Sunday, June 22, 2008

The End of the Theatre de la Jeune Lune

Theatre de la Jeune Lune, the 30-year-old Minneapolis theater company that won a Regional Theatre Tony Award in 2005, is selling its warehouse district building and disbanding the company.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported on the company's trouble last November: a million dollar debt and shrinking audiences. The sale of the $3 million building it has occupied for 15 years will apparently not be enough to keep the company alive.

The inevitable question, of course, is: Did the Guthrie Theater with its huge new $125 million riverfront complex nearby kill Jeune Lune? The Strib asked Jeune's Steven Epp in November:
"They haven't taken our audience away, because there's not much overlap. But with its Wonder Bread shows, the Guthrie has dumbed down expectations, so people have less of an appetite for adventurous work."
Nasty words. But he should be right, there should be plenty of room for everyone.

The Twin Cities have long been known for having the most theaters per capita anywhere in America outside of New York City. And Jeune Lune isn't the only local theater to win a Tony -- the Guthrie won one in 1982 and the Children's Theatre Company won one in 2003.

There are other strong, long-running theaters in the area. Old Log Theater on Lake Minnetonka has been going since 1940 (read this recent article about it on MinnPost.); both Loni Anderson and Nick Nolte acted there early in their careers. With the Mixed Blood Theatre (since 1976), the Jungle Theater (since 1991), Theatre in the Round (since 1953), Penumbra Theatre Company (since 1976) and others still drawing crowds, Twin Cities theater is probably not in any danger.

So what did the Jeune Lune in? It wasn't the expensive building, the company's director Dominique Serrand told MPR:
"What happened after the theater opened was that the building, instead of being a burden was actually an endowment. And since we couldn't build an endowment for the theater, we borrowed against its equity, so the theater - the building has actually helped us live and survive for many years."
One commenter to the Strib's story thought it was infighting among the directors. Steven Epp mentioned a bad economy. Whatever it was, it's a shame.

Theatre de la Jeune Lune was founded in 1978 by two Frenchmen, Dominique Serrand and Vincent Gracieux, and two Minnesotans, Barbara Berlovitz and Robert Rosen. All four graduated from the Ecole Jacques Lecoq in Paris and all four shared the artistic director title. In the beginning, the company spent half the year in France. Steven Epp joined the company in 1983 and was made a co-director in 2001. in 1985, the company decided to stay in Minneapolis full time. The company's building, a turn-of-the-century warehouse with a facade added by architect Cass Gilbert in 1906 (he did Manhattan's Woolworth Building, too), was rehabbed in 1992.

I've only seen two productions at the theater -- Molière's The Miser in 2004 and a "tango opera" by Astor Piazzolla and Horacio Ferrer called Maria de Buenos Aries in 2005. Both were very elaborately staged and mesmerizingly performed. I'd always hoped to go back and see more.



Blogger leon evol said...

i read about this in the strib this morning. you already articulated it well, so i'll just add that it's a complete and total bummer.

12:55 AM  
Anonymous R Mills said...

Speaking as someone in the theatre community it is a shame that Jeune Leune is closing. For a time they did outstanding work. From What I understand there were many reasons for the closure, financial mismanagement, rifts between the founding members, etc. Using the New Guthrie as an excuse to cover these things is foolish. They lost their audience because they ceased producing work that was fresh and interesting and given the options in the twin cities people tend to go where the action is. It is a shame and they will be missed. Let us hope that some other deserving theatre company can step up and put the building to good use. Perhaps this building could be used instead of the white elephant of the Shubert Theatre.

10:48 PM  

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