Jane Krentz started working at the Guthrie Theater box office in a part-time job when she was a freshman in college. That was 45 years ago. Through all the ups and downs of a busy, accomplished life, including a stint as a state senator, she's remained a Guthrie employee.
"I love the theater," she says. "I love the people, I love the creative energy. I'm still close friends with some of the women I worked with in the early '70s. We call ourselves the Guthrie Divas."
Over the course of nearly half a century behind the ticket counter, Krentz has seen the Guthrie grow from a cozy company to a national powerhouse ensconced in a towering riverfront complex. During that time, she's taken in every single Guthrie production — except for one, a show she deliberately avoided.
"I mentioned that to Joe Dowling at one of the opening-night parties," Krentz says. "He said, 'Oh, which one did you miss, Jane? Maybe we can do it for you.' It was this horrible play called I Said the Fly by June Havoc. When I told him that, he just rolled his eyes and said, 'Never mind.'"
A Minneapolis native then starting school at Hamline, Krentz took the Guthrie job at age 19 in May 1971 as a way to help pay for college and spend more time at the theater. "I fell in love with the Guthrie [in high school]," Krentz remembers. She'd occasionally sneak out of class to stand in the student rush line. Soon after Krentz started college, an usher friend connected her with the box-office job.
In those early days, at the Guthrie's original space adjoining the Walker Art Center, Krentz remembers a familial feeling, with a core company of actors relaxing at the theater's dram shop after performances. "People hung out together, and it had that sense of camaraderie. I don't think it's quite there now, because actors come in for a play and then they leave."
Krentz has encountered many of the greats who've graced the Guthrie's seats and stages. She played cribbage with Leonard Nimoy, and she remembers sneaking Bob Dylan into the sound booth so he could watch concerts without being seen. She met Henry Fonda, and once ran into Whoopi Goldberg in the ladies' room.
The longtime employee developed a special friendship with Peter Michael Goetz, who thrilled Krentz's school-age children by spending an evening with the family at the height of his movie fame, just after he'd co-starred in Steve Martin's Father of the Bride.
"We were out in L.A.," she remembers, "and I got heatstroke. We were going to meet Peter just to go out for dinner and say hi, and by the time I got there I was so sick that he said, 'You just go lay down.' He gave me a Coke and an aspirin, and took my three children to dinner and took care of them so I could get over my heat exhaustion. Father of the Bride was my daughter Leah's favorite movie, so she was pretty much in heaven."
Working at the Guthrie meant a potential conflict of interest that Krentz avoided by recusing herself from relevant votes as a state senator, but she nonetheless advocated for the theater's move to its new riverfront home. "I worked really hard to push and promote it," she says, "because I really believe the Guthrie is a national treasure."
Though Krentz misses the tight-knit community of the Guthrie Theater she first knew, she's excited about the organization's future. "I love the energy that we get from having three theaters in the same building," she says. "I'm excited for Joe Haj." She says the new artistic director's Pericles reminded her of the spirit of the Guthrie under Michael Langham, who led the theater from 1971 to 1977.
Krentz remains busy with family and professional activities — she's now director of the McVay Youth Partnership at Hamline, and works as a regional coordinator of environmental legislators — but as her 50-year anniversary at the Guthrie approaches, she has no plans to leave her beloved part-time job.
"I have so many warm memories of all these amazing people over the years," she says. "I will love the Guthrie for the rest of my life, I'm sure. It's just part of who I am."