The Board of Directors of the Guthrie Theater is conducting a search for its next Artistic Director. We asked people who they think should replace Joe Dowling, and here are the results, in alphabetical order.

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1. Bain Boehlke: The founder and artistic director of The Jungle Theater in Minneapolis, Boehlke has been active in the Twin Cities theater scene for more than half a century. On Monday, Boehlke announced he’s retiring from The Jungle in June of 2015, which means the 75-year-old would be available if he were interested.

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2. Timothy Bond: Bond is the Producing Artistic Director of Syracuse Stage and Syracuse University’s Department of Drama. Actor Sid Solomon says of Bond “He has a strong classical background (11 years as Associate Artistic Director of Oregon Shakespeare Festival), is known to Guthrie audiences (as director of CROWNS and the sensational INTIMATE APPAREL), and has experience fostering young talent and running a training program at Syracuse. Plus, it would be terrific to finally see an artist of color at the helm of the Guthrie.”

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3. Shanan Custer: Custer is a longtime Twin Cities actor, writer and director with a specialty in comedy and improv. Actor Paul Reyburn says that she has “a great sense of history. Plus, wouldn’t that just be a ton of fun?!?”

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4. Oskar Eustis:  Eustis is at the helm of The Public Theater in New York City. Mary Finnerty writes “He commissioned ‘Execution of Justice’ to help San Francisco heal after the murders of George Mascone and Harvey Milk. He believes in building community with theatre . He also did beautiful work as the artistic director at Trinity Rep. He has the scope of experience and has run a huge organization.” Beth Cleary writes “He knows the Twin Cities, and he’s ferocious about smart work, new work, work by people of color, and local work. The Twin Cities deserves him, or someone like him.”

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5. Wendy Goldberg: Goldberg is Artistic Director of the National Playwrights Conference at The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Connecticut, and has directed on Guthrie stages multiple times in addition to several other high profile stages nationwide.  She’s known for her work developing new plays for the stage.

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6. Tom Isbell: The Duluth theater professor has been a member of the University of Minnesota Duluth faculty since 1994. He has taken two UMD productions to the Kennedy Center as part of the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.  A graduate of the Yale School of Drama, Isbell has managed to balance teaching with his professional acting career. Anne Klefstad writes “He searches out newly written work and has an exceptionally open mind.”

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7. Wendy Knox: Knox is the Artistic Director of Frank Theater, based here in the Twin Cities. Randy Wylde writes “In addition to being a force in Minnesota theater for years, her commitment to innovative works, compelling theater, and challenging artistry would bring some exciting life to the Guthrie, which has seemed increasingly less-relevant with each passing year.”

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8. Suzy Messerole: The co-creator of Exposed Brick Theater, Messerole has directed at numerous theaters in the Twin Cities, including History Theatre, Theatre in the Round and Theatre Unbound, among others.
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9.  T. Mychael Rambo: The Twin Cities performer is known for his roles in several Penumbra Theatre productions as well as his commitment to arts education.

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10. Noel Raymond and Faye Price: The co-directors of Pillsbury House Theatre have created a model for infusing all aspects of the community center’s work with the arts.

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11. Ralph Remington – The original director of Pillsbury House Theatre, Remington also served on the Minneapolis City Council from 2006-2010. He has since moved on to work both for the National Endowment for the Arts and for Actors’ Equity Association.

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12. Amanda White Thietje Levi Weinhagen writes that the managing director of Mixed Blood Theatre in Mineapolis has “a deep passion for theater, understands the value of classical and historical theater, but isn’t afraid of creative risk. She also knows how to manage lots of different needs and wants.”

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13. Lisa Wolpe: Wolpe is the artistic director of the Los Angeles Women’s Shakespeare Company, a company she founded in 1993. Katrina Hawley writes  “She has the passion and artistic integrity needed, and would bring such an inclusive/diverse breath of fresh air!”

So who would you pick to lead the Guthrie Theater?

