Ten Thousand Things teams up with Kira Obolensky for 'Vasa Lisa'

Ten Thousand Things Theater isn't interested in presenting "small" work, and neither is playwright Kira Obolensky. That makes the pairing of the two for Vasa Lisa a particular thrill.

"Many contemporary playwrights write about worlds that are small. Kira is very comfortable with bigger worlds set in another time and place. She also has a fabulous sense of humor and simple, spare poetic language," says director Michelle Hensley.

That subject matter and voice fit in perfectly with many of the non-traditional audiences that Ten Thousand Things performs for during each show. "These big plays connect with our audience. The first show that Kira was drawn to was Crime and Punishment, and she was able to tell the story in about 80 minutes. It was a story that connected with all of our audiences -- guilt and how to deal with it," Hensley says.

Hensley especially wanted to find a show that would resonate with their all-female audiences. "We love them, they are our favorite audiences, and we thought we would write something with them in mind," she says. "We're both women, and we would rather tell a story with a female protagonist."

Obolensky was drawn to a Russian folk tale about a young woman who ventures into a dark forest to confront Baba Gaga the witch. Vasa Lisa's journey is from a distinctly female  perspective, and that comes through in the way she grows.

"She has intuition, and she can rely on that most of the time to help her out of the problems she faces. In a male's heroic journey, there is usually some physical confrontation. It has been really fun to try and figure out how to represent something that is very interior," Hensley says.

One way that happens is through a doll Vasa Lisa receives from her mother. "The little wooden doll has become the physicalization of intuition, and what the play is about," she says.

Then again, presenting the wide world of the play is a challenge for Ten Thousand Things, which performs in many non-traditional spaces (prisons, treatment facilities, and community centers, for example) during the run of each of its shows. Sets need to be spare, and there are no theatrical lighting effects -- or anything other than house lights -- at any performance.

For this show, there are five actors playing 20-some roles, which is certainly a thrilling challenge for the likes of Elise Langer, Jim Lichtscheidl, Tracey Maloney, Luverne Seifert, and Sally Wingert. 

Music director Peter Vitale has not just built up his usual soundscape, but is joined by musicians Annie Enneking and Heather Barringer to create a full band.

Considering the current conversation in town about inclusion of different voices, it's telling that Ten Thousand Things has a show from a distinctly female perspective. That sense of inclusion is part of the company's just-announced 2012-13 season, which features productions of a hip-hop version of The Seven Against Thebes, a production of A Streetcar Named Desire with African-American actors in the lead roles, and Hensley's take on Shakespeare's Measure for Measure.

The season really is about "the spirit of inclusion. We want to reflect our community with our shows, and include as many voices as we can," she says.


Vasa Lisa
Friday through May 13 at Open Book (1011 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis)
May 18-27 at the Minnesota Opera Center (620 N. First St., Minneapolis)
For information and tickets, call 800.838.3006 or visit online

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Open Book

1011 Washington Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55415


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