On Tuesday, May 11th, Cripple Creek Theatre Company opened its 37th production ‘The Taming of the Shrew.’ After thirty-seven ‘Opening Nights’ there are some things that never change: the actors running lines backstage, costumes getting their last pins taken out, a missing prop finally found to everyone’s exaltation, but, for this production of Cripple Creek, something was very different: the audience.
On May 11th, we opened ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ in a cafeteria at Bridge House in New Orleans for the in-patient residents of their substance abuse program. Our intention: to bring a show about human dignity to new audiences. Bridge House doesn’t have a theater, so we performed in their bustling cafeteria. As actors prepared to share an old story told in a new way, 85 men entered a space they dine in transformed into a theater-in-the-round. When we arrived at the end of our story, and the men rose to their feet in a standing ovation, this stripped-down production accomplished a shared human transformation through the power of storytelling.
The road to that cafeteria started five years ago. In 2012, at a company retreat envisioning the future of Cripple Creek, Andrew Vaught ignited a dialogue about a theater company that he believed we should get to know better. The company is Ten Thousand Things, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Ten Thousand Things is 26 years old, still led by its founding Artistic Director Michelle Hensley, and they premiere work before audiences that might not otherwise have access to theater. In 2016, I joined Ten Thousand Things for a six-week production-tour to homeless shelters, teen pregnancy centers, prisons, community centers, senior-care facilities, and a First Nation community college, and I finished the tour a changed artist. Different intentions make for different audiences, and different audiences make for different theater, and this kind of theater is alive, urgent, and connected in a way I yearn to see inside traditional theater houses - and so often do not.
Now, a year later, Cripple Creek is on its first tour in our company’s history.
To be honest: this tour to Bridge House, Grace House, Treme Community Center, New Orleans Women and Children’s Shelter, and DCI prison is fundamentally changing the way we are thinking about theater and audience. The power of laughter, the aliveness of call-and-response, the visibility of audience with all the lights on, creates an exquisite sharing of humanity between audience and performer. And when our performers’ bows are met with standing ovations and long handshakes with deeply personal exchanges ignited by storytelling, Cripple Creek Theatre Company sees a model that confronts access, privilege, and how audiences impact the future of the stories we tell.
Next Friday, June 2nd we open this production of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ at The New Orleans Shakespeare Festival at Tulane. While we are performing in a traditional theater, the house-lights will be on, the audience will be seated in the round, the actors will speak directly to the audience, and a 430 year old story of human dignity will sound alive in a new way.
Join us. We would love to speak with you afterward to answer any questions and hear your thoughts. This is important work about access, storytelling, audience impact, and it’s just beginning. We’d like your voice to be a part of it.
Co-Artistic Director of Cripple Creek Theatre Company