Bain Boehlke, founder and artistic director of The Jungle Theater in Minneapolis, announced today that he plans to retire from his post in June 2015.

“I’ve been here a quarter of a century and I think that’s a good number,” Boehlke said. “I’m not by any means stopping directing, acting and designing, but I’ll do it in another fashion. I’m not sure what that is yet but I trust in the fates. I’m still healthy and still running around, so I look forward to the next incarnation of my career.”

Bain Boehlke in “The Gin Game” at The Jungle Theater in 2008.
(Photo by Michal Daniel)

Boehlke, a native of Warroad, made the announcement just two days before his 75th birthday.

“I would hate to overstay my welcome, to get aged and not be able to do my job,” he said. “I’m still in good health and I can still do my work. In fact, I’m at the top of my form. I just think it’s wise to leave an organization when it’s at an apex and it’s healthy and strong, rather than wait until things start to fall apart.”

Five years ago, Boehlke took a sabbatical, fueling speculation that he might be preparing to step down. Joel Sass, then associate artistic director, was believed to be the heir apparent. While Sass no longer has that position, he still directs regularly at The Jungle.

“The assumption that I was stepping down was an assumption by others,” explained  Boehlke. “That was never my assumption, and it was never our intention. Joel Sass’ name will definitely be in the running for the new artistic director but I think the search may be a little broader. That’s up to the board.”

The theater’s board of directors has stated that it will appoint an interim director while it searches for a permanent replacement for Boehlke. Executive Director Margo Gisselman will remain in her position. Boehlke said he will retain the title of “Artistic Director Emeritus” and will continue to be involved with the theater company in a less formal way.

Boehlke, who has been recognized for his commitment to theater by both the Ivey Awards and the McKnight Foundation, has been active in the Twin Cities theater scene for more than a half-century, including a 13-year stint at the Children’s Theatre Company. When he first came to Minneapolis there were just a handful of theater companies, but he said the 1960s brought with them a cultural renaissance.

“I think the Guthrie Theater was a catalyst in a way , but I think the city was just burgeoning, bubbling with creative talent,” Boehlke said. “Within a decade there were close to 100 theaters here.  It was so exciting for me as a young artist to be involved in that movement.”

Today, Boehlke sees a whole new wave of young theaters in the Twin Cities. Despite a tidal wave of electronic devices that offer entertainment at the touch of a finger, theater continues to play a vital role in the cultural life of the Twin Cities.

“I think the scene is really quite strong,” he said. “I’ve great hopes for it. I just think it’s going to continue to be very exciting.”

If he could ask for anything, Boehlke said, it would be for a greater respect of the craft of theater.

“You have to pay attention to the details – the acting, costume design, the marriage of the elements of theater, the music, the soundscapes, the settings – to create a whole world the audience can enter into,” he said. “I’m in no way critical of anyone’s endeavors because it’s a real bear; it requires a tremendous amount of faith in the art. Theater will lead and guide you if you have the courage to surrender.”

Boehlke’s last day as The Jungle’s artistic director is set for June 30, 2015. This fall, he will star in The Jungle’s production of “On Golden Pond” beside longtime acting partner Wendy Lehr.

Eric Sharp and Meghan Kreidler in Mu Performing Arts production of “FOB.” Photo by Michal Daniel

“The whole crazy experiment worked better than I imagined” Randy Reyes admitted the other day.

The artistic director of Mu Performing Arts was contemplating the recently completed Chinese Restaurant Tour.

Three Mu actors, Eric Sharp, Meghan Kreidler and Michael Sung-Ho, took David Henry Hwang’s  searing examination of Chinese-American culture and presented it in Chinese restaurants in towns around Minnesota.

Reyes came up with the idea after noticing that in towns he visited outside the Twin Cities, more often than not if there was more than one eatery in a community it was a Chinese restaurant. He raised money to stage the show in the actual restaurants, with a $5 ticket covering not only the show, but a buffet meal too.

