Marcela Lorca said the roughly 1 million different jobs she’s had at the Guthrie Theater prepared her for the next one: artistic director of Ten Thousand Things.
Lorca will take over from founder Michelle Hensley, who over 30 years has grown the theater from annual budgets of $13,000 to more than $850,000. Currently the director of company development, as well as teacher/administrator in two actor training programs, Lorca also has directed at the Guthrie, including “Caroline, or Change” and “Disgraced,” and choreographed there. She was hired as movement director in 1991.
All of those jobs have not left Lorca much time to direct.
“It’s been so heavily administrative,” she said. “Now that the [Joseph Haj] leadership has been here at the Guthrie two years, it was a good time for me to look for other artistic opportunities, and I can’t think of anything better than to go into the adventure of Ten Thousand Things, to learn about new audiences and to work with colleagues I’ve learned to love.”
Those new audiences are in prisons, shelters and other places to which it tours, bringing theater to people who have little access to the arts. That mission attracted her to the job.
“One of the biggest pleasures I get is to get to know the communities where I work and to really ask how a piece relates to a specific community in a specific time,” she said.
Lorca said she is eager to create work in the Ten Thousand Things aesthetic, which is performed in the round, with spare props, sets and costumes.
“As a former architecture student and design student, I’m very aware of space and the challenges of each space. That’s the first thing I look at when I direct,” said Lorca, who also has staged plays at Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Mixed Blood Theatre and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
She was selected from a pool of seven semifinalists, all women and mostly women of color (although Hensley, who has called for more women of color in leadership roles, said, “That wasn’t necessarily something we set out to do”). The theater’s staff was heavily involved in what Lorca calls a “communal” hiring process.
“Our artists and staff are what makes Ten Thousand Things,” said board chairwoman Cindy Kaiser. She said Lorca will continue the theater’s mission but also think about what’s next — “what shows we’re doing, where we’re taking them, what communities we are bringing them to, how many shows we do, how we engage with diverse communities. I think all of that can be expanded.”
Lorca said she fell in love with theater as a 3-year-old ballet dancer in her native Chile, looking out from the stage at the seats of an opera house, “that empty space that can be filled with so much magic.”
In college, she joined a dance theater company that “kept me awake at a very repressed point in my country’s history,” the 1973-90 Augusto Pinochet dictatorship. “It became almost a crusade for us to reflect to an audience that they could be alive, awake, that they are important human beings in a time when the whole of society is telling them something different.”
Hensley said she thinks Lorca’s outsider perspective will resonate with nontraditional audiences. “Marcela brings that perspective of how to use story to connect with people who might be different from you,” said Hensley, who will step down after the season concludes in June. “Doing street theater in Chile while Pinochet was in power, they couldn’t use words, so they had to figure out how to say what they wanted to say, just using movement. I think that’s really cool to bring that to Ten Thousand Things.”
One of three shows for next season has been selected, but Lorca will be in on choosing the others, a musical and a contemporary play. She gave no hints but said that she’s a big fan of Stephen Sondheim and that her favorite play is the first one she directed, the surreal “Blood Wedding,” by Federico García Lorca (no known relation, although their people hail from the same town in Spain).
The word “surreal” is apt to pop up in descriptions of Lorca’s upcoming work. Eager to explore the visual possibilities of Ten Thousand Things, Lorca said she believes audiences want their imaginations to be challenged.
“Theater can invite audiences into different dimensions, and I’ve always been attracted to that,” said Lorca, who lives in Bryn Mawr with her partner, ophthalmologist Seth Silbert. “Some people call that surrealism. I call it poetry. Sometimes, I call it physical poetry.”
Lorca will have big shoes to fill since, as Kaiser said, “Michelle has Johnny Appleseeded this incredible concept across the country.” But Lorca said she’s not intimidated.
“No, that’s exciting for me,” she said. “I feel ready.”