Theatre de la Jeune Lune, Innovative Tony-Winning Regional Troupe, to Shut Down

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23 Jun 2008

Dominique Serrand as Jeune Lune's <I>Don Juan Giovanni.</I>
Dominique Serrand as Jeune Lune's Don Juan Giovanni.
Photo by Michal Daniel
In the great wilderness of non-traditional theatre in the United States, a tree has fallen. The board of directors of the ambitious, Tony Award-winning Theatre de la Jeune Lune in Minneapolis, MN, voted to list the theatre's headquarters for sale and to shut down the arts group as currently organized.

The announcement was made June 22. Included in the decision is a planned significant reduction in artistic and administrative staff, effective July 31, 2008.

"We have reached these decisions with great regret," stated board president Bruce Neary. "However, our fiduciary responsibilities to our artists, our staff, our donors and our creditors dictate this action. We are listing the building for sale in order to fully satisfy our creditors."

Neary added, "The board is committed to an orderly shutdown, including satisfying all existing rental obligations through Sept. 30, 2008."

Jeune Lune has provided Minneapolis-St. Paul audiences with visually stunning, mind-stirring work — often movement-oriented, projection-kissed and theatrically multi-disciplinary — since 1978. Among popular or lauded titles were its early comedy hit Yang Zen Froggs and the nationally acclaimed Children of Paradise: Shooting a Dream, plus popular re-imaginings of operas, including The Magic Flute, Carmen, Maria de Buenos Aires, Don Juan Giovanni and Figaro.



The company won a Tony Award in 2005 as Best Regional Theatre, and has been recognized as one of the country's most innovative and visionary artistic institutions.

Dominic Papatola, theatre critic at the Saint Paul Pioneer Press since 1999, and an observer of Jeune Lune's work since the early '90s, told Playbill.com on June 23, "At its best, Theatre de la Jeune Lune was a model for what theatre in the Twin Cities — and, I would argue, throughout the country — could be. The company not only was visionary, but it remained true to its vision; challenging audiences as it delighted them. Through their partnerships with companies across the country, they breathed new life into the American regional theatre movement. The Lunies could experiment relentlessly, and they weren't afraid to fail. Their ambition and their daring gave license to a generation of theatre practitioners here and elsewhere to stretch their imaginations."

TJL's two local productions this year, The Deception and Fishtank, both exceeded box office expectations and their recent tour of Figaro, presented by Berkeley Repertory Theatre, received great critical acclaim, according to the troupe.

Dominique Serrand, artistic director stated, "It has been an amazing 30 years. Few theatre companies last as long. We never sought nor desired to be an institution. Our home was always intended to be a playground in which we could gather with other adventurous souls and create the unimaginable. We have benefited enormously from the incredible generosity of this community, and especially all of the artists without whom we would never have survived this long or created as much. We can never thank them enough."

Stephen Epp in The Miser.
photo by Michal Daniel
It is the intent of the board and staff "to explore strategies to enable the creation of art in the future."

Serrand added, "Today, we begin imagining a new way of working. Building upon our artistic legacy, and facing a different future, we are exploring ways to reinvent an agile, nomadic, entrepreneurial theatre with a new name that will create essential and innovative art for today's changing audience."

Theatre de la Jeune Lune was formed in 1978 by École LeCoq graduates Barbra Berlovitz, Vincent Gracieux, and Dominique Serrand. They were soon joined by Robert Rosen and eventually Steve Epp and other collaborators. Over the past 30 years they have created nearly 100 productions, performed for hundreds of thousands of people in cities across the United States and in France, but primarily in their home of Minneapolis.

A commercial broker for the sale has not been selected. The board of directors will establish a committee to manage the sale at its regular board meeting of June 25, 2008.

In a letter posted on TJL's website, Serrand stated, "For the first 14 years we were itinerant, making the most of any venue we found ourselves in. Then in 1992, with an amazing groundswell of support, we purchased and renovated the Allied Van Lines building in the Minneapolis warehouse district. We excavated the interior of this historic building to create a stunningly innovative and award winning performance space, opening our new artistic home to the public on November 18th of that year.

"Sixteen years later we are faced with an excruciating decision. With the organization burdened by mounting and unmanageable debt, the Board of Directors has voted to put Jeune Lune's home up for sale. After much soul searching and extensive fundraising and debt management efforts, we have determined it to be the only prudent and fiscally responsible choice. What has been acclaimed, as one of the most striking and unique theatre spaces in the country will go dark. It is a huge loss, a loss for us, for all of the artists who work with us, for our audience and for the community at large, both locally and nationally.

"And with the building, we have decided that the time has come to bid adieu to the theatre ensemble we have all known as Jeune Lune.

"We have always believed that the making of theatre is an important and essential act. We have always believed in the power of theatre to provoke, inspire, and excite. We have always created our work for and because of our audience. Over the years we have cultivated a loyal audience locally, regionally and nationally. We have garnered numerous awards and accolades, and of course at times we have elicited criticism and consternation. We have benefited enormously from the support of foundations, corporations, state and national organizations, all those who have served as board members, staff and volunteers, the incredible generosity of thousands of individuals, and especially all of the artists. Without all of you we would never have survived this long or created as much. We can never thank you enough."

It has been an amazing thirty years. Few theatre companies last as long. We never sought nor desired to be an institution. Our home was always intended to be a playground in which we could gather with other adventurous souls and create the unimaginable. A place in which to grow, change and evolve. The theatrical experience is an event truly of the moment — immediate, fleeting and ephemeral. Yet in the space of that moment something takes place that is transformative to the human spirit and remains indelible in our memory — the stuff that dreams are made of, the stuff we carry with us forever. We hope you will treasure well the memory of Jeune Lune.

But, as this story ends, a new one begins. We live to create. To do what we know best, what the artist's responsibility in society has always been — to invent, to dream, to imagine.

"Starting today, we begin imagining a new way of working. What should a theatre-generating organization of the 21st century look like? How can artists create truly groundbreaking art in a fast changing world? Times have changed and so have we. Building upon our artistic legacy, and facing a different future, we are exploring ways to reinvent an agile, nomadic, entrepreneurial theatre with a new name. One that can embrace the concentric circles of artists we have worked with over the years. Together we will create essential and innovative theatre for today's changing audience. It's an exciting new journey and we hope you'll join us with your support, with your presence, with your belief. Fear not: the art is alive and coming soon to a theatre near you. Keep in touch."

For more information, visit www.jeunelune.org.