13/14 End of Season thoughts from Artistic Director Jack Reuler

Posted on May 15, 2014

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At Mixed Blood we just closed our 38th season. A big part of the art of an artistic director, to me, is producing. I got to stretch my wings as a producer in new and exciting ways, all of which contributed to the health of the organization, community, and field. While I can usually specify a particular success, this felt like simultaneously the year of the playwright, director, designer, actor, audience, and space!

The fiscal year started out inauspiciously for me, emotionally, as my professional partner, friend for decades, and board president Ron McKinley died tragically on his beloved Harley. I still look to him for advice often and channel him regularly. He taught me how to view the non-profit sector with fresh eyes, perpetually reinventing and thinking strategically. Eulogizing him was an honor I never wanted to have. I am so proud of Mixed Blood’s board as courageous, supportive, and shrewd, but we are now, collectively, widowed.

My need for constant change is diagnosable. A core value of our non-profit corporation is to be “predictably unpredictable.” This year our reconfigurable Alan Page Auditorium was set up in three different ways and we ventured into a site specific venue on a former military base for a fourth relationship between audience and artists. Responding to the intersex South Asian standup character that anchored Aditi Kapil’s BRAHMAN/I (one of three world premieres produced in rep under the umbrella Displaced Hindu Gods), we gutted our space and set it up as a comedy cabaret, replete with tables between every two seats, a bar in the theatre, and food trucks with curry outside for the five hour “Aditi-thons” we did in the midst of ten-show weeks. It was great to see and hear the response of audience members as they entered “Club MB.” It was theatre-as-event, which, to me, will be the thinking that is the savior of live theatre in America.

Doing three new plays in rep by one playwright– with three directors, one design team, and an overlapping cast – was a great conspiracy to attempt, plan, and execute. That these plays all have future lives based on the artistic leaders that came to see them – from Boston, DC, Chicago, and San Francisco – is icing.

Our Seconds Festival – four plays that had had one prior production, a desire by playwrights to keep working on them, and no subsequent productions planned – proved to be treasured by the playwrights and a valuable model for the new play universe in terms of development, production, and dissemination. (The influence of 15 years with the National New Play Network on Mixed Blood and me was the spark plug to look at premieritis anew.) Octavio Solis, Adam Gwon (CLOUDLANDS), Jose Cruz Gonzalez (THE SUN SERPENT), Drew Hayden Taylor (IN A WORLD CREATED BY A DRUNKEN GOD), and Tom Jones (SHEDDIN’) spent a week with directors rehearsing 48 hours with the best of Twin Cities actors for a weekend of performances attended by artistic directors from across America that had been hand-picked by the playwrights. (SUN SERPENT had a fully-produced 40-performance run.) Three of the four plays found future productions! While I have no plans for a second Seconds, this practice should be institutionalized throughout the regions.

I like hard plays – ones that are difficult to produce or in theme/message or that pose casting challenges. In 2013-14 one required a cast fluent in Spanish and English that we produced bilingually. One needed a cast of actors fluent in American Sign Language, one of whom needed to be deaf. One needed real rain on stage – 10 feet from the audience. One needed a 50 foot high rock wall. The list goes on. Directors Leah Cooper, Risa Brainin, Rachel Bowditch, Bruce Young, Mark Valdez, Tom Jones, Jeremy Cohen, Aditi Kapil, Raul Ramos, Randy Reyes, and Warren Bowles directed the 14 shows we did in our theatre or on tour in 2013-14, five of which were world premieres, four of which we had commissioned and previously produced, four that had had one prior production, and one with a track record (PASSING STRANGE). How blessed am I as an artistic director to have such stellar directing talent agree to helm Mixed Blood productions!

Lighting designers Karin Olson, Wu-Chen Khoo, Barry Browning, and Paul Epton really strutted their stuff, sculpting and crafting at new zeniths to Mixed Blood’s benefit. Media designer Adam Larson and costume designers Trevor Bowen, Connie Furr, Annie Cady, and Kathy Kohl also raised the bar of excellence with their work.

There were breakout performances by several actors under 23, all recent alum of the Guthrie/U of M BFA program.

A pet favorite of mine was a live video game entitled STARS AND STRIPES. Commissioned with drug forfeiture dollars by the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office to dissuade teens from using gun violence to resolve conflict, I got to conspire with playwright Syl Jones (with whom I have a decades-long partnership), composer Victor Zupanc, and director Randy Reyes and a fantastic design team and cast to create a wild quasi-interactive play performed for secondary students with post-show facilitated discussion led by juvenile prosecutors and victim/witness advocates.

There were unprecedented ensembles. The shows’ creations were commissioned, devised, presented, and produced.

None of this was easy. Despite the best laid plans, the staff – administrative, technical, and artistic, full-time and free-lance – never failed to amaze me at their ability to morph and flex with each issue that revealed itself. The real art of being a producer is getting the best people in the room with the ideal chemistry. Jon Jory taught me long ago about this, “Be good or perish.”

In the third year of Radical Hospitality, audience composition never fails to amaze me – in age, race, income, disability. There were three dogs in the house last Saturday. As a one-time wannabe veterinarian, theatre life gets no better.

I love the artistry of theatre. I love it as a voice for the unheard and as a vehicle for social change. But it is the people and their remarkable capacity for compassion and humanity that has kept me coming back for decades. Mixed Blood’s culture should always be led by care for the individual. This year, I learned more about being human by watching Jeremy Cohen navigate the personal plight of an actor in personal crisis than in any text I have ever read. It was truly an invisible sight to behold.

It was a long cold winter in Minnesota. As I write this, it feels like February 99th! My family has been in the Twin Cities for five generations. There is no place I’d rather be and nothing else I’d rather be doing than what I do where I do it.

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