The leadership of major Twin Cities theater companies continued its evolution Monday as the Jungle Theater announced that Sarah Rasmussen, a director with Minnesota connections, will succeed Bain Boehlke as artistic director. Boehlke, who founded the Jungle in 1991, previously had announced he would retire this summer.
Rasmussen, head of the MFA theater directing program at the University of Texas-Austin, will assume the job on July 1. Her hiring continues a sea change that is gathering in the Twin Cities theater community. She joins Joseph Haj, who also starts July 1 as new Guthrie artistic director, taking over from Joe Dowling, who had held the post for a record 20 years.
She is part of a cohort replacing longtime founders of midsize theaters, which are the backbone of the local scene. Randy Reyes replaced Rick Shiomi at Mu Performing Arts and Sarah Bellamy has assumed leadership from her father, Lou, at Penumbra.
“I’m thrilled to be a part of that next new wave,” Rasmussen said Monday from Texas. “It’s an exciting time to be there to watch the next generation blossom.”
Boehlke founded the Jungle after a long career with the Children’s Theatre Company and as a freelance director. The theater led a resurgence of economic and cultural development in the Lyndale-Lake neighborhood of Minneapolis.
The troupe is one of the Twin Cities’ significant venues for classic American work. Boehlke has become legendary not only for his directing but also for his articulate set designs.
“Bain is such a singular artist and a visionary,” Rasmussen said. “I don’t know many like him.”
Boehlke was effusive in praising Rasmussen as a valuable asset for the Jungle, a good fundraiser and well-connected nationally.
He said he will move to Seattle this summer, partly to give space to the new Jungle administration. “Being in town would be very difficult because my feet would want to bring me down here every day,” he said. “I love that she loves the Jungle, and I need to give them space to work.”
Rasmussen grew up in South Dakota and graduated from St. Olaf College in Northfield in 2001. She has worked with several Twin Cities companies, including the Jungle, where she directed “In the Next Room” in 2012. Like the Guthrie’s newly appointed Haj, Rasmussen has significant national associations.
“She knows everyone — one of the most-connected people I know,” said Mixed Blood artistic director Jack Reuler, who encouraged Rasmussen to apply for the Jungle job when Boehlke announced his retirement last year.
“When new leaders come in with relationships with national connections, that rubs off,” said Bill Rauch, artistic director of Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Rasmussen served for three seasons as resident director for Oregon’s Black Swan Lab, a new-work development program. Last season, she directed an all-female production of “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which is the nation’s largest nonprofit regional theater.
“She is imaginative and a fierce advocate for inclusion and diversity,” said Rauch. “And in a field where tempers and egos can get away sometimes, Sarah is thoughtful and calm — very professional. Obviously I’m a big fan and I’m cheering this appointment.”
Rasmussen said it’s too early for her to reveal what she’ll program at the Jungle in 2016, her first season. She is known to be a champion of new work and has strong connections at the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis.
“Bain has created such an exquisite theatergoing experience,” she said. “I look forward to building on that legacy. New work is a passion of mine, but that will play out over time.”
Michelle Hensley, artistic director of the Twin Cities troupe Ten Thousand Things, praised Rasmussen for her advocacy of work by women and artists of color, and expressed confidence that she will reflect the diversity of the community. Hensley, another of the founder/artistic directors instrumental in building the local community, also said she’s excited by the advent of new, young leaders.
“It’s time for a changing of the guard,” she said. “We can be grateful to all those people who started these companies in the ’70s and ’80s, and the ’90s. Now it’s time to pass along the torch and see what a younger generation can bring.”