This #ThrowbackThursday we offer some thoughts from Artistic Director Jack Reuler, on spotting talent and trusting your instincts

Posted on February 13, 2014

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The American theatre is burdened by a need for validation.  Instead of looking at talent and recognizing it as talent, we look to our peers and colleagues.  Artistic directors and directors make note that an individual has worked at or been produced by the Guthrie or designed on Broadway or has an MFA from Yale or was cast by Spielberg.

I, for one, trust my instincts and have devoted myself to seeing young theatre artists while still in training or shortly thereafter, confident that I can recognize that they’re good now, that they’d feel valued and rewarded working at Mixed Blood, that they’ll become the veteran older actors tomorrow, and that I’ll remember them.  I travel to auditions and MFA programs across the land to get to know people and their talent as they enter the regional theatre movement.  I have had good luck and a number of people who graced the Mixed Blood stage while young have gone on to have highly validated careers. Many even come back.

But I toot my own horn with a few significant exceptions.

While in college I got to be on a Minneapolis Park Board committee that picked the music that was played in the park bandstands in the summer.  I was the token “young person” who went to see a lot of bands in bars and made recommednations. Another committee member, a lovely middle-aged woman named Bernadette Anderson who worked for the YMCA, implored me to come see/hear “her kids” who were playing the next weekend.  She thought they’d be great to meet the Park Board ambitions.  I was 20 or 21 and went to hear this gaggle of disheveled teens, returning to Bernadette and the committee without an endorsement.  They weren’t chosen that summer of 1974 or ’75.  But the members of that group included Prince, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, and Jesse Johnson – all of whom have gone on to be….well, validated.

In the first years of Mixed Blood, a chain smoking poet/playwright who was writing for the Science Museum of Minnesota kept badgering me to produce his epic parable about race and the cowboy West.  I really didn’t like it and declined repeatedly.  That play, BLACK BART OF THE SACRED HILLS, was by August Wilson.  Lou Bellamy saw the promise and produced it in, I think, 1978 to kick off a relationship that defines Penumbra to this day.

In adjacent months to Mixed Blood’s beginning, a small theatre in a Chicago church basement was starting with a group of actor friends and asked if they could tour to Minneapolis and use our venue to expand exposure.  In this case only schedule prevented the partnership from being forged, but that group – John Malkovich, Laurie Metcalf, Gary Sinise, Jeff Perry, and others – was the scrappy origins of Steppenwolf.

If ever I am asked for recommendations on talent, there is a grain of salt that comes with that advice.

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