In keeping with tradition, we're stepping off the soapbox to give the purveyors of the local theater scene their due say on the highlights of the past year. Here, then, is a broadcast version of some backstage chatter--direct from the proverbial equine aperture.
Rick Shiomi, artistic director, Theater Mu
I was in a small theater in Tokyo, near the famous Asakusa Shrine. Lured by my wife, who had been there several years earlier to see a traveling troupe, I wanted to see a bit of this traveling theater myself (like that in the film Floating Weeds). We went in for a while before the Grand Kabuki show. We never made it to the Grand Kabuki. The performance was an old-style vaudeville variety show, with all kinds of vignettes and dance numbers. In one of the short plays, I saw a wonderfully melodramatic relationship between a drunken father and his exiled son, with the returning son finally slaying the father and committing seppuku. As I watched the son screaming into the red followspot, I felt the door opening to the father-and-son relationship in my own play, The Tale of the Dancing Crane. It was one of those moments when I realized that the gods were sending me a gift; I was full of gratitude for their generosity.
Patrick Scully, dancer and choreographer, Patrick's Cabaret director
Poetic justice: A faerie godmother bought a fire station to provide Patrick's Cabaret a permanent new home, solving the problems caused when we were closed by the fire marshal three years ago. After [they'd spent] 30 musty years selling furniture, we forced out the same furniture company that evicted the Firehouse Theatre 30 years ago. We have dusted off the old Firehouse and reclaimed it for the local performing community as our permanent new home. It was a great year for local theater and real estate. Bain Boehlke also got his new home for the Jungle, and Myron Johnson is headed toward having the Ritz for the Ballet of the Dolls. Look for Michael Sommers to get real estate next year for his own theater.
Meena Natarajan, literary director, Pangea World Theater
It is February 1999. Pangea is rehearsing Ajax by Sophocles. The actors are from the Twin Cities, Ireland, Liberia, Vietnam, and Puerto Rico, and the director is from India. English spoken in different accents flies across the room. Each actor brings her or his own cultural memory and body language to the choreography. There is magic in the air. The magic of theater, of crossing borders and boundaries with a unity of purpose. As the rehearsal unfolds, Puerto Rican actor Alberto Panelli transposes the word ship for sheep: Ajax has just killed a flock of "ships." Alberto and the cast burst into laughter. The director brings us back from that moment of levity to working out the ritual the chorus performs after Ajax's death. As we end the day, I know that this is why we do theater--this coming together of people in a space to create.
It's all about space. The Jungle and Patrick's Cabaret moved into new quarters. Penumbra is in the development stage of a new space, while the Guthrie is in search of a place to build its space(s). Meanwhile Pillsbury, Illusion, and the Playwrights' Center are upgrading existing spaces. This kind of growth could not happen without the continued support and enthusiasm of our audiences--proving that live theater is strong and relevant. Theater that relies on brilliant visuals and provocative imagery--e.g., Robert Lepage's Geometry of Miracles--is speaking to a culture saturated in quick cuts and special effects, and helping to develop a new audience.
Timothy Lee, director
My favorite experience was seeing two one-acts by a brand-new company, the Gray Space, at the tiny Phoenix Playhouse. I think they averaged four audience members a night through most of the run. Being that they're a theater about human-rights violations, I have doubts that they'll ever do a huge crowd-gathering musical comedy. Still, I love it when a low-budget, first-effort production is that well thought out and performed. I was able to forget that I was a quarter of the audience and really let the plays get under my skin.
Barbara Kingsley, actor
In the charged atmosphere of the approaching millennium--the disentangling of where we've been versus where we're going--simple things were most memorable to me:
* The deliciousness of making an entrance in a "great pumpkin" lamé party frock in Children's Theatre Company's Mr. A's Amazing Maze Plays and the giggles that greeted it.
* Standing in the lobby of the Jungle's new home on Lyndale.
* Being welcomed by new faces and old friends at the Guthrie when I returned to "cover a few roles" in Summer and Smoke.
* The thrill of barely recognizing my son in his first role as a bad guy in a musical, The Little Shop of Horrors...16 years, and I never knew he liked coconuts or that he could sing so well!
* Meeting my class for the first time as a new faculty member at the U of M...there's nothing like teaching to keep you learning.