It's been a tremendous year for Ten Thousand Things Theater, the local company who brings professional performances to people who often do not have the chance to see any kind of theater, from those living in shelters to prison populations. A recent string of artistic successes (including being named Best Small Theater and Best Director by City Pages) was capped off in September with an Ivey Award for the company's tremendous 2009 production of Othello (probably the best show I've seen in the five years I've worked as a critic in the Twin Cities).
Now Ten Thousand Things is taking their productions to a bigger stage and market. In November, the group will join with the Public Theater for a two-month outreach to New York audiences with little or no access to the arts.[jump]
Ten Thousand Things artistic director Michelle Hensley is thrilled by the partnership, which she hopes will showcase their different business model and approach to more theaters across the nation. "We think that other theaters around the country should try doing theater this way--so we were so happy The Public Theater became interested. It's a great first partnership," she says.
Ten Thousand Things' distinct approach is dictated by its performances in shelters, prisons, and community centers. There are no stage lights, the sets are limited, and the house lights stay up all the time. (The same set up is used for its paid public performances and it can be a bit unnerving at first for audiences that are used to sitting in the dark.) Hensley will spend November and December working in New York with the Public's latest addition, the Mobile Unit, to present a production of Measure for Measure--which was the first Shakespeare that the theater group ever produced.
The Bard works particularly well in these settings--if done correctly, Hensley says:
Shakespeare wrote about characters who are living their lives at the extremes of human existence--and that is where so many of our non-traditional audiences have lived their lives as well. They understand the struggles in the plays in a profound, immediate, and
personal way. Measure for Measure in particular concerns the difficulties humans have in being just and in judging one another fairly--and speaks to many in our audiences who experience the harsh judgements of others every day. When we did it 12 years ago, we were moved by how directly and clearly the play spoke to those in prisons and shelters--and I'm sure it will continue to do so in New York.
Founded in 1954 by Joseph Papp, the Public Theater presents numerous shows on its six stages that play to a quarter million people each year. Through the decades, the theater has won 42 Tony's, 151 Obie's, 41 Drama Desk Awards, and four Pulitizer Prizes.
Current Public Artstic Director Oskar Eustis was effusive in his praise when making the announcement of the collaboration, saying that "Hensley has built a hidden national treasure in the Twin Cities; may her influence spread across America."
Ten Thousand Things' latest local production, Life's A Dream, opens to the public Friday.