Blurring the Edges
As news of Minneapolis' Theatre de la Jeune Lune's closing spread, almost simultaneously word came of the closing here in Philly of one of our best-loved houses, Mum Puppettheatre. Though Mum was a theater devoted strictly to puppets, it wasn't by any means child's play. Mum's work over the last 23 years has bred new respect for puppetry here and nationally. Their innovations--puppet productions of Equus, The Fantasticks, and this season's adaptation of Animal Farm, as well as original works such as the stirring When the War is Over--are legendary around these parts. Like Jeune Lune, Mum offered a unique artistic vision, and was rewarded with critical accolades and shelves straining under the weight of all their awards. Also like Jeune Lune, the company closes after several decades, sunken by debt and leaving a gaping hole in its hometown topography.
Sure, they say in journalism that two of anything is a trend, but I'm hoping in this case it's not true. Could it be that the economy is currently touching off a theatrical survival of the fittest, and in this case, only the dinosaurs--houses mounting revivals and proven entities--will emerge unscathed? We have several producers of new work here hanging in the balance, and though mismanagement might well play a part in their teetering, I'm guessing that when money gets tight, audiences don't want to take chances with their hard-earned dollars.
Both cases are a real loss for the reputation of American regional theater, and for their immediate communities. Here is my Inquirer feature on Mum, which includes some of founder Robert Smythe's theories on the demise of small companies.