At a virtual meeting on Tuesday evening, Guthrie leaders looked back at 2019-20, summarized where things stand now and looked ahead to reopening, but without specifying a timeline.
Artistic Director Joseph Haj took us back with these words: “On March 11, 2020, the Guthrie announced the most financially ambitious season in our history. Then, two days later, on Friday the 13th of March, with ‘Twelfth Night’ and ‘The Bacchae’ on stage, the world premiere of Kate Hamill’s ‘Emma’ in rehearsal, our coproduction of Karen Zacharias’ ‘Destiny of Desire’ playing at Cincinnati Playhouse and preparing to come to us, our creative teams deep in the design process for ‘Cabaret’ and [Lynn Nottage’s] ‘Sweat,’ and Mark Rylance in residence with a workshop of the Guthrie’s commission of ‘Steel,’ the theater closed in response to the COVID-19 crisis.”
Eventually, eight productions were canceled, and more than 270 performances.
A PPP loan kept people employed for a time. In mid-May, the Guthrie announced that it would cut its staff by 79 percent. Actors, directors, designers and others involved with various Guthrie projects were also affected. On May 25, George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police.
In the midst of a global crisis, a racial reckoning and a ghastly time for the arts, and due to a series of hard decisions, contributed revenue from foundations, corporations and individuals, the Guthrie remains financially stable. Managing Director James Haskins gave a brief overview: Fiscal year 2020 (through August) ended with an operating revenue of $18.89 million, expenses of $21.61 million and an operating loss of $2.72 million. (Not yet factored in while the Guthrie waits to hear from the Small Business Administration: forgiveness of its $3.17 million PPP loan.) The theater’s endowment balance is $53.56 million and growing. The donor base grew by 29% over the previous season. “Fiscal year 21 is in good shape as we near our five-month mark,” Haskins said.
The Guthrie, like many nonprofits, is hoping for help from the $15 billion Grant for Shuttered Venue Operators (aka Save Our Stages) bill included in the most recent stimulus package.
Floyd’s death prompted a series of meetings and working sessions with local Black artists and community leaders around making the Guthrie more anti-racist and inclusive. These led to new policies, partnerships and artistic programming that launched in October 2020. Five projects have been presented so far.
“Dickens’ Holiday Classic,” a film created with E.G. Bailey in a year when “A Christmas Carol” was canceled, was seen by people in all 50 states and 15 countries. Some 2,500 teachers registered to view it in their classrooms; an estimated 150,000 students saw it for free. An annual food drive held in conjunction with “The Christmas Carol” usually collects around 700 pounds of food; in 2020, people donated 8,300 pounds of food at a curbside drop-off.
A reopening date for the theater has not been set, and we don’t know when live audiences will safely be able to return to the Guthrie’s three stages. But here’s what we can look forward to.
Three more projects from the anti-racism series, starting next Monday (Feb. 1) at 7 p.m. with “The Uprising Volume II: Black HERstory.” March will bring “Dining With the Ancestors,” a new play by Regina Marie Williams. April will feature Oya Mae Duchess’ “Tears of a Willow.”
A multiday festival, “Blackness Is ….” Culminating on May 25, the first anniversary of George Floyd’s death, it will include dance, poetry, spoken word, theater performance, and salon-style conversations among elders. We’ll learn more about that in February.
An all-new production of “A Christmas Carol.” The current production is 10 years old and will be retired. The next one we see will be an adaptation by Lavina Jadhwani, who directed the Guthrie’s “As You Like It” in 2018.
Progress on Mark Rylance’s six-part play cycle “Steel.” As noted earlier, Rylance was in residence at the Guthrie, working on “Steel,” when COVID-19 shut everything down. (By the way, this explains why Rylance was able to host a remembrance and celebration of Minnesota poet Louis Jenkins, who died in December, at the Guthrie on March 11. The two were great friends who even wrote a play together, “Nice Fish.”) The cycle has been co-commissioned by the Guthrie and Harvard’s American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.).
More new productions and commissions. These will include a new production by Larissa FastHorse and Ty Defoe of Indigenous Direction. A co-commission with Cincinnati Playhouse of a play by Karen Zacarias based on the novel “Shane.” Maybe a new commission with Amir Nizar Zuabi, who wrote and directed “Grey Rock” (seen at the Guthrie in Jan. 2019) and “This Is Who I Am,” a Zoom play co-presented by several theaters, including the Guthrie, in Jan. 2020. Haj was dramaturg.
A virtual workshop of Shakespeare’s “Richard II,” “Henry IV,” Parts I and II, and “Henry V,” the four history plays collectively known as “The Henriad.” Haj said, “Had we not had to cancel the season we’re in now, I would be in rehearsal at this moment for Shakespeare’s history cycle. I don’t see a path to producing these plays anytime in this or in next season.” Instead, the Guthrie will hire and pay a dozen actors to do the workshop, which will “keep the project on a low simmer.”
