Letters from Eurydice

Hi,
this is Steve Hendrickson, a local actor living in the Twin Cities and
an Artistic Associate of Ten Thousand Things Theater (hereafter known
as TTT). I’ve been asked by The Rake to do a blog on TTT’s upcoming
production of Eurydice. TTT is the brainchild of Michelle
Hensley, who founded the company in LA and then moved it here to the
Twin Cities. TTT is distinctive in that is has no permanent theatre
venue. Instead, TTT takes it’s productions to people who might
otherwise never be able to experience a live theatrical performance. We
tour prisons, homeless shelters, drug rehab facilities and other sites
who minister to the poor and otherwise disenfranchised of our society. (We
also do two weeks of paid public performances. These occur the first
two weekends in March at the Open Book and Minnesota Opera Center.
Check the website below for dates and move fast, these performances
sell out fast.)
We perform for these audiences, not out of charity
or pity, but to acknowledge our common humanity and facilitate a
wonderful barter: our audiences participate in the wealth of a live
performance and, through them, we re-explore, re-imagine and
re-invigorate theater.

OK, lofty grant-proposal words. In common parlance, here’s how they translate:

Being a TTT actor is hard. TTT shows tour
and must play in spaces not designed for performance- gymnasiums,
cafeterias, lobbies, etc. Of necessity then, the productions must be
spare. There is no theatrical lighting- we perform in whatever light
the room offers, frequently fluorescent. Everything we bring, sets,
props, musical instruments, etc. Must fit in the back of one small
rental van. The company (frequently at 9:30am) unloads the van, sets
everything up, get dressed in a classroom or bathroom or no room at all,
plays the show, stays and talks with the audience if they’re willing
and able, takes down the set, packs it back into the van and heads home.

But
because TTT shows are spare, they focus almost exclusively on the text
of the play, it’s characters and their relationships. TTT presents
theatre at it’s most essential, reductive level. There’s an old adage:
you need four elements for a theatre: an audience, a player, a passion
and a place to stand. There can be no disguising the shortcomings of a
TTT production through dazzling scenery, lighting and special effects.
It’s just the actors and the audience, an arrangement at once
terrifying and exhilarating because…

Our
audiences are smart. Not educated, perhaps (though you would be
surprised at how often they’ll quote Shakespeare back at you), but you
can’t survive on a poverty level income without knowing a bit about the
world, the people in it and how they think and engage with each other.
They recognize dishonesty, deception and plain bullshit five miles away
whether upwind or down and have no reservations about letting the
characters in a play (or the actors playing them) know when something
smells. These audiences are used to dealing with officials in power,
where the wrong form or the wrong word could mean the difference in
getting a hot meal or a warm bed on a twenty below night in St. Paul.
In non-prison venues if they don’t like the show, they leave, usually
with a "this is bullshit!" for us to remember them by. On the other
hand, true kindness, compassion, generosity and love are also quickly
noted, prized and embraced. TTT audiences can be openly engaged,
enchanted, enthralled. With the intelligence of adults but seldom any
of the reserve of traditional audiences, they are the closest modern
equivalent we have to the groundlings of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.
Hamlet, sword in hand and pondering the killing of King Claudius as he
is praying asks "and so he goes to heaven, And so am I reveng’d?"

Audiences at the Guthrie may think things like "No, wait!" or "do that motherfucker!" TTT audiences will say them, no, shout
them. And, gentle readers, let me say when that happens there is no
situation close to it. It is one of the most exciting, visceral
theatrical experiences anyone, actor or audience member, can undergo.

Which
is why, for most local actors, working on A TTT production is a highly
prized gig. TTT attracts some pretty impressive talent: Sally Wingert,
Bob Davis, Sonja Parks, Richard Ooms, Kate Eifrig, Jim Lichtscheidl,
Kevin Kling, Norah Long and Bradley Greenwald, to name only a handful,
have all been tapped by TTT and I suspect are eager to return.

So TTT is something extraordinary among extraordinary theatres. Next time, I’ll write about our current production, Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl.

For more information on Eurydice and all things TTT visit our website at http://www.tenthousandthings.org