Final Act

Imagine the water as debt: Dominique Serrand in a Jeune Lune production of Fishtank

After I'm buzzed inside the front door of Theatre de la Jeune Lune's headquarters, I walk into the silent, shadowy lobby, stopping for a moment to gaze at the company's Tony Award gleaming behind glass. I walk into the bowels of the building, looking for signs of life and instead finding ghosts: the vintage Plymouth from Don Juan Giovanni, panes of green-painted Plexiglas from The Deception, the humble communal dressing rooms backstage, and the spacious kitchen and dining area that must have been the site of countless shared meals.

The effect is dispiriting, after last week's announcement that the building is going on the market and that Jeune Lune will be no more. I feel that particular sting of guilt that, as a theatergoer, I somehow hadn't savored enough the company's skill, incisive spirit, and heart. And then I turn a corner and see the person I'm there to meet: Jeune Lune artistic director Dominique Serrand.

If there's anyone on the premises who has the right to be downcast, it's Serrand, who has just seen 30 years of work in the company come down to the ineluctable realities of mounting debt and crushing economics. Instead he looks like a man who has just returned from a vacation, in comfortable-looking frayed pants, his shirt open at the neck, and a hint of a suntan. We find a couple of seats in the shade outside, and I ask him what happened.

"We ran out of money," Serrand says, smiling. "Money talked. It's that simple."

Serrand is very quick to assert that he doesn't want to point any fingers over Jeune Lune's demise, and a detailed post-mortem seems beside the point. Instead Serrand takes the long view that the way in which arts are funded should be examined if other institutions want to avoid Jeune Lune's fate.

"Our mistake was flirting with the existing system. It backfired," he says. "What we need to do at a national level, if we want to have artists and real art, is look at the system. We'd be better off taking a portion of taxes and public money to fund art. Because the amount of bureaucracy that it takes to fundraise for an organization is a gigantic effort. And it takes away from the work, from the purpose of the work, and the results. Nationally right now the business is more important than the art, and that's wrong."

Serrand's eyes widen in consternation when he describes how administration-heavy arts organizations have become, with the grinding apparatus of raising donations essentially becoming a monster that feeds on itself. But in the next breath he talks with justifiable pride about Jeune Lune's signature space, which opened in 1992, and the range of artists the company has hired, nurtured, and lent experience.

He's also dismissive of the supposed internal conflicts between himself and Jeune Lune's four other artistic directors, talk of which intensified after he was named sole director two years ago.

"Artistic differences being what they were, in a healthy environment, with no debt and a slightly bigger budget, we would have recycled ourselves and our relationships with others," he says. "Instead I spent my time trying to rescue the organization from falling apart."

Speaking of "waking up every morning completely exhausted," Serrand is eager to put the past two years behind him.

"We always thought an arts organization should be a democracy," he says, reflecting on the reorganization that put him solely in charge. "But I was going to be the one to reorganize and refocus, get us back on our feet. Now the story tells itself. It wasn't possible."

"Of course we fought," he says of his artistic partners. "We fought for 30 years. Thank God we did. We should have. And we also supported one another in very different ways. We were very supportive while arguing constantly. That's how it should be."

Serrand plans to explore partnerships he's made around the country, though he hopes to still be based in the Twin Cities. His ideas range from film to establishing an artistic laboratory. Serrand has never been short of ideas or vision, and the dissolving of Jeune Lune seems to have left him relaxed and optimistic. Finally I ask him if he's relieved it's all over.

"Totally," he says. "We always said that the day we couldn't do the art the way we want to, we should stop. Thank you, goodnight. Curtain." 

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