Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Old Memories of the New Moon

It has been thirty years since Teatro de la Jeune Lune (Theater of the New Moon in French) began its journey in 1979। In that year, Co-founder Barbara Berlovitz and three of her fellow classmates of the Ecole Jacques Lecoq School of movement-based theater in Paris, France were burning with fresh inspiration. The company spent the first several years switching back and forth between Paris and Minneapolis, but after the first five years, the company finally settled in Minneapolis.

“Paris is like New York City, it’s difficult to find space…any little hole in the wall is a goldmine। “In Minneapolis we were supported,” said Berlovitz, “we [knew] Minneapolis somewhat…so if we [wanted] to rent a theater or if we [wanted] to see if we could get funding we [knew] some of the people.”

The Echo asked Berlovitz when she and her co-founders knew it was the right time to pursue the creation of Jeune Lune। “The four of us decided in our own different ways that the theater that we were seeing …was not what we wanted to be doing,” said Berlovitz, “it basically came out of discontent. We wanted to open a new path.”

Berlovitz quoted her teacher and mentor Jacques Lacoq as saying, “I’ve given you the tools to create a theater that doesn’t exist, now go out and do it।” Lacoq was experimenting with the idea of theater that originated from moving the body. Movement theater, Berlovitz explains “is an approach to acting with the idea that everything starts with movement and the voice comes after.”

This physical element became the signature trait for all Jeune Lune productions। Exaggerated and grotesque characters have adorned their stage, telling their personalities without words.

Like many smaller, experimental theater companies, Jeune Lune was not immune to financial instability। The Echo asked Berlovitz what got the company through the rough patches they experienced before the ultimate closing last summer.

“I would say it was a total commitment to our vision,” said Berlovitz, “anything that we did, we knew that we had this goal in supporting this vision that we would eventually reach।” Berlovitz mentioned that when times were rough financially, all the company members lived together or with family to save on housing costs.

The vision Berlovitz mentions was of a “theater that was for an audience of today; we were never interested in doing plays just because they were good play,” said Berlovitz. “If [they] had to change some of the text or [the setting],” that was acceptable as long as they were sharing a new experience with their audience. “Most of our shows were visually beautiful,” said Berlovitz, “I wanted [the audience] to see something they had never seen before.”
Juene Lune was nationally recognized for their regional theater efforts with a Tony in 2005 and the company has toured their work on the west coast for years in addition to their productions in Minneapolis।

Unfortunately for Berlovitz and the many loyal fans, Juene Lune had to close its doors early this summer due to surmounting debt and declining theater attendance.
“In the theater, we certainly walk the line,” Berlovitz noted, “we were never able to have a safety net of cash।”

This past weekend the company held a rummage sale at their old theater building to liquidate their assets. Tables of posters listed for $5 a piece were the only tangible remnants of the body of work that was realized in the old warehouse building. Their chandeliers still hung above boxes of old hats and dusty plywood. Buyers carried out chairs, dresses and other set pieces that they purchased for bargain prices while still carrying a look of disappointment on their faces.
The Echo asked for a comment from the workers that day, but with a stern reply were told “There is no story here…if you’re not here to buy, you should leave।”

Berlovitz looked on the verge of tears at the mention of the sale, but we quickly moved on to what this new chapter of her life has in store। Berlovitz is now working with the Augsburg theater department; she directed her first Augsburg production, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, in 2007. She is currently directing Samuel Beckett’s Eleutheria, set to open in late January in the Tjornhom-Nelson Theater.

“It’s a great place to come to try ideas and to give experiences to the students that come out of a conceit that is very specific to a specific group of people,” Berlovitz explains, “What I can do is I can bring my understanding of the theater experience to the students here।”

Berlovitz has many projects aligned post-Eleutheria, including an all female production of King Lear at the University of Minnesota। She also mentioned that she will be working on her own original show with the help of a grant she received from the Fox Foundation.

“The thing I think about Jeune Lune, something I’ve thought about in the last few years…I think that we did things that said to people that certain things were possible, that it was possible to make a change, it’s possible to take a risk and it’s possible to believe in your own self and what you have to say. It doesn’t have to be earthshaking, as long as it’s what you have to say.”

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