In celebration of Out There’s 25th anniversary, we invited theater professionals from near and far — Jeff Bartlett, Wendy Knox, Young Jean Lee, and Mark Russell–to share their perspectives on this annual festival of boundary-crossing performance.
Once the leaves drop from the trees here in Minnesota, we’re on that slow march into the long, dark, dreary period of endless twilight that only delivers us into the madness of the holidays, and then it all comes to a halt with the arrival of January. In addition to the brightness that comes with heaps of snow and mind-numbing temperatures, for 25 years, the Out There series had held the promise of a sometimes delightful, sometimes intriguing, sometimes mind-blowing, sometimes puzzling, but always fascinating mid-winter adventure. Thanks to the Walker, January held out promise, an anticipation, once we get through the holidays. For years, you could look forward to January, knowing that each weekend of Out There would take you someplace new, would introduce you to someone (interesting) from out of town, and, for many years, also spotlight one of our local pals alongside people from all over. Looking over the history of the Out There series, I realize how lucky we have been and how the series has impacted our local performance scene.
As a theater artist who has been working in the community for about as long as the Out There series has existed, it’s worth observing how the Twin Cities performance scene has evolved during this time and considering how Out There has affected our scene and how the Twin Cities has impacted the artists who visited us during the annual Out There adventure.
Personally, I think of the artists who have come through here on an Out There ticket who I might never have seen (Rachel Rosenthal, Ron Vawter, Improbable Theatre) as well as those who have visited on an Out There ticket and subsequently returned, hung around, spent time here working with Twin Cities artists (Ping Chong, Eiko and Koma, Dan Hurlin, Roger Guenveur Smith). In the early ’90s, the Twin Cities was a bit on an incubator for new performance work. There were many theaters producing new work (Brass Tacks, Illusion, Red Eye, Frank) we well as many venues that presented performance-based work that didn’t fit into the box labeled “theater”: Intermedia Arts/UC Video, Film in the Cities, the Walker. Additionally, there were funders who were supporting the hybridizing of forms, and the convergence of these elements with the active visual art, music and dance communities led to the development of a local performance scene that was deserving of the reputation that was quickly established. Out There has had a significant hand in feeding that reputation.
An example is in 1997, when I had the opportunity to work with a roster of local artists whose assignment for the Out There series was to take a piece of highly identifiable text and riff on it. The resulting performances were hugely varied, endlessly fascinating, and still memorable. Among the performances were Laurie Carlos, performing a piece from Fiddler on the Roof with her own approach to breath and movement; Brian Sostek advising us of our Miranda rights; Alex Alexander playing her keyboard and giving us the “Serenity Prayer”; Maria Asp, delivering the “to be or not to be” soliloquy from Hamlet while frosting a cake; Carolyn Goelzer actually making that flight attendant spiel interesting; Charles Schuminski, reading the bible, stuffing his face with candy (and perhaps strapping a watermelon to his body with Saran Wrap, or was that another piece?); along with several others.
The inclusion of local artists alongside those who came from far-off places was something that energized the local community, and it is an aspect I have missed in recent years. While Out There provides a wonderful opportunity to see the work of artists from New York, LA, Austin, etc., using one of the weekends of the series to present a local artist had a dual effect. It served as a reminder of the incredible variety and quality of work that is being produced here at home, and simultaneously spotlighted these local artists up alongside those whose work is recognized outside of our community. The late night showcase that followed the performances of these local artists was also a bonus, featuring short pieces by a number of other artists.
Congratulations to Out There and the Walker for a fascinating quarter of a century and for its many contributions to making the performance scene in the Twin Cities as rich and diverse as it is. And many thanks for the delightful January adventures that you have taken us on for the past 25 years!