New Directions: Changing leaders at Park Square and Ten Thousand Things bring fresh voices to local theater

Flordelino Lagundino, Marcela Lorca

Flordelino Lagundino, Marcela Lorca Courtesy Park Square Theatre, Ten Thousand Things

As the 2010s began, there was a growing recognition across the Twin Cities theater community that there needed to be real change across the leadership of our largest companies. A major wave of turnovers was on the horizon, and the departing directors couldn’t just be replaced with another round of mostly white men if the companies wanted to maintain their integrity—and their audiences.

That wave of change has now crested, with diverse new leaders helming the Guthrie, the Jungle, and Penumbra. As the 2018-19 season begins, two more significant companies have new leaders who are pledging to build on their predecessors’ accomplishments while forging new paths.

At Ten Thousand Things, a company widely lauded for bringing top-quality productions to non-traditional audiences, founder Michelle Hensley argued passionately for the need to promote more women. She’ll be succeeded by the Chilean-American Marcela Lorca, who’s worked at the Guthrie as a director, teacher, and administrator since the ’90s.

When Hensley delivered a powerful speech about inclusion at the 2017 Iveys, “It was in the forefront of my mind,” Lorca says, “because I wanted to be the leader of an institution, and I had faced a lot of obstacles along the way.” She plans to continue to develop Ten Thousand Things’ national reach while maintaining the organization’s strong local roots.

Meanwhile, Richard Cook is retiring after 38 years leading Park Square Theatre, handing the reins to Flordelino Lagundino, a theater artist of Filipino descent who’s worked at a range of small and mid-size companies across the country.

Part of Lagundino’s job will be to continue the St. Paul company’s engagement with its downtown neighborhood, where it sits just across Seventh Place from the newly renovated Palace Theatre.

Lagundino says Park Square is acutely aware of its role in placemaking. “We’re trying to find ways to enliven that space,” he says. Engaging the community more broadly, adds Lagundino, will mean continuing Cook’s progress toward making the theater a venue where “people that have felt othered in their lives” regard as “a place they can call home.”

Whereas the upcoming Park Square season was picked before Lagundino arrived, Lorca chose and will direct two of the three shows in the upcoming Ten Thousand Things season: Into the Woods opens in February, and The Sins of Sor Juana will follow in May.

“It’s a challenge to do it in the essential style of Ten Thousand Things,” says Lorca about Stephen Sondheim’s sprawling Into the Woods, “but I think that style will really force it to be incredibly creative and inventive.”

The Sins of Sor Juana is a historical drama by Karen Zacarias (Native Gardens). “It’s about a woman artist trying to really prove herself and find her place in society,” Lorca says. “How do you keep your soul alive, how do you keep your artistry alive when you have these obstacles all around you?”