A year ago, the Jungle Theater announced that its artistic director of five years, Sarah Rasmussen, would be leaving for a new position, and Christina Baldwin would step in as interim artistic director. As of this week, Baldwin is officially the Jungle’s third artistic director after Rasmussen and founder Bain Boehlke.
When Baldwin took the interim position, we were a month into the pandemic. The state was under a stay-at-home order. The Jungle had canceled the remaining half of its 2019-20 season, including a play that was scheduled to open the night the curtain fell on the arts. Times were shaky, and the news of Rasmussen’s departure was a blow.
But Baldwin’s appointment was reassuring. She was already part of the Jungle’s staff, as resident director since 2018, then associate artistic director through a BOLD Theater Women’s Leadership Circle grant, one of Rasmussen’s successes. She had directed and acted in several plays at the Jungle. She was a familiar face on stage and in the lobby before and after performances. Her previous theater experience was extensive and varied, including 10 years with The Moving Company and nearly as long with the legendary Theatre de la Jeune Lune.
Baldwin and the Jungle’s managing director, Robin Gillette, will work together to create a new leadership model for the 30-year-old theater in Lyn-Lake. Plans are still taking shape, but the goal is to bring more voices to the table. Three to four artists will be added to the Jungle’s year-round staff. They will have access to the decision-making process, from show selection to budget creation and overall management. They will be able to tap the Jungle’s financial and production resources to support their own projects.
“We know that the traditional model, with theater authority figures holding all the power to decide what artists need and want, isn’t how we want to move forward,” Gillette said in a statement.
“This is a model of mutual aid – sharing experiences, knowledge and the work,” Baldwin said. “We want to be generous with our resources.” She hopes to shorten the leadership path for more artists in the Twin Cities. “My role at the Jungle is to share power, experience and discover more possibilities,” she said. “This is an investment in the future of the arts in Minnesota.”
The Jungle hasn’t yet announced reopening plans. It will take time this summer to reconnect with past actors, directors, designers, technicians and crew members to assess past successes and failures, a truth and reconciliation process that will inform the return to traditional programming.
The Jungle has stayed active during the pandemic, reaching out to audiences in several ways. It used its large street-level lobby windows for multimedia installations called “Shine a Light.” It presented “Serial,” a series of three short audio pieces by Black artists. Baldwin directed the world premiere of the virtual theater-animation hybrid “Is Edward Snowden Single?” which streamed in December.
The Jungle’s current offering is an on-demand streaming of Lauren Gunderson’s “The Catastrophist,” a co-production with Round House Theatre in Washington, D.C., and Marin Theatre Company in California.
V is for virtual, L is for live and in person.
V Tonight (Thursday, April 22), 7 p.m.: Moon Palace Books: Mystery Writers of America Presents 2021 Edgar Nominees for Best Paperback Original. Mystery fan? Tune in for readings by Alyssa Cole, Brian Freeman, Jess Lourey, Jessica Moor and Khurrum Rahman of their Edgar-nominated books. Free with registration.
V Tonight (Thursday, April 22), 7:30 p.m.: Ladyslipper Spring (Mini) Recital Series: The Jamison Ensemble. Elise Parker (violin), Anne Ainomäe (viola) and Jane Cords-O’Hara (cello) will perform Alfred Schnittke’s rarely heard, deliciously dissonant string trio. Free on YouTube; suggested donation $15. FMI.
V and L Saturday, April 24, 5 p.m.: Keep Music Live: Javier Santiago Trio. Jazz pianist and composer Javier Santiago is a Minneapolis native, McKnight Fellowship for Musicians winner, former Brubeck Institute fellow and veteran of the Betty Carter Jazz Ahead program at the Kennedy Center. He’ll perform with his trio in Crooner’s socially distanced Dunsmore Jazz Room, and you can either watch at home (free with registration) or get a table. Doors at 4 p.m.
V Saturday, April 24, 7:30 p.m.: MacPhail Spotlight Series: “Steps and Intervals.” Series artistic director and conductor Mischa Santora will take on a new role – videographer – as three members of the James Sewell Ballet dance through the MacPhail Center for Music to live music by cellist Rebecca Merblum. Choreographer and dancer Da’Rius Malone will be joined by Jarod Boltjes and Chloe Duryea. Free on MacPhail’s website (click the Zoom link) or Facebook page. A discussion will follow at 8:15.
V Saturday, April 24, 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, April 25, 2 p.m.: Illusion Theater: Patrick Scully: “The 3rd Act.” If life is a play, then the first act is childhood and youth, the second is middle age, and the third is being old. In his new one-person play, Scully, an important part of our theater scene for more than 40 years, takes on the topic of aging in an ageist society. “Old is all I have left,” he says. “From this point on, I will only ever be old. I want to embrace that, welcome and prepare for it. … How do I do that when our default response to being old is denial?” Michael Robins directs. Watch the play, then return for a discussion with Scully on Thursday, April 29, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are free, but you do need to “buy” one to get a link to the performance. Donations are welcome.