- Offstage Voices: Life in Twin Cities Theater by Peg Guilfoyle
From major regional equity houses playing classics of Western theatre to small itinerant groups performing pop-up projects in unexpected locales, the Twin Cities is home to a dynamic and diverse range of theatre and performance. In recent years, it is experiencing many of the same issues facing communities of similar size across the country: an aging audience base with a complex philanthropic system that is aging with it, political hierarchies that determine who gets access to funding and space, a shifting real estate market that has forced the closure of a number of performance venues, and so on. The community is [End Page 320] home to three regional Tony Award–winning companies but also is an environment where one of them—the internationally lauded Theatre de la Jeune Lune—closed in 2008, only three years following its Tony win, due to financial insolvency. Penumbra Theatre, one of the oldest African American theatre companies in the country and the company that helped launch the careers of notable figures like August Wilson, nearly closed in 2012 before announcing an ultimately successful campaign to raise $340,000 to cover a budgetary shortfall.
Yet all is not doom and gloom in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. A constant influx of fresh talent from local colleges and universities supports established companies, inspires the founding of new companies, and feeds creative new works on the ever-growing fringe. Several companies commission and produce new plays from emerging and established playwrights. Nonprofits like Springboard for the Arts assist fledgling companies in developing long-term strategic plans, raising funds, organizing advisory boards, and obtaining 501(c)(3) status. And in recent years, a new generation of artistic directors have taken over several landmark institutions that haven't seen leadership changes in decades, including Penumbra, the Guthrie, and the Jungle.
In short, there are many stories that need to be told about Twin Cities theatre, stories that not only illuminate the challenges and successes of this particular community but also shed light on growing trends in major metropolitan cities across the country.
Offstage Voices: Life in Twin Cities Theatre, by local stage manager and production manager Peg Guilfoyle, is a broad snapshot of this community at this particular moment. Geared toward subscription ticket holders who enjoy attending local theatre and want to know more about what it takes to put a show together, Guilfoyle offers a loving ode to the cities and the people who toil onstage and off. The structure of the book is largely broken down by the process of getting a show on stage: writing the play, making the decisions that go into producing them, assembling the team, casting the show, finding the audience, rehearsing a play, conducting technical and dress rehearsals, and managing opening nights. For introductory theatre students, the book offers what one might expect from a theatre appreciation text: a behind-the-scenes look at how theatre is made, peppered with the expected generalities on what Guilfoyle refers to as "the nature of theatre work" (i.e., the collaborative practice of making theatre, the transformative power of the empty stage, the ephemerality of performance, the magic and talent that brings it all together, etc.).
Each stage in the process of putting up a play is supported with anecdotes from more than forty local theatre practitioners, running the gamut from artistic directors and producers to actors and designers. Guilfoyle captures a broad [End Page 321] range of voices from across the community, representing a diversity of theatre sizes and styles. By and large, the interviews focus on theatre broadly—for example, the artistic director of Theater Latté Da Peter Rothstein's observation under the heading "on making and keeping relationships that overlap workplace and life" that "in the theater, you build the lasting relationships by working together. That's the key. Until you work together you're just acquaintances, and when you work together, you really become colleagues and friends in so many...