Yesterday, two of the Twin Cities’ most innovative, tradition-defying theater companies announced they’d been chosen as two of 14 companies nationwide to receive grants from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. With the money, Minneapolis’s Mixed Blood Theatre and Ten Thousand Things will be able to employ a fulltime playwright for three years: Qui Nguyen at Mixed Blood, Kira Obolensky at TTT.
In the press release, Jack Reuler, artistic director at Mixed Blood, said the partnership “plants the seed for a seismic culture shift in the relationship between theatres and writers,” and that “the next wave of artistic directors will and should come from its literary participants.” During his time at Mixed Blood, Nguyen, an award-winning playwright and screenwriter from New York, will write original pieces, serve as a national ambassador for the company’s new-play development, and work on the theatre’s social-media and community-outreach programs.
Obolensky has previously worked with TTT, writing Vasa Lisa for the company’s 2012 season, and Raskol for the 2009 season. This is a huge plus, says TTT artistic director Michelle Hensley, as “Kira understands the challenge of writing for diverse audiences (and) passionately embraces them, putting them at the center of her work.” TTT performs the majority of their productions in such nontraditional venues as prisons, correctional facilities, and homeless shelters, as well as spaces like Open Book on Washington Avenue in Minneapolis. During her three-year commitment at TTT, Obolensky will develop material, conduct workshops for prison audiences, and assist Hensley with writing a book about the work of TTT.
The initiative is sort of like a full-scale version of the Guthrie Theater’s 2009 Tony Kushner and 2012 Christopher Hampton Celebrations; a committed relationship rather than a summertime fling. Because each company has such a distinct personality and reputation, it will be interesting to see how each playwright’s artistic visions will adapt and morph to fit the stage he and she has been given. Will Ngyuen tailor his work to be less New York and more Minnesota? Will Obolensky continue along the path she’s already begun to lay with Vasa Lisa and Raskol? Only time—three years, to be precise—will tell.