We surveyed a handful of local theater folks about trends on stage and behind the scenes. Taken in sum, their answers represent an acknowledgement of the increasing commercial pressures on serious local work and an appreciation for the new cooperative ventures that might spread the burden on more shoulders--or at least give misery its company.
Kim Hines, actor, director, writer:
The [Star Tribune] not having made a decision about how they're going to structure their critics [is a problem]. I had to call in and leave a message on their voice mail saying, you know, it's real hard to be a theater person and read a review where they don't mention the director's name, don't mention anything about costumes, sets, lighting design... I'm also tired of reviewers who use their job as a vehicle of revenge against artists they don't care for or have a beef or gripe with. That is not the place to play any of that out.
There's also been some people reviewing who have no idea what they're looking at, or have no idea about the difficulties of the piece, or didn't do their homework to find out about that genre. I hope [the Strib] hires two people. If they want to do the white-guy-who-goes-to-the-theater, then either get a female or a person of color, also, so they get two viewpoints.
We can't call ourselves a mecca for the arts and turn around and have shoddy reviewers--what's that about? If they got some novice person who didn't know anything to comment on the Twins, there'd be riots in the street.
Wendy Knox, artistic director, Frank Theatre:
The Southern Theatre continues to have this amazing menu of stuff and consistently demonstrates the most broad-based support for local artists of any arts organization in town. There's a brilliant energy behind what they present. And despite all the egos and territorialism that can mess things up [in theater], if you need to borrow X, Y, or Z, if you need to borrow lighting or you need grant-writing advice, [they're there]. Also, the Red Eye's Works In Progress is a good sampler platter of work.
David Mann, actor:
The Guthrie has really shed a whole new light by making itself more accessible. In the past it was elite, appealing to theatergoers and not just people who go to theater. That trickles down and audiences breathe easier. I do credit Joe Dowling with that. I hang around a lot of people who aren't in the theater, who go to sports events, and they're definitely relieved with Dowling's choices.
Patrick Scully, artistic director, Patrick's Cabaret:
In a city with as vibrant a theater scene [as this], the city government itself is impotent at doing anything to be supportive of the situation. There isn't a department of cultural affairs; there is an arts commission, but in terms of support for the theater world, it might as well not exist. If we can have a governor that can bring a massive infusion of money to the state arts board, the city can find a way to support the theater world. If an organization is in a situation like the Cabaret, trying to get through the massive city bureaucracy, there could be advocates to help. In San Francisco, the city itself is a major source of support for local arts activity.
A real encouraging thing is the formation of the Eat It All club, which is basically a coming-together of a bunch of us who produce a lot of grassroots work: Leslie Ball (Balls Cabaret), Dean J. Seal (Bryant-Lake Bowl), Loren Niemi (Two Chairs Telling), Cacophony Chorus, Jason McLean (Loring Playhouse), and Laurie Carlos (Penumbra). It happened first to establish some kind of communication between the Fringe Festival and those of us who are doing a fringe festival on a year-round basis. We get together once a month and talk about joys and frustrations and bring problems to the table.
We were able to identify Channel 9 and its TV-news programming: If there's going be a local station to give the arts and culture the attention they deserve, Robyne Robinson and her allies are the ones to make it happen. Just think how it would be if it were "news, weather, arts, and sports." Like in the paper.
Rick Shiomi, artistic director, Theater Mu:
There's a lot of exciting new things happening locally in Asian American theater. There's been more of a fusion of dance, theater, puppetry, and various other elements that are part of the show in traditional Asian theater but in Western theater have been separate. In some ways it goes back to a much earlier, European, total theater, and that's where I'd like Theater Mu to be heading.
For theater in general, the prognosis is more mixed. I just happened to read the article... about holiday shows, and it was interesting because it reconfirmed my feelings that there's a slight trend toward theater as entertainment rather than as art. So Christmas shows become more and more important and are viewed as cash cows. Then I think: Maybe we should get in there. There's a considerable amount of box office to be generated, but the question overall is: Is this a [positive] development?
Brian Baumgartner, co-artistic director, Hidden Theatre:
It's very positive the way in which the companies in Minneapolis are moving toward helping each other, setting up alliances. It means that companies are beginning to want to help, as opposed to trying to undermine each other or stay in isolation. A community that is talking lets you get to know the other artists better. You set up a common vocabulary. If you have all these groups working totally independently, there are simple things that could happen that don't. For example, if I have one week to tech a show, this group gives me an opportunity to say, I need five people to come hang lights, and when you're in a bind I'll come and help you hang lights. Or I'm running a show, you're running a show: Take my publicity and put it out at your show and I'll take yours. If people aren't talking, even those simple things don't happen.
My favorite theater moments of 1997 were: 1. The 52 seconds of silence in Blue Window (at Hidden Theatre); 2. The final waltz in Arcadia (at Park Square); 3. Stephen D'Ambrose in Quills (Eye of the Storm) and Seascape (the Jungle).
The most overrated show was the Guthrie's A Midsummer Night's Dream. The power went out at intermission the night I went, and I didn't care. I left. The second most overrated show was the Jungle's Bus Stop. I'd say the most underrated show was Fully Reciprocal Theatre Company's Desdemona: A Play About a Handkerchief. The best trend of 1997 was the small theaters' cooperative. And the scariest trend was a sharp drop in audience attendance.