This is why I love the new Guthrie Theater

guthrieatnight.jpgWhen I make changes, I make big changes. None of these, fractional, baby-step changes for me that stuff is for wimps and the gumment.

Before my current incarnation as a lovable, grammar-starved, “slightly caustic” travel writer, I was a Federal Reserve Bank stooge. My specialty was electronic payments. I could explain every step of the process from the moment you hand your check card to the cashier at Rainbow to your account getting hit to the payment “settling” in Rainbow’s account. I knew enough about the system to initiate a “Fight Club” style nationwide financial crisis (with the help of a handful of likeminded, well-placed techies around the country, assuming they all wanted to become international fugitives, submit to facial reconstructive surgery and spend the remainder of their days in a lean-to hut in the jungles of New Guinea so worth it).

Before my tenure at the Fed, I was a theatre geek. An ac-tor, to be precise. In fact my degree, for what it’s worth, is in Theatre Arts. Right about that time (1993), I was cast in the Guthrie’s production of “Othello”, starring Paul Winfield as Othello, Robert Foxworth as Iago and me as Cypriot Goon Number 7 (and yet, I don’t have a Wikipedia page – there is no God).

Throughout the three weeks of rehearsals and five weeks of running the show (during which time I earned in the neighborhood of 27 cents an hour acting, the only job that pays worse than freelance writing), I spent countless hours skulking the back halls, workshops and crawl-spaces of the original Guthrie Theater. As Othello was strangling his wife and using his sword to neuter Iago (oops, I should have said “spoiler alert” my bad), we extras were 20 feet below the Guthrie’s thrust stage, quietly “skiing” down the smooth vomitorium ramp by standing on the hems of our monk cloaks. It was, to put it lightly, totally %^$#ing awesome.

Though I eventually abandoned acting and even let my live theatre attendance drop to next-to-zero, I discreetly continued being a theatre geek. So it was with no shortage of glee that I attended my first show at the new Guthrie last week. Though I’d breezed through the common areas before, I’d never been to the G at night nor seen the inside of any of the three theatres.

The new Guthrie took the spirit of arts and aesthetics and applied it to the whole damn building. Let’s start with the exterior. Blue, shiny, gnarly, gigantic pictures of theater luminaries, a half finished bridge that defies the laws of physics. This giddying fusion of eccentric elements invites lengthy scrutiny at least, UFO sighting reports at most.

Inside, the ground floor lobby is rather gapping and confusing, though there’s an awesome full-sized classic car on display in the center of the ticket hall that the prop shop put together from scraps they salvaged from down by the river or something. The upper lobby is much more arresting, like a little pre-departure from reality, with ambient lighting, tinkling wine glasses and watermark art cleverly splashed around the walls and ceiling, which I’m totally gonna do when I get my mansion. A giant blue-tinted window provides a glimpse into the back stage area which is intriguing without shattering the whole “fourth wall” effect. If not for the trumpeting music and booming announcements that your show is about to begin, you’d be loathe to relinquish your comfy chair and chardonnay.

I’m a Thrust Man theater-wise and I’m dying to see the new Wurtele Thrust Stage. Alas the show I was attending was “Pen” in the Dowling Studio. It may not be as spectacular as a thrust stage, but there’s a certain beautiful simplicity of the ‘experimental’ (A.K.A. ‘black box’) Dowling Studio. You have to take an elevator from the ground floor, cross the upper lobby, then hop another elevator to reach the Studio on the Guthrie’s ninth floor.

The Studio’s minimalist sets and low-production value mean the focus is entirely on the actors. Also, in this configuration, the actors are as close to the audience as you can get. We were in the front row, meaning there were times when the actors were practically in our laps. When they stared off into the middle distance, sometimes they were looking us right in the eyes. The temptation to stick one’s tongue out during these moments to test focus is tremendous.

As always, the Guthrie had a wonderful, young, enthusiastic staff on hand who went to great lengths to make sure everyone was getting the ultimate theatre experience. My companion for the evening was in a wheelchair and the staff never missed a beat. They’d set up a space for us beforehand, made sure that we were satisfactorily positioned, happily answered a few questions and then gaily skipped away to help the next set of guests. Why can’t the bloody airlines hire people like that?

Finally, although the Guthrie is arguably the flagship venue for theater in Minneapolis (and sometimes Saint Paul), I couldnt possibly encapsulate the wretched excess of quality theater in these parts in this space even if I loved research, which I don’t. But here’s a good place to start. Meanwhile, I’m now shamelessly hinting for tickets to the next thrust production, which of course is “A Christmas Carol”, which I haven’t seen in over a decade. Anyone?

[Photo credit: chicanerii]

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Live theater | 16.11.2007 17:23 | Comments Off on This is why I love the new Guthrie Theater

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