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Photo: Paula Keller
Actor Luverne Seifert demonstrates techniques of Ten Thousand Things, which brings free, low-budget, high-quality theater to people who are not rich.

A new theater company trains actors to do high-quality, free performances for new, nontraditional audiences. Somehow I knew it would be based in Minneapolis, a hotbed of theatrical innovation in the late 1990s when I lived there.

Theresa J. Beckhusen reported the story at American Theatre.

” ‘If I was going to spend my life making theatre, I didn’t want to make art for rich people.’ This is how Michelle Hensley, artistic director of Ten Thousand Things (TTT), a theatre company in Minneapolis, kicked off a recent conference. …

“The gathering drew around 100 theatre makers from across the country to compare notes about working with the grass-roots theatrical model championed by Hensley’s company. Its motto could be fairly summed up as … art for not-rich people.

“For 30 years Ten Thousand Things has been touring productions to prisons, transitional housing, rehab centers, immigrant centers, shelters for survivors of domestic violence, and more — and all for free. …

“TTT productions are performed in the round, in whatever space their tour sites have available. … Actors mingle with audience members, interacting before, during, and after performances.

“The productions are spare: no lavish costumes, no fancy sets, no lights. Hensley puts a premium on story and language. …

“Many conference attendees shared stories … One incarcerated woman in particular was moved by a wedding scene in The Tempest because she’d missed all the weddings in her family. [Another told] how audience members drove from Tijuana to San Diego just to see a bilingual Twelfth Night. …

“Playwright Kira Obolensky led a session on choosing material that would work in the intimate settings pioneered by TTT. She began by posing a question … : What story would you tell if everyone was in the audience? … ‘I don’t think a lot of American playwrights and directors ask themselves this question.’ …

“Brad Delzer reported that he recently began employing TTT’s model with True North Theatre, his new theatre company in Carlisle, Pa. Sensing an opportunity to bring theatre to places that don’t typically see it, and to connect with the strong military community in the Carlisle area, Dezler toured Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare’s An Iliad to a soup kitchen, a men’s shelter, and the town’s Army Heritage Center, before holding two public performances. …

“He had been generally apprehensive about the whole thing, but had particularly fretted about how a six-minute list of wars from the last few centuries would go over. ‘It played really well, he said, noting the power that came from the moment. ‘It surprised us.’ ”

There’s more at American Theatre, here, where you can see how different TTT groups manage to fund free performances.

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