A spiffed-up Guthrie. Rebecca Cribbin, the Guthrie’s director of production, noted that the building is “historically open 360 days a year.” The “new” Guthrie – the current building on the river, as opposed to the one that was connected to the Walker – is 15 years old. Now that it’s closed, there’s time to work on key projects without inconveniencing audiences. Lobbies will be painted, seats will be recovered (and some recushioned), carpet will be replaced and added. There will be new images on the building’s exterior, in the lobbies, and on the walls, ceilings and hallways. Also – fun to know! – acousticians will be brought in to realign the “sound clouds.” Cribbin explained, “These were designed and positioned to help audience members hear actors on stage without the need for amplification, and over the years, these clouds have moved.”
Leslie Odom Jr. Aaron Burr in the original “Hamilton,” Sam Cooke in Regina King’s new film “One Night in Miami,” Odom will be featured in the Guthrie’s next virtual benefit, a celebration of the opening of the downtown theater. That will take place on June 25.
V is for virtual, L is for live and in person.
V Now at MSP Film: “First Daughter and the Black Snake.” This 2016 documentary by Minneapolis-based filmmaker and photographer Keri Pickett follows what happened in the years leading up to the historic Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) opposition. It features Native American activist Winona LaDuke, who believes that Big Oil is the black snake predicted in Indigenous prophecy to bring the earth’s destruction. FMI and tickets ($5). The film is available through Sunday, Feb. 7, as part of the Great Northern’s Climate Action Films series. On Sunday, Jan. 31, at 7 p.m., Pickett and LaDuke will have a live discussion with MSP Film programmer Craig Rice. Free, with registration required.
V Today (Friday, Jan. 29): Bach Society of Minnesota: “All Roads Lead to Bach.” Music by Biber, Pisendel and Walter lead to Bach’s Violin Sonata in E major. With Margaret Humphrey (violin), Asako Hirabayashi (harpsichord and organ), Maryanne Mossey (viola da gamba) and Kara Ford (mezzo-soprano). The Bach Society describes this concert as “a musical and philosophical tour.” This was a ticketed program earlier this month. It’s now free.
V Starts tonight at 7 p.m.: Walker Art Center: Josh Fox: “The Truth Has Changed” (2021 edition). In a solo performance recorded live in New Orleans, the Emmy-winning theater maker traces the arc of misinformation and propaganda in the United States from 9/11 to Trump and this year’s elections, presenting the truth about the climate crisis in a “post-truth” world. Tonight’s world premiere will be followed by a live conversation with the artist. The virtual performance will remain available to view until Monday, Feb. 1, at 11:59 p.m. Co-presented with the Great Northern. Tickets are pay-as-you-wish.
V Tonight at 7:30 p.m.: The Ordway: Cantus: “Alone Together” live in concert. This program was first conceived as a response to the question “What does it mean to stay connected in our digital age?” Since Cantus first toured it in 2018-19, social distancing has joined social media as another challenge to building healthy relationships. So this is “Alone Together” updated for 2021, with songs from the original program and songs from the ensemble’s more recent “COVID-19 Sessions.” Tonight’s concert will stream live from the Ordway. After that, it will remain on demand until 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 31. Tickets are pay-what-you-can.
V Tonight at 9 p.m. on your teevee: TPT/Twin Cities PBS: “Mary Tyler Moore: A Celebration.” Who doesn’t love Mary Tyler Moore? This one-hour special includes an interview with Moore, comments from her co-stars (including, poignantly, Cloris Leachman, who died this week), and clips from her TV and film work. Take a break and go to a happy place. On TPT 2. Also Saturday and Sunday at 3 a.m., and online anytime.
V Saturday, Jan. 30, 8 p.m.: The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra: Piano Quartets with Stewart Goodyear. This was the opening night concert of the SPCO’s 2020 season, when it streamed live on Oct. 3 from the Ordway Concert Hall. It’s back as an encore broadcast, well worth experiencing again (and definitely for the first time). Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear joins the SPCO for a program of piano quartets by Beethoven, Brahms and the pianist himself, along with the SPCO commission of Tyson Davis’ Tableau No. X for Solo Trumpet, featuring Lynn Erickson. 8 p.m. Saturday in the SPCO’s Concert Library. Also 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 4.
V Saturday at 8 p.m.: The Parkway: Alec Soth & Dave King: The Palms. A photographer and a drummer meet for storytelling, photo sharing, and semi-improvised new music. A world premiere of a new project that already has plans for the future. We’ll see it live and virtually this time, live and in person next time, whenever that is. A livestream from the Parkway Theater, presented by the Great Northern. FMI and tickets ($15). Listen to a conversation with Soth and King ahead of the event.