Jeune Lune ventures into the tried and trueby Karl Gehrke, Minnesota Public Radio
One of the Twin Cities' most adventurous theater companies has been taking a more conservative approach this season. Theatre de la Jeune Lune is reviving some of its past hits. One of them opens Saturday--the operatic "Don Juan Giovanni." Jeune Lune first staged that production 13 years ago. The revivals are part of a strategy to recover from several years of artistic and financial difficulty.
Minneapolis — "Don Juan Giovanni" fuses a Moliere play, "Don Juan," with a Mozart opera, "Don Giovanni," to create a new, contemporary interpretation of the story of the legendary seducer.
"Don Juan Giovanni" is one of the past box office successes Theatre de la Jeune Lune is revisiting this season. The decision to go back to some earlier works was partly driven by the budget. Like other companies, Theatre de la Jeune Lune has been struggling with declining ticket sales.
"The situation of the theater was economically very, very bad," Artistic Director Dominique Serrand says.
Serrand hopes that remounting some of the theater's strongest pieces will reconfirm the theater's artistic vision and strengthen its audience.
"I think it's an issue that everybody is confronting in some ways," he says. "We've always said that the solution would not be to do things that people want to see, but to do what we think we should be doing. It's an odd dance. You have to do work that's provocative, challenging and has a lot of artistic integrity and that at the same time make sure that the audience feels like they're completely a part of it and they want to attend. So that's what this year is all about."
Since its founding in Paris nearly 30 years ago, Theatre de la Jeune Lune has been acclaimed for irreverent deconstructions of classic plays, unconventional opera productions and witty, visually stunning original works. In 2005 the company won a regional Tony Award. The theater formed as a collective and continued that way until last year when co-founder Dominique Serrand was named the sole artistic director to help solidify the theater's finances and give it a clear direction.
Writer and actor Steve Epp joined Theatre de la Jeune Lune in 1983, two years before the company relocated to Minneapolis. He later became one of the troupe's five leaders. Epp says the recent changes are just part of the theater's constant evolution.
"We've always been reinventing ourselves and reinventing how we work," he explains. "There were times when everybody did everything together constantly and then we moved into phases where people were working more on their own projects and would regroup in different formations. And now this is another continuation of that."
The changes for Theatre de le Jeune Lune include returning to the troupe's original way of staging productions project by project instead of planning for a season of shows, as is the custom. St. Paul Pioneer Press theater critic Dominic Papatola says this is a risky move for a theater that has grown into one of the larger companies in the Twin Cities.
"If you operate on a project-by-project basis that means you get rid of your season ticket base," he says. "That's what a lot of theaters depend on to provide the upfront, working capital to get through a season. Although Theatre de la Jeune Lune won't quite have this problem, it means that you have to recreate your audience for each show because there's no base of audience that's already bought their tickets expecting to see three, four, or five shows a season. This is a very competitive theater market so that will be a challenge for them."
Theatre de la Jeune Lune opens its restaging of "Don Juan Giovanni" on Saturday. Serrand says this season's earlier revivals of Moliere's "Tartuffe" and "The Miser" were more successful than anything from the previous season, but still came up short at the box office. Nevertheless he says Theatre de la Jeune Lune is preparing to take its next steps and create the next generation of work.
"The organization was in great difficulty and we stopped the bleeding for awhile and now we're on our way back to solidify our future," Serrand says. "But we're not in a great position. We're just being hopeful and working very hard."
Papatola says the real test for Theatre de la Jeune Lune will come next season when it returns to staging new productions. He says the company will stand--or fall--on its willingness to take chances and make mistakes.
- All Things Considered, 03/02/2007, 6:18 p.m.