Jungle Theater 2018
Artistic director Sarah Rasmussen chats about the Jungle's upcoming season
Hero image and feature photo courtesy of the Jungle Theater. All play photos by William Clark.
By Lianna Matt
Coming into her third season as the Jungle Theater’s artistic director, Sarah Rasmussen is riding in on the waves of her previous seasons’ successes. OK, she might not put it that way, but local publications would tend to disagree, piling on the praise for her diverse casting and show choices. In her first year, Rasmussen put on an all-female cast of Shakespeare’s “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” and during the 2017 season, she chose all female directors.
You can see her feminist values in this year’s show lineup, too, but the season is also peppered with surprising forms and unexpected stories, including one-person shows, puppets and teenage ferocity. Before the Jungle kicks off with “Ishmael” (Jan. 13-Feb. 4), Rasmussen took some time out of her busy schedule to talk with Visit Twin Cities.
Your 2018 season is a huge mix of shows. Is there something that unites them, or are they each to be taken as individual gems?
We're pretty intentionally eclectic. We do like to give our audiences a real range of stories, but what I love about them is that they're all just great stories that are surprising. I think they're really stories about deep inquiries about the human heart and what it means to be human right now. I know it sounds broad, but these plays are from an emotionally grounded place of exploring the humanities in a deep way.
So your first two shows, “Ishmael” (Jan. 13-Feb. 4) and “My Mother Has 4 Noses” (Feb. 10-March 4) are called “plays with music,” which seems like very specific wording. Could you speak a little more to what you mean?
Last summer, we performed a new musical called “Fly by Night,” and the lead actor was Chris Koza, a singer/songwriter in town (of the band Rogue Valley), and the music band also featured James Munson (local musician of Semisonic and The New Standards). I thought this was something kind of unique the Jungle can do. A lot of theaters in town do musicals, but it’s unique to feature musicians from the pop/rock/folk music world on stage. The Twin Cities have such a vibrant music scene; the more that we can overlap our theater and our music scenes, the more exciting it is as directors and producers. It brings a different experience.
Out of this year’s lineup, why did you choose to direct “The Wolves”?
Well, a big thing for me in coming to the Jungle and running a theater is that there's still not that many women artistic directors in this business. Having come up through my career, I feel really passionate about giving women opportunities. Over 50 percent of the roles on our stage are for women and for diverse women, and with more than half of the population being women it may sound obvious, but it’s not. You’d be hard pressed to find a theater that's hiring women at the percentage we are.
“The Wolves,” this is my happy place right now. I'm excited to be in the room with these smart young women making this place. When I was a professor at the University of Texas-Austin, I loved that feeling of getting to open doors for younger women, to be that mentor and be that sounding board. When I can, I just try to find more opportunities for them. I’m really happy that all of our (2017) seasonal directors are women and that we’re working with more women playwrights. Now I get the chance to open the doors for these people and create a space that's really exciting and respectful, a place to have really important conversations. With all of this stuff that’s come up about sexual assault in the entertainment and theater industry, for most of my career, nobody was talking about that even though it was happening all the time. It’s really important now with my own theater to make different choices.
And to that end, will your playwright and theater initiative for high school women, JungleWrites, be continuing?
JungleWrites will continue through the school year in 2018, and it is something we are absolutely figuring out how to raise money for. It’s really rewarding for the girls, and I’m excited about what we're writing. They got to come watch rehearsals and see that shows. They're going to see Jonatha’s play and “The Wolves,” so we’re really excited about these initiatives, and we think of it as our opportunity. … I think we were able to get everyone who wanted to come in (this first time around), which is fantastic. I know we’ll have a wait list going for the future. It’s a really open process, really intentional, obviously. It’s a cohort of girls, professional teachers and mentors.
I know you've sold out past shows, the most recent being the holiday’s “Miss Bennet,” so here’s to a new year of successes at the Jungle!
We’re a 150-seat theater, so we’re really intimate—we like to say we’re a great theater in a cozy living room. The acoustics are particularly great for music, but for all of the shows, you feel like you're right there with the performers. … This time of year, we're really pushing those subscriptions for 2018. We got the stats the other day, and we were at over 92 percent capacity (in 2017). That means we sold out more often than not, and to folks reading about us, just get your tickets.