When they choose work at Ten Thousand Things Theater Company, they talk about “stretchy” plays that leave room for artists to interpret them and for audiences to find themselves in them.
It’s a word that speaks to many hallmarks of TTT, including a boldness of vision, taking the lead in gender-imaginative casting and embracing diversity. Which is why absolutely no one was surprised when the company’s founding artistic director, Michelle Hensley, used an Ivey Awards acceptance speech last fall to emphasize the importance of boldness and diversity.
Honored for her lifetime achievement, the soon-to-retire Hensley spoke about the need for many points of view. On a more practical tip, she noted that, with TTT and several other Twin Cities theaters searching for their next leaders, “most of those positions need to be filled by women, and the majority of those women need to be women of color.”
There are a lot of powerful words in that sentence — and in the rest of her speech — but the most powerful one is the least equivocal: “Need.”
Hensley didn’t say it would be great if women could get their numbers up over the 30 percent that currently represents female leadership in American theater. She didn’t say, “Wouldn’t it be swell if half the new leaders we hired were female, just like the population?” She said the figure must be more than half, and not only because everyone would feel better about themselves if more women and people of color were in the room. Theater, she says, absolutely needs those voices if it wants to remain vital.