MINNEAPOLIS: Joseph Haj will begin his first season at the Guthrie Theater with a bang. The theatre’s new artistic director has announced the formation of a three-year, six-prong audience engagement initiative called Level Nine. As part of the initiative, tickets to all performances at the Dowling Studio, the black box space on the theatre’s ninth floor, will be $9. And each year for the next three years the Guthrie will commission a playwright and a company to be in residence at the theatre.
“Former Guthrie artistic director Liviu Ciulei once said that a community can be measured by the questions its theatre asks,” said Haj in a statement. “In devising this initiative, we have allowed that thought to be our guiding principle.”
For Haj, the mission of the Level Nine Initiative is threefold: to create a theatre that grapples with the urgent questions of the day and inspires dialogue with the audience, to expand the diversity of the voices and styles onstage, and to engage with underserved community members. Events programmed under the initiative will take place on the theatre’s ninth floor, home to the 200-seat Dowling Studio. The program will be supported by a $1 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
“In today’s world we face increasingly complex questions, yet we have fewer places where we can come together as a community to grapple with and address them,” said Haj in a statement. “With this funding we are afforded the opportunity to be nimble and responsive to what’s happening in the world around us.”
The initiative includes six main elements:
1. Ticket prices of $9 to all performances in the Dowling Studio and the appointment of a director of community engagement to develop community-based programming.
2. The programming of three to four shows each season for the next three seasons, either self-produced or presentations of works by national and international companies. For the 2016–17 season, these will be Jeanne Sakata’s Hold These Truths, Frank Boyd’s The Holler Sessions, and Jackie Sibblies Drury’s We Are Proud to Present a Presentation.... There will be pre- and post-show talkbacks for these shows.
3. The commissioning of a playwright each year over the next three seasons to write a new work that deals with contemporary issues. For 2016–17, the Guthrie has commissioned KJ Sanchez to create a documentary play about refugees and immigrants in the Twin Cities. The work will be presented in a series of public readings and workshops next season.
4. The hosting of a devised theatre ensemble each year for the next three years, which will provide salaries for the ensemble members as well as access to the theatre’s physical and administrative resources. In 2016–17, the Guthrie will host the Moving Company as they develop the world premiere of Refugia, which will be on the Guthrie’s 700-seat proscenium stage May 13–June 11, 2017.
5. The identification of local or regional companies to present work at the Dowling Studio over the next three seasons. The companies will receive production support from the Guthrie, and the projects will be announced later this spring.
6. “Happenings” hosted on the ninth floor. These events will include conversations, town hall meetings to respond to current events, salons, dance parties, performances, and readings.