for a theater); but at least they did it committed to the principles with which they opened SPACE: spreading around their good fortune for the good of the community. That sort of thing is pretty rare these days.
I've been talking about the difficulties in keeping theater spaces for pretty much the entirety of my tenure here at Minnesota Playlist. Heck, in that 3-year-old article I just linked to, you can read some bubbly excitement from my younger self over the opening of the then-brand-new Bedlam Lowertown space in St. Paul, and now Bedlam is completely gone. (My, weren't we all so young and naive back then?) Unfortunately, that entire organization drowned under the debt incurred from building out their much-anticipated space (another favorite topic of mine).
The past couple of years have seen other long-standing organizations lose their physical presence. Just last year, Patrick's Cabaret celebrated its 30th anniversary by vacating their long-time home, after the building that housed them was sold.
We were also waiting on baited breath to find out just what the hell was the fate of the Theatre Garage in Minneapolis' Wedge neighborhood. The building it occupied was slated for teardown in anticipation of a new apartment project. The project received approval from a planning commission and will have $150,000 allocated to it from the city for transit updates; but as we learned recently, the project—which is still apparently called "Theatre Garage Apartments"—will no longer include the actual Theatre Garage, because our world is now run entirely on bitter irony. Instead, Garage owner Hosmer Brown IV has no plans to resurrect the space.
According to Brown: “Things change kids, so get used to it. That’s the nature of life.”
Of course, he's got an equity stake in that new theaterless apartment complex. Change is a lot easier to handle when you're the one making a buck off of it.
…I say hello
But, let's not mourn too much for the past. Patrick's Cabaret may have lost their space, but the building has already reopened as Hook and Ladder Theater, a music and performing arts venue. Nimbus Theatre may have vacated their old space in Northeast Minneapolis, but the vaudeville/circus/cabaret outfit Minnsky Theatre moved right in.
Speaking of Nimbus, their new spot in Northeast, The Crane Theater, is going ahead full steam. They're not the only ones. City Pages recently gave an overview of the Crane and three other new venues coming on line soon, including the work-in-progress Strike Theater in Northeast, the under-construction North Garden Theater in St. Paul and the long-awaited new Gremlin Theatre in the St. Paul Midway area. Gremlin's new space is actually in the same building complex as Savage Umbrella's old SPACE though not in the same space (and, damn, I need to stop using the word "space" so much in this sentence).
There is definitely no shortage to the theater being produced in the Twin Cities. I can't keep track of how many new companies are forming around here (or moving in from out of town). I would fully expect more venues to pop up as old ones fade away. No matter what the vicissitudes of the economy and the real estate market deal out, theater companies seem to squeeze themselves into every nook and cranny available. My old company, Sandbox Theatre, is still running their small space in south Minneapolis (a former art gallery and former bakery and former probably many other things), and I recently attended a show at the small underground Maker Stage in Northeast, housed deep inside one of the many former industrial buildings on that side of town. I have no doubt that there are other tiny venues hiding in the woodwork of dusty old buildings around the Twin Cities. Theater companies are like mushrooms in the woods. You leave any old dead log around long enough, and they will colonize it. Don't take that as an insult, theater people. "Fungus is damn important to rejuvenating the forest.
And, as always, if you and your collection of spores can't find an adequate place to spread out your mycelia, we still have our big ol' Fringe Festival, which is a veritable mushroom farm.
Have you been drinking a lot? Of course you have. You're in theater, and Donald Trump is president. But have you given much thought to how hard it is to merely pretend that you've been drinking? Thankfully, the New York Times just published an article in which they asked actor Richard Roxburgh for his secrets to playing drunk on stage:
"In the real world, though, the alcohol-impaired try to get their minds and bodies to obey the normal rules: speaking clearly, making sense, not falling over. And it’s precisely that extra focus that can give their game away. The more determined they are not to seem drunk, Mr. Roxburgh said, the more clearly drunk they will seem."
My god! Richard Roxburgh has seen through my ruse! That's been precisely my method for writing this column for years!