By rights, they should have failed spectacularly and done it long ago. A theater troupe that ambitious, that audacious, should have failed before I ever heard of them. Don Juan Giovanni, an opera and play performed at the same time by two sets of actors? Of course audiences don’t want anything that strange, challenging, unsettling. Not Minnesota audiences. But Minnesota is where this highly physical, lush, surreal company decided to settle, and they thrived here. Fourteen years without a space and sixteen in the building they renovated.
The magic of theater is supposed to evaporate when you look behind the scenes and see the mechanisms, but it didn’t do that at Jeune Lune. I volunteered there, prepping the new building for tours, so I got to see it all. Posters for old shows, the odd properties collection (including the rubber butts from The Seven Dwarfs), the overwhelming costumes that were just as stunning up close as on the stage. We hauled it all out and turned it over to find the bits that should be on display. All of it was covered in that special theater dust–not the gray stuff that makes you sneeze, but the knowledge that, somehow, the simple things we held in our hands had made magic in front of an audience.
I even got to make a little bit of that magic. One of the other things I did as a volunteer was make ridiculous desserts for opening night receptions–the kind that are rich and pretty enough that no one feels put out by only getting a tiny slice. For Conversations After a Burial, we got the idea to do something a little different. In the play, the characters make pot-au-feu, so we decided to serve some at the reception. I volunteered to make it while the show was going on.
The theater had only been in the building for about a year at that point, so none of us could predict what would happen. It was intermission before I discovered that the smell of the cooking stew was making its way into the theater. It was a little touch of realism that no one would have thought to add, although someone did ask whether I wanted to keep making it for the run of the show. The audience thought it was deliberate and ate it up–the smell and the pot-au-feu.
I changed jobs not too much later to one that interfered with things like ushering at performances for school kids and setting up for receptions, so I stopped being a part of Jeune Lune history. Jeune Lune didn’t stop. They kept making history for many more years. But soon, that’s all that will be left.
Bethany isn’t the only one feeling sad today.