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ISSUE 119 VOL 11 PUBLISHED 2/24/2006

Theatre sustains

By Lisa Gulya
Arts Editor

Friday, February 24, 2006

Sustaining theatre in the United States depends on creating intimate spaces and affordable tickets, Artist-in-Residence Gary Gisselman said last Thursday at the 23rd annual Mellby Lecture, "Sustainability and the Theatre: Landscape, Intimacy, Sex and Violins."

Holland Hall 501 was filled to capacity for Gisselman’s joke-punctuated lecture.

Gisselman acknowledged nature author Barry Lopez for shaping his vision of theatre. Gisselman gained an appreciation for the importance of geography and landscape in theatre while working on a production of Lopez's “Crow and Weasel” with the author in the early 1990s.

Although theatre has survived countless death tolls with the advent of radio, television and the Internet, Gisselman lamented the current state of Broadway, referring to it as "Disneyland East." Broadway is filled with flashy musicals with high ticket prices, he said.

The center of serious theatre in this country has become small, regional theatres, Gisselman said. In the 1960s a regional theatre movement began of which the Guthrie Theater was a flagship.

He pointed to other Twin Cities examples, such as Mixed Blood Theatre, Penumbra Theatre Company and The Jungle Theater, where Gisselman’s wife, Margo, is managing director.

"But even with all this activity, we are concerned," Gisselman said, since attendance at theatre performances is similar to the numbers at classical music performances.

Non-commercial or non-profit theatres are social institutions that exist to provide specific social services, Gisselman said, but they still must justify their existence financially.

Gisselman acknowledged the challenge of articulating why the arts deserve support.

"You feel so lame, so you say, ‘They’re special,’" he said. "It’s all true, but you know it’s not selling it."

Quality theatre justifies itself, Gisselman said.

"A good production is its own argument," he said. His definition encompasses works that are "dangerous, exciting and thought-provoking." Such productions need not be depressing or solemn, but they engage audiences through stories.

Gisselman envisions staging challenging works in intimate spaces, which he sees best accommodated by thrust stages, theatre-in-the-round or black box arrangements.

More than provoking thought, theatre also delivers visions of hope, as Gisselman discovered this Interim.

Gisselman concluded his lecture with a passage of Lopez’s, an instruction to live compassionately in the midst of darkness, "making your life a worthy expression of leaning into the light."

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