Walt Disney’s cryogenically frozen head. Bloody Mary. The myth about gum staying inside your body for seven years. These are the sort of urban legends that circulate in fifth-grade classrooms everywhere.
Some urban legends aren’t quite as gross or scary, however. Some are just maddening. Take, for example, the quarrel over which city has the second-largest relative number of theater seats.
Tap the nearest Playbill-toting Minnesotan on the shoulder and you are sure to hear that the Twin Cities surpassed Chicago a couple of years ago and that it now has the second-most theater seats per capita in the country. (Oh, what’s No. 1 again? Dayton? Allentown? I forget.)
I recently looked into this rumor. A number of sources, including thetangential.com, have debunked this myth and stated that Chicago’s big, meaty shoulders are still blocking our view of theater geek stardom. Being a 17-year-old aspiring actress who spends more time in dark theaters and uncomfortable seats than in my own bed, I have some interest in the topic, and the inaccuracy of this often-asserted claim practically has got smoke shooting out of my ears.
We Minnesotans don’t have a lot to brag about, being known mainly for lutefisk potlucks, record-setting horrible weather and statues of cutlery. But even if we don’t really deserve the much-coveted second-best status, I’m here to defend the defenseless. The actors. Those who are currently doing vocal warmups, participating in group hugs and chanting “red leather yellow leather.” A belief in myth and mystery is the one thing I’m counting on to help me escape the brittle cold of the winter we’re in without frostbite. (Although I might not mind some of the ol’ frosty on my pimples in time for prom. I’ve heard it’s a great exfoliant!)
For the sake of my sanity, I’m choosing to believe that we are No. 2. I’m up to the task. “We’re No. 2!” you’ll hear me chanting at your local strip mall or ice-skating rink next Saturday morning. Well, afternoon. I sleep in.
A statistic like “number of seats per capita” can’t tell you everything. It can’t tell you how happy people working in theater here are, or how many life-changing moments have been had inside some of the tiniest little black boxes in our city. A statistic can’t encompass the effect that the theater has on its audience and the community.
Some of the best nights I’ve ever spent in the theater have been here in town. And don’t assume I’m some homebody who thinks Burnsville is a “vaycay” spot. I have seen theater in London, Chicago and New York, and nothing can beat the 612 or the 651. Why is this so important to me? Surely, theater isn’t helping the homeless or feeding starving children. Yet I believe theater is the one thing that can lift us out of our own lives for an hour or two and take us somewhere we never would have thought to go to. And that’s magical. Theater in Minneapolis has opened my eyes to the wide world that exists behind the small curtain.
So what am I asking of you? I am shouting the rallying cry from the rooftops, cold as they are, to support Twin Cities theater. Put on your snow shoes and make the trek to any place that hands you a program at the door and allows you to turn off your phone for two hours. Even if our numbers aren’t as impressive as those of other cities, we don’t need a statistic to tell us how much our theater community is worth.
Throw away your dependency on urban legend and bask in the honesty of the pretend.
Mary Katherine Fiala is a high school senior in Minneapolis.