Looking Back, Looking Foward: Pillsbury House Theatre Assesses its Journey with Lark and “the road weeps…”

by Shannon Gibney
from the Pillsbury House Theatre in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Volume XI. Mar-April 2014

With Pillsbury House Theatre’s production of Marcus Gardley’s the road weeps, the well runs dry wrapped up, the only lingering business confronting the theater leadership is reflection and analysis of the production and their process.

“People seemed to love the show – they just loved it,” said Faye Price, Pillsbury House Theatre’s Co-Artistic Director. “It was so good to see that people were not frightened away from the material. It was a big, complex story, with complicated themes, ideas, and histories. I guess the lesson is that if you’re afraid to take a chance on something artistically risky, do it.”

Pillsbury House Communications Director Alan Berks said that the road weeps, the well runs dry was one of their most successful shows to date, with the theater at more than 100 percent capacity each night. “I think we could have easily run for another two weeks,” he said. But perhaps the strongest support for the show came during a pre-show discussion, in the form of a comment from a 16-year-old girl. “She said that she didn’t know that she could bring all the parts of her personality to the world, before seeing the play,” said Berks. “It was like she was saying that she saw herself for the first time, in it.”

The road weeps… also catalyzed Pillsbury House to organize a series of post-production discussions with the community, which Berks termed “fascinating.” “We had never done that before. In fact, I have never heard of any theaters at all doing post-show discussions. An RA at a local college brought in some student leaders to continue conversation about the play, because it sparked such interest in the topic of diversity. And the show’s set and costume designers also led a discussion with audience members,” he said. “All of the designers found this to be a really challenging show to do, on so many fronts,” said Price. “They all had struggles with authenticity, the size of the theater, etc., and they all wanted to step up and do their best, and talk about their process.”

As for the Lark’s Launching New Plays Initiative, in which a new play by an emerging playwright is produced by a group of theaters around the country as a rolling premiere, Price and Berks also gave it two thumbs up. “We are just learning so much about various theaters through this process,” said Price. “Every city and every theater has their own issues in their production – especially in a play like this, which is so much about identity. We have one more performance to go, at the University of South Florida. All of us involved have made such great connections with each other.”

For his part, Berks said the entire experience has deepened his understanding of the needs and interests of audiences. “There is clearly a pent-up desire for stories of American history that are not from the historically dominant culture. The U.S. has always been a story with a lot of threads in it, so it’s not a surprise to me that people identify with some of the less commonly discussed threads,” he said.

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