Two weeks ago, I was all caught up in the Minnesota Fringe Festival, 11 days of 165 hour-long local theater performances. Fringe began just before our humongous party and life was pretty hectic, so I didn’t see any shows until Day 7 … but after that, I managed to squeeze in 11 performances. There’s a crazy, magical energy I get from going to Fringe shows— figuring out which shows to go to, reading online reviews, talking to others while waiting in line, the anticipation of waiting for the show to start. It’s like the same energy I get from writing sometimes, or participating in National Novel Writing Month (more on that another day), listening to great live music, or reading a well-crafted novel. A humming, exciting buzz.
My husband told me last week that the Twin Cities have more theaters per capita of anywhere outside of New York. Who, us? I couldn’t help but be surprised and proud of our wonderfully artistic community here. Other theater facts: Minnesota is home to the Old Log, one of the country’s oldest continuously running theaters, and has the largest dinner theater (the Chanhassan). We also have the revolutionary Guthrie Theater, conveniently just up the road from our home. It’s the largest regional playhouse in the country. It has drawn in such famous actors as Jessica Tandy, Sir Ian McKellen (who did a nude scene as King Lear), William H. Macy, Frank Langella, Melissa Gilbert, Val Kilmer, David Hyde Pierce, Julianne Moore, and T.R. Knight.
With all this theater around us, we as a family have been lucky to experience some of it. When the kids were little, I would wait in line to get discount season tickets to the preview performances for The Children’s Theater, so every year we were seeing fabulous shows like A Year with Frog and Toad (which went on to Broadway), The Snow Queen, and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Then the schools my kids attended got involved with Project Success, a youth-development organization which, among other things, encourages inner city youth to attend theater performances, and helps make this possible by providing families with free tickets, and babysitting and transportation, if desired. Because of this generous organization, our family has gotten to see a lot of exceptional theater over the years, performances we never would have been able to afford on our own. Tons of shows at the Guthrie, lots of Shakespeare, even the Nutcracker Ballet on Christmas Eve, A Christmas Carol, and even The Rockettes!
And yet… as they got older, the kids would sometimes complain that I was dragging them to another dumb play… why do we have to go? (To be honest, one complained more than the rest.) Sometimes as a parent, I’ve doubted myself or questioned myself about why I was doing something when I had to fight to get it to happen. But not with theater. Every time, I treated the plays we got to see as important, a treat, something we were lucky enough to get to attend. And my oft-repeated words to my kids were this: we’re going because this is part of your education. There are things that I’ve found lacking in your education through the schools, and seeing these performances is just as imporant as your math and reading classes. We are lucky to have these free tickets, and even if you don’t like what you see, you’ll be getting something out of it.
(And usually they liked what they saw. Even if they didn’t, they thought about why they didn’t like it and we had great conversations about it on the way home.)
With my youngest being a senior this year, it will be our last year with Project Success. After all they’ve given to us, I owe them a donation or several, and I’ll have to start paying for more of our theater experiences. And I will, because for me, theater is important. It’s a part of MY education too, and this live and living and literary art form enriches my life, giving me that good creative buzz. It makes me want to make things. TV rarely does. So save a seat for me when the curtain goes up!