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Rasmussen is leaving the Jungle; ‘Anne Frank’ on Park Square website

ALSO: New online screenings from the MSP Film Society; a virtual Jazz Fest Live with Maud Hixson and Rick Carlson; and more.

Sarah Rasmussen
Sarah Rasmussen: “The goal wasn’t to change everything. The goal was to continue something, but with an open mind about who hadn’t gotten to participate in it.”
Photo by William Clark

After five years as artistic director of the Jungle Theater, Sarah Rasmussen is moving on. The Jungle announced today (Thursday, April 23) that Rasmussen will leave Minneapolis to become artistic director of the McCarter Theatre Center, an independent nonprofit housed on the campus of Princeton University. Her last day at the Jungle is May 15.

Rasmussen will succeed Emily Mann, the McCarter’s artistic director and resident playwright since 1990. Mann announced in January 2019 that she would step down in 2020, after 30 years. She leaves a $23 million theater (a 2019 pre-COVID figure) known as “a Tony-winning incubator of new work and new talent.”

When Rasmussen came to the Jungle in summer 2015, she succeeded Bain Boehlke, its founding artistic director, who had been there for 25 years. The Jungle was beloved. Audiences knew the theater, and they knew what to expect from the theater. Five years later, it’s still beloved, but it’s not the same. What audiences have learned to expect is the unexpected, to be surprised.

Rasmussen signaled that things would change with the first play she directed there, in February 2016. In her version of Shakespeare’s “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” the set was minimalist, the prevailing color was pink, and the entire cast – including the two gentlemen – was women. Later that year, the Jungle presented “Bars and Measures.” The playwright, Idris Goodwin; the director, Marion McClinton; the lead actors, Ansa Akyea and Darius Dotch; and the music director, Justin Ellington, were all black. Women and people of color have been part of the Jungle ever since.

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“I have changed things,” Rasmussen told MinnPost in 2018. “But the goal wasn’t to change everything. The goal was to continue something, but with an open mind about who hadn’t gotten to participate in it.”

Rasmussen brought prestigious awards and national recognition to the 148-seat theater at Lyndale and Lake. A $250,000 operating grant in 2018 from the BOLD Theater Women’s Leadership Circle. A 50/50 Applause Award from the International Centre for Women Playwrights for gender equity. The theater presented several world premieres including Kate Hamill’s adaptation of “Little Women” (the Jungle’s first-ever commission), Josh Tobiessen’s “Stinkers” and “The Wickhams” by Margo Melcon and Lauren Gunderson. It staged the first holiday play in its history, Gunderson and Melcon’s “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley,” a smash hit.

In 2018, the Star Tribune named Rasmussen Artist of the Year. That was also the year when the Jungle went from its calendar-year season to the more standard theater season, opening in September (like everyone else) instead of February. At last! The Jungle partnered with Fallon on a digital and physical facelift. It got the turntable working on the stage. The turntable made its debut, if we remember correctly, in “Little Women.”

Christina Baldwin
Photo by William Clark
Christina Baldwin
With Rasmussen’s final day at the Jungle fast approaching, the board of directors has appointed Christina Baldwin as interim artistic director effective May 15. Baldwin has been associate artistic director for the past two years. She is an artistic associate with the Moving Company, the successor to Theatre de la Jeune Lune, and spent many years with Jeune Lune.

Robin Gillette has been named permanent managing director, a role she has served in for the past eight months. Gillette was executive director of the Minnesota Fringe Festival from 2006-13. She founded Arts Progress, an arts consulting group, in 2013.

Board president Craig Ashby said in a statement, “Sarah transformed the Jungle over the past five years, bringing inclusive and bold stories, diverse talent, and gender parity to our stage. Under her leadership, we took smart risks that paid off with critical acclaim and growing audiences. We are deeply grateful to Sarah and proud that she will be taking the helm of one of our country’s largest and most respected theaters.”

The picks

Now at Park Square Theatre’s website: “The Diary of Anne Frank.” For years, Park Square has served the region’s largest teen theater audience with daytime matinees of plays for students in grades 7-12. The theater was set to open its 21st production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” to more than 12,000 students when we were all ordered to shelter in place. Instead, the cast created a Zoom reading. Written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, directed by Ellen Fenster, the play was already haunting. Released on April 21, Holocaust Remembrance Day, this version – about a Jewish family in isolation, created by actors in isolation – is one for the ages. Michael Paul Levin is Mr. Otto Frank, Sulia Rose Altenberg is Anne. Tremendous kudos to Park Square and the cast. Free.

New online screenings from the MSP Film Society: Available now: For the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the 2019 MSPIFF favorite “Eating Up Easter.” Tune into Instagram Live tonight (Thursday, April 23) at 8 p.m. for a Q&A with Easter Island film director Sergio Mataú Rapu. Starts Friday (April 24): “The Etruscan Smile,” with Brian Cox as a rugged old Scotsman forced to leave his isolated Hebridean island and travel to the U.S. for medical treatment. Go here to see the full selection of films currently available (and some coming up). FMI and tickets ($12) at the links. Your purchase(s) will directly support MSP Film.

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Tonight (Thursday, April 23) at 7 p.m.: Jazz Fest Live with Maud Hixson and Rick Carlson. The third in a series of virtual concerts presented by the Twin Cities Jazz Festival. Hixson is a terrific singer of classic songs – cool yet warm, wide-eyed yet massively knowing – and her husband, pianist Carlson, is her ideal accompanist. Together they’ll perform repertoire from Jon Hendricks to Duke Ellington to Noel Coward’s “A Room With a View.” Go here to register. Free.

Lea Salonga and George Takei in "Allegiance."
Photo by Matthew Murphy
Lea Salonga and George Takei in "Allegiance."
Friday (April 24) at 7 p.m. on Theater Mu’s Facebook page: Mu-tini Hour: George Takei, Lea Salonga and Jay Kuo. Oh myyy! George Takei! Formerly known as Mr. Sulu in “Star Trek,” Takei has been an Internet sensation since 2011, when he started his Facebook page. The Mu-tini’s topic will be “Allegiance,” the Broadway musical based on Takei’s life. Mu’s Artistic Director Lily Tung Crystal will host a conversation among Takei; writer, composer and lyricist Jay Kuo; and actress and singer Lea Salonga. RSVP here.

Friday through Sunday (April 24-26) on Facebook: St. Paul Virtual Art Crawl. More than just online shopping (though you can certainly do some of that), this promises to be a real experience, with live streams, live music, artist talks, gallery tours, live drawing, demos and workshops. Support the artists you love and meet new ones. Here’s a list of events.

Renee Fleming
Renee Fleming
Saturday (April 25) at 1 p.m. EST (12 noon CST) on the Metropolitan Opera’s website: The Metropolitan Opera At-Home Gala. More than 40 opera stars will perform in a live stream from their homes around the world. They will include Renée Fleming (Virginia), Lawrence Brownlee (Niceville, Florida), Roberto Alagna and Aleksandra Kurzak (La Raincy, France), Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvzov (Vienna), Bryn Terfel and Hannah Stone (Wales) and Nadine Sierra (Valencia, Spain). General Manager Peter Gelb (New York City) and Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin (Montreal) will host. After the live event, a recording will be available on the Met website until 5:30 p.m. CST Sunday. Meanwhile, the Met continues to livestream operas for free. Tonight (Thursday, April 23): Lehar’s “The Merry Widow.” Friday, April 24: Verdi’s “La Traviata.” Sunday, April 26: Rossini’s “La Cenerentola.” Each stream becomes available at 6:30 p.m. CST and remains accessible until 5:30 p.m. the following day.