Actor Michelle O'Neill in a publicity photo for New Epic's "Medea."
It appears that it will be permanent curtains for the Twin Cities theater company behind an ill-fated production of “Medea.”
New Epic Theater announced its dissolution Wednesday. The company's production of the Greek tragedy at the Lab Theater was canceled before previews in May after actors blew the whistle on unsafe working conditions.
Company founder and “Medea” director Joseph Stodola laid the two-year-old company’s demise to the financial hit it took from the cancellation of that show.
The company had raised more than $10,000 for the production through a Kickstarter campaign.
In an interview Wednesday, Stodola said more than half of that $10,045 has been turned into “tax-deductible hardship donations” by the donors. The rest will be treated as debt, part of a total of $18,000 in debt that resulted from the “Medea” cancellation.
“We’re communicating with those donors now in order to settle,” he said. “We’re in uncharted territory and trying to figure it out.”
In its two-year existence, New Epic was hailed for its adventurous work, even as the company left hurt and upset talent in its wake. Actors groused about working conditions and the lack of promised pay. Even so, New Epic won an Ivey Award, the Twin Cities highest theater accolade, and continued to attract top-flight talent, including the stars of “Medea” — Guthrie leading lady Michelle O’Neill (“The Royal Family”) and veteran Twin Cities leading man Mark Benninghofen (“Sweeney Todd”).
It was Benninghofen, in fact, who first noticed the set feature that he recognized as potentially dangerous and convinced the cast to abandon the show. Some of the show's action was to take place near a pool of water that had “a 30-foot long exposed electric circuit along the drip edge,” Benninghofen said at the time. “Anyone who’s been around the stage for a while knows that electricity and water will always find each other.”
In a statement at the time, Stodola thanked Benninghofen "for looking out for his fellow actors."
Stodola, 27, hopes to continue to do theater, but admits to be chastened.
“I’m a young artist early in my career and this has been a really difficult experience,” he said Wednesday. “As an artist, I learned my limits.”
As far as the actors and artists are concerned, he added that he’s “sorry that the public didn’t get to see their work.”
Beyond the technical issue, he pointed to “a troubled and too-short rehearsal period plagued with artistic differences and illnesses on the creative team, as well as a lack of adequate technical support.”
Stodola said that it would have been possible to fix the safety issues and not cancel the show, but that by then the issue had mushroomed beyond that.
“At that point, we were dealing with a loss of trust,” he said.
That rupture ultimately doomed his company.