I wrote a little something for Minnesota Playlist. Here’s an excerpt about the Guthrie theatre.
Recently, the Guthrie released their upcoming season announcement. In response, there was something of an outcry from various members of the Twin Cities theater community on Facebook which ultimately led to coverage from the Star Tribune and the State of the Arts blog on complaints of a lack of diversity in the Guthrie’s programming. Ultimately, Joe Dowling released a statement to the Star Tribune which did little to allay any concerns about the Guthrie’s commitment to ethnic and gender diversity in the kinds of artists they work with. The conversation continues, will continue, and has actually been happening for a long time.
I don’t want to talk about the Guthrie. When it comes to concerns of a lack of diversity I’m a white, heterosexual man so while these are issues that do matter to me I’m not sure anyone wants my opinion and I’m fairly certain I have nothing new to add to the discussion.
But I also just plain don’t want to talk about the Guthrie because I never want to talk about the Guthrie. Save one summer I’ve lived my entire life in the Twin Cities. I’ve been going to live theater since I was 10 years old. I saw my first Guthrie production when I was in high school. And for that entire time, including when I was sitting in the Guthrie watching As You Like It in 1995, I didn’t want to talk about the Guthrie.
I’ve been performing live theater for nearly 15 years both improvised and scripted shows, and everything in between, on stages large and small. In that entire span I’ve never wanted to talk about the Guthrie. In the 24 years that I’ve had some kind of relationship with live theater in Minnesota I have never wanted to talk about the Guthrie. Because the Guthrie has never been for me. They don’t make shows for me. They don’t want to make shows for me. And that is perfectly fine. I’ve got plenty of other places where I can put my money and my interest. I’ve got plenty of other places where I can put my creativity as a theater maker. And if I run out of places I’ll make new ones.
Starting in 7th grade teachers always had this conversation with me about my potential. Every year, all the way through high school, two or three teachers would find a moment late in the first half of the school year and pull me aside to tell me that they were disappointed by the quality of my homework and by how little I was pushing myself in class. My teachers remarked on my potential and on how I would only get out of school what I was willing to put in. I wasn’t failing classes. I mostly got Bs and Cs but I didn’t work terribly hard to earn those grades.
It’s wonderful that all of these teachers cared enough about me to try and get more out of me. I certainly could have gotten more out of school than I did. But I remember distinctly in my junior year my social studies teacher, Mr. D, pulled me out into the hallway one day after about a month into the semester. I assumed I was about to get the regular lecture about not living up to my potential so I readied my I’ll work hard bullshit I always used in response. Instead, he looked right at me and told me that I was almost an adult and I had clearly made a choice about how I was going to handle school and that was fine with him. So he was going to go ahead and put his energy into helping the students who wanted to get something more out of the class. He wasn’t going to give me a hard time as long as I did the basic work needed to get through the class.
At the time I thought it was really weird, what Mr. D said. He was true to his word. I didn’t work very hard but I passed the class and he never really gave me a hard time about my shoddy reports or projects. I’ve thought about it a lot since then. I don’t think Mr. D was giving up on me. I think he looked at what I was telling him with my behavior and said “okay.” And perhaps other students gained from his not wasting time on me.
It’s great to have high expectations of people and organizations. But I wonder if there comes a time when you look back at someone’s track record and have to come to the conclusion that they just aren’t going to meet the expectations you have, they aren’t going to reach their potential. Because that’s not actually important to them. Is the right thing to do then to let those expectations go and put your energy into supporting the people and organizations that have shown that they will strive for more and better things when given the chance?