The tour started at the Jin Hu restaurant in Perham, Minnesota, midway between Detroit Lakes and Wadena.  Actor Eric Sharp says having done site specific shows before he knew to expect the unexpected, and Perham provided that.

“Our assumption was we were going to buy out the restaurant, and ours were going to be the only patrons coming in. But what ended up happening, of course, was that people from Perham just wanted Chinese food, so they ended up just coming in and they were completely confused as to what was going on,” he laughed.

“We had one side of the restaurant that was our patrons watching the show, and one side of the restaurant just eating orange chicken and doing their own thing.”

He also said in the past people have tended to be quiet when they see a show is underway, but that didn’t happen at all in the restaurants.

“People were just as loud as they would have been normally. Plates falling and crashing in the background, people coming in and out. Doors slamming. It was controlled chaos.”

But the cast believed that just added to the ambiance, and the efficacy of the show.

Hwang’s three characters represent different aspects of the Chinese-American experience, ranging from the someone steeped in the ancient history of the Chinese people to a young man who despises anyone interested in their heritage. He is the one who uses the acronym FOB, “fresh off the boat,” to describe new immigrants.

Sharp said reaction to the play changed the farther they were from the Twin Cities.

The further out that we went, these issues that the play brings up, like about Chinese-American immigration, are very new. The idea of immigration, I know, is not a foreign one to them, but in order to have a conversation about it, you need to broach that in any situation.

What we found in Perham in particular is that people wanted that permission and our production was that permission that they had to start talking about those issues, and they welcomed it. We had really robust discussions after both performances there.

Sharp said doing the show in active restaurants allowed them to break another barrier for the audiences too. “We were introducing them to neighbors in their own community, namely these restaurant owners. And as we would reveal details of these restaurant owners lives and careers here.”

Usually audiences wanted to know about how the individual restaurant owners ended up in their community, Sharp said:

But then going more deeply about how this Chinese family has not seen another Chinese family living in town this entire time that they have been in this city.

That our faces as the theater artists coming in were the closest approximation that they have had to diversity or other Asian-Americans that they have had in a long time, and I think that was incredibly important.

Eric Sharp, Michael Sung-Ho and Meghan Kreidler in David Henry Hwang’s “FOB.” Photo by Michal Daniel

As the production got closer to the Twin Cities they began meeting audience members who knew about the theater scene in the metro. “What was interesting there,” Sharp said, “Was people had no clue, as I didn’t before I moved here, that there is a culturally specific theater scene in the Twin Cities, that we can support an Asian-American theater in the Twin Cities.”

Mu held post performance discussions after every show, and heard repeatedly how the play moved many audience members. Some of the restaurant owners also said they were moved that people in the community cared to find out about their personal histories.

The performers were also glad to see other Asian-Americans in the audience. “In Rochester we had probably five at our last performance,” said Sharp.

And one man was a Chinese-American immigrant himself, and talked about growing up in Hopkins, and he had seen this article about the play and wanted to check it out, and was very very forthcoming about how hard it was to grow up as an Asian-American in Minnesota.

And then later in the bathroom when Michael (Sung-Ho) was changing his costume this guy just came in and broke into tears because he was just kind of overcome with the experience of seeing another Asian-American on stage and then hearing a story that was close to his own.

Randy Reyes, who directed the show says they have collected a lot of documentation, video, stories, surveys that have proven that this model works.

“People are hungry for the experience, no pun intended of course,” he grinned. “The art the culture the food, the whole experience.”

Now Reyes says Mu are looking at how else it might work, and maybe even a national model of how to talk about immigration “and how a community got empowered around food, around the restaurant business,” he said.

For people in the Twin Cities eager to see the show Mu will do a main stage production of “FOB” at Mixed Blood in January. “We are hoping to change Mixed Blood into a Chinese restaurant. We will see what the set designer thinks of that,” said Reyes.