When 40 Feels Like a Lot

Last Thursday night we were pleased to play hosts to a group of young men from Patrick Henry High School. They were there as a part of Project Success – a terrific organization that helps inspire kids to dream, and motivates them as they plan their futures. This group of five made up over 10% of that night’s audience — now, when you produce in a small venue, 40 people can feel quite full. When you produce in a space like The Boss, where our added bleachers give us a potential for over 200, 40 feels like … well, less than full.

Theo and I went to Henry High this morning to talk with the students who’d seen that performance. They asked us some questions on how and why we made this new show, and we tried to give them answers that inspired them to make shows of their own. It was 50 minutes, so I’m not really sure how well we did, but I know I left with two major takeaways:

One, I love working with kids. Like a lot. I’ve spent the last four years making ensemble shows with kids from De La Salle High School, and it’s been the most rewarding experience of my theatrical life. Talking with the students from Henry got me excited to make things with them. Their voices, their ideas, their talent. It’s the most incredible feeling to see a kid discover the power of their own voice. That what they think and what they have inside them matters. I was sad the talk had to end because I wasn’t ready to leave that energy.

The second major takeaway is in measuring success. One young man, Xavier, asked us this today:
“I’ve seen shows at the Guthrie with a whole lot of people, and I’ve seen yours with 40. Why aren’t you more popular?”
Man, what a question. Budget, that’s one answer. Brand, that’s another. History, familiar plays, a building close to the action … the list goes on. The thing is — and I mean this with all my heart — I don’t know. We just know that we aren’t. Very popular, that is. And though it’s part of my job to make us more so, there are some things I’ve found peace in since the days of me tearing my hair out trying to sell tickets.

The most gratifying of those things, easily, is the effort. The work. There is a line in Queens where the character of Elizabeth says to Raymond, “This is what you do, this is not who you are.” But maybe it’s both. Maybe this is what we do because of who we are, and maybe we are because of what we do. The reach, the risk, the desire to challenge ourselves, constantly, is everything. I start every show I work on with the same thought: we don’t have to make the most beautiful show we’ve ever made, but we have to try to make the most beautiful show we’ve ever made. If that’s all I have, then that’s enough. But there is more…

Forty people came to see Queens that night. That’s 40 people who had never seen this new play, 40 people who left a little bit different than they came. I asked the students today if they’d thought about the show since they’d seen it. They all said yes. Bottle that and sell it. Forty people is a lot.

Our final weekend begins Wednesday, June 1st. Four more shows and it’s gone. This is the labor and love of a dozen wonderful Twin City artists. Their work deserves to be seen. If there are ten, 20, 40 of you in the house, know that I am pleased and grateful that you are sharing this play with us.

But man, I’d really love to see 200 of you.



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