The Playgoer: Jeune Lune (1978-2008)

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Jeune Lune (1978-2008)

How sad on the heels of Mike Daisey's sobering survey of the regional theatre landscape last night to find this news in my inbox this morning about one of our country's real gems:

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.
So says Artistic Director and co-founder Dominique Serrand on their website today.

I regret never having seen them in their home space. And the only thing of theirs I did see was a so-so Hamlet they brought to New Victory here in NYC. But their reputation sure is legendary.

I know they toured the country often as guest artists at various regional theatres. So I hope that tradition at least may continue? (hint, hint to AD's out there)

As a tribute, please post comments on fond Jeune Lune memories, if you have them.


Playgoer said...

An uncredited news story on the Jeune Lune features this additional comment from the Board:

"We have reached these decisions with great regret," says 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.” Mr. Neary added, "The Board is committed to an orderly shutdown, including satisfying all existing rental obligations through September 30, 2008."

Aaron Landsman said...

I am a Minneapolis native, living here in NYC, and I grew up in awe of Jeune Lune - they were certainly one of the reasons I ever wanted to make theater.

Then they bought their building, and they had to support that building with subscribers. I don't know if it was because they thought they had to please subscribers in a certain way, because they actually did, or what, but the work they made got less and less compelling. And the space they created is, ironically, amazing. The theater's built into a gutted warehouse, and you can still see the detritus of what was removed. The acoustics and sightlines are fantastic, it's flexible - it's too bad they were literally or figuratively so indebted to it that the work itself began suffering.

Also - 30 years is a hell of a run. Maybe it was just time.

Anonymous said...

In the wake of the panel last evening, I do have to reflect on the thought, on the Jeune Lune web site, that "We never sought nor desired to be an institution."

And perhaps it isn't so sad after all that they are ending. Not that they haven't made a contribution to theater. But maybe this idea of every theater company needing to an enduring institution is fallacy. Theater is by its nature ephemeral. Perhaps one problem with the regional theaters is that they've lasted too long. Maybe it is reasonable for a theater to close its doors and be replaced by something new.

Thirty years is a long time, and one theater cannot be expected to keep the same fire for that long. But new theater, I hope, can and will come along.

I was happy to be able to see them, for the first time, last year, in their theater. It was a beautiful space. But I did think--this once may have been new and innovative. But's more interesting as a historical reference. The techniques that they used I had seen elsewhwere, and had been more impressed with elsewhere. Or perhaps that particular fire was dying, having given off enough sparks.

So goodbye, once jeune lune, and thank you.

Anonymous said...

St Paul native here. Saw Jeune Lune do some wonderful things, like Goldoni's IL CAMPIELLO way way back, and THE MISER more recently. So so stuff included THE BALLROOM, and some of their most ambitious shows that I saw in recent years, like the CHILDREN OF PARADISE stage show, MEDEA, and something set in WWI were misfires. I do feel sad for them and regret they could not find a way to fill the house.

Daniel Bourque said...

Jeune Lune has been a huge inspiration to me as an artist and it's a shame to see them go- after so much acclaim and so many successes that they've fallen victim to the almighty dollar is sad, but surely it's better to see them flame out then stagger onwards into the creeping obsolescence which claims so many companies that become institutionalized.

Since I don’t live in the Twin Cities area, I saw the company via their tours and witnessed only five of their productions; one of which (Hamlet) I thought was brilliant, their Carmen which I thought was fiery and nearly as good, the Figaro which I found a mixed bag and two (Don Juan Giovanni and Amerika) which I thought were gigantic crashing disasters. Like so many on the cutting edge their work could be so self-referential that it was difficult to get at times (Amerika) and one could see the signs of self-indulgent rot in their operatic Mash-ups though there were still shards of brilliance in those messy productions. One prominent downtown New York director I had the ear of at one point a few years back who'd had the opportunity to work with them told me that as a collective the Loons were probably the most brilliant he'd ever been exposed to... and also perhaps the most arrogant- utterly insufferable to work with; reckless, impulsive, compulsive makers of great art and theatre. That they hadn't collapsed yet was a miracle at the time- their new performance space had nearly bankrupted them. Apparently, one can only live on the edge of the knife for so long.

Earlier the Playgoer commented that he thought their Hamlet at the New Victory was so-so; for me it's indelible and easily my favorite of the half dozen plus productions I've seen of the play. For me it cut closer to the heart of the play then any I've seen. I could live to a hundred and never forget the sight of the ghost looming over the audience on the drop at the back of the stage, or of the spectral masked chorus employed in the production- let alone the elemental design work which employed earth, water and fire as part of the set. I realized halfway through the show that the boisterous, loud group of audience members sitting next to me were all Jeune Leune staffers and family members of Stephen Epp who had (literally!) flown in to see the production from the Twin Cities and upon striking up a conversation with them was treated to a lively, impromptu history of the company and the assurance that if I really wanted to see great stuff from them I needed to see more of their work... this show, as far as they were concerned was merely one of the better productions by the company. "Why did they tour this? Three Musketeers was MUCH better!" sniffed one, followed by the comment from another "You should have seen their Hunchback!"

Rest in peace, Loons. You will be missed.