Thursday, June 07, 2007

What happens when the packaging doesn't match the content?



I am in Minneapolis for the TCG National Conference and the host theater is the brand new Guthrie. Let me start off by saying that I don't want to rain on their parade. The new Guthrie Theater is absolutely amazing--it has three performance spaces including separate thrust, proscenium and black box theaters. It is situated right on the Mississippi and is a glorious example of modern architecture. Not to mention, they have been fantastic hosts. So what seems to be the problem?

As I approached the building, I thought to myself, "what a wonderful place for experimental, new edgy work. I bet it would be fantastic to work here." Then I entered the space and I was surprised to see that their two large productions in June were George Bernard Shaw's Major Barbara and the musical 1776. Neither of which would I consider bastions of modern, edgy or experimental theatre. Future productions include Private Lives, Jane Eyre, King Lear, The Seagull, A Christmas Carol, and Peer Gynt. The edgy, modern, or experimental productions when produced are for the most part confined to the smallest of the three spaces.

I know that with the opening of a new, large theater comes an increase in expenses, which demands a relatively "safe" season. However, why choose to build a brand new theater that stands as a pillar of modern, experimental architecture and program it with standard fare that you could find at any regional theater in the nation?

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is true for many venues.At times, I see this in Arizona's Mesa Arts Center.

Anonymous said...

Hey, glad you could visit the new Guthrie Theater building when you were in Minneapolis! As a hopeless civic booster and lover of theater, I just wanted to leave a comment about "play selection" which is always a topic of heated conversation and argument here in the Twin Cities when the Guthrie season is announced each year!

Time will tell whether "experimental" work could ever fill the thousands of seats at either of the Guthrie's two largest theaters (Thrust and Proscenium) for eight performances a week. My hunch is they'd probably be out of business in no time, and the great work being done in the "black box" theater (the Dowling Studio) would disappear, too. Having said that, I do recall a terrific production of "The Screens" many years ago (I'd call it experimental) that did do quite well on the main stage, but it's the exception, not the rule.

I'd add that "The Real Thing" and "Edgardo Mine" were also part of the Guthrie's first season "on the river." Not experimental by any definition, in all likelihood, but contemporary work nevertheless. Both productions were riveting evenings in the theater, and both played in one of the larger theaters.

By the way, their first season in the new building played to 85% capacity in the three theaters (according to news reports). Not too shabby. It looks like the community was fairly OK with the choice of plays.

Can they do better? Absolutely. What type of experimental production do you have in mind? Send it along to them as a suggestion if you really think it needs to be produced. You might be surprised!

Craig said...

I think you'll like my post(s) on the Guthrie. It has to do with the way the new Guthrie promotes itself. Rather than focusing on play selection, I wrote about the Guthrie's advertising
(http://craigrentmeester.typepad.com/craig_rentmeesters_blog/2007/05/marketing_and_t.html)
and about my experiences after being there on two different occasions recently. http://craigrentmeester.typepad.com/craig_rentmeesters_blog/2007/09/marketing-and-t.html