Jeune Lune, Mum Puppet Theatre close

This isn’t quite about clowning, but I wanted to talk about– and since it includes two very important theatres that use clowning techniques, I think doing it here is right.

I’ve just read about two very well respected regional theatres that specialize in “popular theatrical techniques” that are shuttering their doors.

Theatre de la Jeune Leune of Minneapolis, which was founded by students of Jacques LeCoq, and contributed a number of wonderful “physical theatre” plays to the Minneapolis scene (and toured nationally, also) is closing after 30 years. They had won a Tony a couple of years ago as the best regional theatre, even. ARTICLE

Simultaneously, the Mum PuppetTheatre of Philadelphia is also closing after 23 years. This theatre, founded by puppet wunderkind Robert Smythe, was consistently creating new puppet works, and hiring and promoting some of the most interesting work in the area. ARTICLE

Both theatres were highly innovative, very well regarded in their field, had recently won major awards.

So what happened? And is this a harbinger for more closings to come?

Both of the closings seem to be about money, and about energy. It takes a great deal of money to keep a working theatre going, and even more energy. In the case of Mum– in another philly.com article, Robert said that he realized he was keeping it open mostly to support other artists, and not himself. And for Jeune Lune, according to the Star-Tribune, it had been losing steam since the awards, and the loss of their artistic ensemble.

It seems that both theatres would have been perfectly situated to continue onwards, but they couldn’t find another person (in the case of Mum) and didn’t find another person (in the case of Jeune Leune) to find a new way to make it successful.

In other words, secession planning.

Original founders can keep stuff going long past their prime based on their personal energy, charisma, and the fact that they already know how to do it. They’ve got a following, they’re following their own vision, and they made it happen– so they have the confidence that can keep stuff going. But when they retire or move on or do whatever, it can become very difficult to find someone to carry on their vision– to defeat the cult of personality that they were able to create to make their vision happen.

In one of my books about non-profit organization, the author talks about how when somebody retires from the non-profit, they’ll say “Oh, she did the work of three people.” But the non-profit never figured out how to raise the money to hire the three people they are going to need to replace them– so they get stuck in this trap of not having enough money to do the services that need to be done in order to get things going.

I’ve been thinking a lot about these issues, as we figure out what to do about the non-profit festival that I direct http://www.brightnight.org. I do most of the work for it, and I love doing it, but we have to figure out a secession plan– nobody can be around forever. And I’m already in my sixth year!

If you have any ideas about how to save theatres, or more insight into why theatres might be closing down, please write them in the comments!

One comment

  • thank you for bringing up this EXTREMELY important and woefully underappreciated issue. I only just discovered the link to your article. I have been a fan of Robert Smythe and Mum Puppettheatre for over 20 years and was saddened and terribly disappointed when I heard about Mum closing. Robert is extremely talented in so many ways and I think he simply needed more time and more space to be creative. Unfortunately, Mum couldn't survive without Robert. So, let the closing of these two theatres serve as a cautionary tale.

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