Simmering down at the Southern Theater


Things seem to have simmered down a bit at the Southern Theater after a tumultuous summer following the firing of artistic director Jeff Bartlett last spring. A couple of months ago, it appeared there might be a strike by Southern artists refusing to appear on the Southern stage, but now it appears that all but two companies have at least verbally agreed to stay in the Southern season.

On Monday, October 6, the Southern’s board of directors opened up their board meeting to the public. They offered eight seats for observers to sit in on their meeting. Only three spots were filled. One of the seats was taken up by Linda Shapiro, who was writing notes to send out to the Southern community e-mail list. Brian Sostek was also in attendance. He is currently an applicant to be an artist representative on the Southern board.

The current season’s artists made a statement recently. The statement was e-mailed to a listserv called “The Southern Community.” The statement begins:

We believe some progress is being made at the Southern. For example the organization has agreed to have artist representation on the Board, although not in the numbers we think they should and within the time frame we think is most useful. Still, we believe there have been some inroads and we encourage people to stay involved in this issue.

Currently, the Southern plans on inviting two artist representatives to join the board in the next couple of months. A third person will be invited in the spring. Patricia Speelman explains that the reason for the staggered induction is so that all of the artists on the board don’t end their term at the same time. The current applicants being considered for the artist representative position include Craig Harris, Leslie Ball, Brian Sostek, and Arwen Wilder.

In addition to the artist representatives on the board, the Southern is also implementing an advisory council of artists. This past weekend, the Southern held a meeting about how the advisory committee will function and in what way will it self-perpetuate.

“There is no clear and simple thread through the contentiousness that has arisen in many quarters.”

The Southern also is still in the process of hiring three programming directors to take on the task of deciding the future seasons at the Southern. The programming directors have not yet been announced.

Jeff Bartlett’s role in the Southern Theatre is currently that of a freelance lighting designer that some Southern artists choose to hire. He will be designing lights for Zorongo and Arena Dances, and possibly more.

As for the outcry regarding Bartlett’s dismissal, it has not gone away completely. At a recent Third Rabbit Dance Ensemble show at the Bryant-Lake Bowl, a statement was inserted in the program that expressed solidarity with Bartlett as well as an abiding love for the Southern’s mission. In the statement, John Munger writes:

There is no clear and simple thread through the contentiousness that has arisen in many quarters. The issues have gone far beyond questions of how Jeff Bartlett’s situation was handled and are now focusing on questions of The Southern’s mission, its future, and the pathways of governance.

At the end of the statement, Munger urges his audience to find out more about the issue.

In any case, it appears that audience members will be able to attend Southern shows this year without crossing a picket line.

Sheila Regan is a theater artist based in Minneapolis. When not performing or writing, she serves as educational coordinator for Teatro del Pueblo.