"I'm a stats guy! I keep track of it," Scott Pakudaitis offers this by way of explanation as he pulls out a sheet of paper tracking his theater-going over the past several years.
For each year, there are three columns. In 2011, for example, plays (215), dance (27), and other (22) added up to 264 shows Pakudaitis took in. For 2012, the total was 275. In 2013, 2014, and 2015, Pakudaitis saw 256, 242, and 202 shows respectively. By mid-April 2016, he is already up to 75.
Unofficially, but beyond almost any conceivable doubt, Pakudaitis holds the distinction of seeing more local theater per year than anyone else in the Twin Cities. Does he buy all the tickets? "Absolutely," he says. And on top of that he outright donates money to dozens of organizations every year.
He tends to patronize small companies, so the ticket prices mostly aren't Guthrie-scale. But nonetheless, he's putting an enormous investment of both time and money into the local performing arts community. Why? It's all about the live experience.
"There's just a presence in theater that doesn't exist in any other art form," he says. "You sit in front of a TV, and it's just there. It doesn't interact with you. Theater needs an audience, and you can feel the energy of the people next to you and the people onstage."
In addition to the time he spends on the audience side of the curtain, Pakudaitis spends plenty of time working behind the scenes. He directs a couple of short plays a year, he's active as a production photographer, he's been known to dabble in costume design, and he's served on the boards of Bedlam Theatre, Live Action Set, and Theatre Pro Rata.
"For me," he says, "theater has a beautiful mix of the cerebral experience and the emotional experience with a presence that there's a risk involved in seeing. If a musician makes a wrong note onstage, who cares? If a piece of scenery falls, though... there's higher stakes."
Though theater has been Pakudaitis' greatest passion in recent years, it's far from his only love. He's known around the campus of St. Catherine University, where he works in institutional research, for feeding the squirrels. He keeps a Japanese squirrel as a pet. He often wears clothing depicting squirrels, generally in his favorite color, purple. His Twitter handle is @purplesquirrel1.
"They're creative, they're industrious, they're playful," he shrugs when asked about squirrels. "I like to be all of those things, too."
Going to 250 plays a year isn't even what Pakudaitis is most famous for, however. Nor is feeding the squirrels. It's donating a kidney to someone who tweeted that he needed one. You might remember reading the news stories that appeared back in 2009, when Pakudaitis responded to a tweet and went under the knife to share one of his kidneys with musician and filmmaker Chris Strouth, who at the time was just a casual acquaintance.
"I would do it again if I could," Pakudaitis says. The impact of his donation really hit home to him a year and a day after the surgery at the debut of Strouth's music project Paris 1919. Walking into the packed venue, "I realized, I affected every one of these people — not just him. I saw the ripple effect it had."
That's about as nice as Minnesota Nice gets — and Pakudaitis is actually an Illinois native. He was born in Chicago in 1965; his parents stoked an early enthusiasm for the performing arts by bringing him to performances at Roosevelt University. Pakudaitis also developed an interest in statistics and measurement, coming to the University of Minnesota for grad school in 1988. He landed a job at the Wilder Research Center, later moving to St. Kate's.
His first serious local involvement with the performing arts didn't involve theater (unless you count theatrical rock 'n' roll). In the '90s, he worked for a couple of radio stations, wrote for MTV online, managed the band All the Pretty Horses, and published the Twin Cities Alternative Shows List.
"The internet wasn't as connected as it is now," he says. "I would go from venue to venue at least once a month, picking up paper calendars and then typing them into my database. It was even before email for a lot of those places."
For all his love of music, Pakudaitis eventually got bored with some aspects of that scene. "I got kind of burned out going to music, because it looked like a bunch of guys getting onstage in what they wore in the morning. That's why I loved All the Pretty Horses: It was a performance."
On New Year's 2001, the switch flipped when Pakudaitis decided that instead of partying with his friends from the music scene, he'd go to a party an actor friend had invited him to. It was a party where she'd be the only person he knew.
"I'm kind of an introvert," Pakudaitis remembers, "so I was kind of terrified about choosing that option. I still remember sitting in front of the house where there was this party, thinking, 'Do I go in?' I wound up meeting the Scrimshaws, Natalie Wass, a whole bunch of theater people. Then I started going to their shows, and then it kind of snowballed from there."
Pakudaitis started spending less and less time with music, and more and more time with theater and dance. Now, he spends a huge chunk of his free time going to shows. Theater and dance don't entirely consume his social calendar, though: He still often goes to live music ("Hell, I just saw Barry Manilow. Now, that was a performance!"), and he's heavily involved with geocaching, which one year even caused him to miss the Fringe.
What's Pakudaitis learned about the local theater scene from seeing all those shows? "There's a lot of cross-pollination and collaboration on work," he says, adding that he's recently seen the number of small companies explode and that he hopes the much-hyped new wave of artistic directors at big companies across the Twin Cities will take note of how many stories the community has to tell.
"I love new work," he says. That particularly means the work of his favorite local companies producing new pieces. "Sandbox is at the top of the list. I love Sheep Theater. Open Eye Figure Theatre, Off-Leash Area, Sam Johns. I love Red Eye and Nimbus."
He'll also go to see a show if he's excited about the cast. "After seeing them in multiple roles on multiple stages," says Pakudaitis, "I see how actors evolve and grow." Among the actors he's most excited about right now are Shelby Rose Richardson, Emily Zimmer, and Kimberly Richardson.
That leads to one of the two main suggestions he offered when I asked whether, as a man who sees 200-plus plays a year, he has any pro tips for producers. "Always put the name of your actors on your publicity!" he exhorts. "Don't just say the name of the show — let me know who's in it."
Another tip: "Listen to the script. There have been times when the script is like, 'You have such a lovely blue dress on,' and they're wearing the wrong color. It's right there in the text! It says blue! Things like that really take me out of a show."
Look for Pakudaitis the next time you go to a play; the chances are good, especially if it's new work, that he'll be there.
"I'm not just going to go to a show for the sake of going to a show," says Pakudaitis. "I want to see either devised work or work by living playwrights, because we have so many playwrights in our community and I want to support their work. I want to see what the current zeitgeist is."
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