Twin Cities Burst with Stage Energy

Article excerpt

I believe there is a renaissance going on right now in Minneapolis," says Steve Richardson, producing director of one of the leading theater companies here. Many other theater artists and critics agree, seeing a new energetic burst in the performing arts.

One reason: "There is a great spirit of collaboration" between arts organizations, Mr. Richardson says.

He mentions a joint project by his company, Thtre de la Jeune Lune; the Guthrie, the major regional theater company here; and the Walker Art Center as an example. His company is also collaborating with The Children's Theatre Company to produce "Gulliver's Travels."

This cross-fertilization pays off in dynamic new works. "There is a whole new audience springing up," he says. "Our theory is: The more people going to the theater, the better."

Another reason for the lively theater scene in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul: When artists can't find work in resident companies, they start new ones. One such example is the Hidden Theatre Company, which manages to provide modest incomes for its actors and crew.

Of course, Twin Cities theater companies still have to deliver good productions to survive. And they're doing that. Take the Jungle Theater's production of "Lobster Alice," by Minneapolis playwright Kira Oblensky. So fresh, bright, and irresistible is this play, based on Salvador Dali's six-week stint in Hollywood, that it earned a spot at Playwrights' Horizons, a theater company in New York, early next year.

"Our audience is so diverse," says Bain Behlke, artistic director of the Jungle Theatre. "Of course, Minneapolis has an unusual theater history. In the 1960s, the Guthrie came in, heralding an unprecedented expansion in the arts. There were four theaters in Minneapolis before 1962, and by 1972, there were more than 100. (That number is unchanged today.)

"So there were and are so many styles of theater going on, from classical to modern to deconstructionist efforts of contemporary theater. This audience is really very sophisticated."

The Guthrie is dedicated to the classics. But with Joe Dowling, appointed artistic director in 1995, there is an emphasis on new play development, too. The American premire of the operetta "Martin Guerre" is an exciting, polished production right now (see " 'Martin Guerre' travels to US theaters," Oct. 8).

Asked about the viability of the theater, he says, "They talk about the theater as the fabulous invalid - as if it is always 'dying' - but across the country attendance has doubled."

Dowling points out that pundits today are referring to William Shakespeare as "the man of the millennium." The need for live theater will go on, he says, because it represents a kind of communion between the performers and the audience.

The Guthrie is in no danger of irrelevance: The people of the Twin Cities revere it. Dowling's plans are expansive - he expects to build a three-theater complex so the Guthrie will be able to return to a three-play repertory style without the expense of striking sets between shows.

The Guthrie's counterpart is The Children's Theatre Company (CTC) - a progressive, inventive, and enchanting place where the great works of children's literature, as well as new plays by some of America's best playwrights, delightfully come to life.

Its current production, "A Village Fable," by James Still, is based on a novel by John Gardner. It aims at older children, dealing with issues of racism, intolerance, and other forms of prejudice with great wit and skill. But the heartfelt story is no simple moral tale. …