Minneapolis, Minn. — The Ballroom, an original Jeune Lune production, is a sweeping, highly stylized consideration of the emotional highs and lows of 20th century America.
Set in a Midwestern ballroom, it captures different points during the last 100 years, from the 1930s, through the McCarthy era, to Vietnam.
Dominique Serrand, co-artistic director of Jeune Lune, says this isn't the first time the company has performed The Ballroom.
"We did it in a cabaret space about 12 years ago, and the memory of it was very strong," he says. "And we decided we had to restage it and rethink it."
Serrand and the ensemble cast didn't anticipate shutting the show down for more restaging and rethinking. But all this past week, that's what they've been doing. The show received several negative reviews and a lukewarm audience response.
Serrand says he's used to bad reviews. It was the audience reaction that concerned him. He says he personally felt unhappy with the piece, because he wasn't articulating his vision.
"I said, 'Well, if the show that I have in my mind is not the one I see, or not communicating the way it excites me, then I have to rework it until the audience can feel the same excitement I do,'" he says.
Serrand would have preferred to make the necessary changes between performances. But The Ballroom features a 30-member cast and more than 100 different costumes. Serrand says it would have been technically impossible to rework it without closing it down.
"There is absolutely no way that we could re-invent rehearsals after it opened. We had to put it to sleep, and use performance time as rehearsal time," Serrand says.
Jeune Lune producing director Steve Richardson says the move to close a show that hasn't been fully realized is a healthy one, and in keeping with Jeune Lune's mission. He also acknowledges the enormous financial risks involved.
"The decision to let a show go on -- just because you said it was going to run for 40 performances, and not get the box office response you were hoping for -- is sometimes more damaging than doing something dramatic, as we've done," says Richardson.
Jeune Lune's decision to close The Ballroom shocked some in the Twin Cities theater community, because it hardly ever happens. For one thing, says Star Tribune theater critic Graydon Royce, most theaters are locked into a season that's hard to change. Secondly, there are the financial concerns.
"Thirdly, I think that there's often reluctance to admit the failure of the show, and that's not an easy thing to admit to," Royce says.
Royce, who didn't review the original production of The Ballroom, doesn't think Jeune Lune will be significantly harmed by closing the show. He says the company's been around for 25 years, has a strong artistic reputation, and financial flexibility -- partly because it owns its own space. As for the impact on the production itself, Royce says people who've seen it probably won't return to see it again.
"But at the same time, I think it will create some curiosity among other folks who may not have had a chance to look at it," Royce says. "I'm certainly going to go look at it. It's just a sense of curiosity and a sense that, here's a show something went wrong with, and I'll be curious to see if they've overcome that."
The retooled production of The Ballroom returns to the Jeune Lune stage Saturday night. Dominique Serrand says he hopes he'll never have to close a show again.
When asked if there's anything other theaters can learn from the situation, Serrand says, "Be honest, take risks -- and people will be there to support you."