Six Points Theater, formerly Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company (MJTC), was founded in July 1994 and is now in its 27th season. The award-winning theater, created and led by Producing Artistic Director Barbara Brooks, has long been a fixture in Twin Cities culture and a beloved resource for Minnesota Jewish community. TC Jewfolk was eager to catch up with Barbara and discuss the decision to rename MTJC as well as the theater’s exciting 2021/22 season.
TC Jewfolk: So we were pretty interested to hear the news that MJTC has changed its name to Six Points Theater. (And I’m assuming the six points signify the Jewish Star.) In your announcement about the change, you write that “the new name …embraces the vitality of our mission and history while looking forward to the future.” What were the factors that led you/MJTC to the decision and what does mean for the theatre’s future? Will your mission change?
Barbara Brooks: Our process for the name change was a carefully considered exploration over the past 3 years that involved extensive conversations with artists, audiences, donors, staff and trustees. We wanted to understand our identity from both our internal perspective and the perspective of our audiences. As human beings, we come into this world with a distinct personality, but as we grow up, so too does our character. Theaters also evolve in similar ways. As a community of artists and audiences that come together to explore the world, the theater’s character and identity have evolved, become deeper and collectively we have gained greater insight. We considered if a name change would help us advance our work, the evolution of our identity, and also deepen people’s understanding of our identity. We tested different name possibilities and ultimately decided on Six Points Theater. The mission of our work is not changing. Yet we feel this new name and logo reflects our mission but is also fresh, forward-looking, and welcoming. While obviously not planned, re-emerging from the past year of pandemic lock-downs with a new season back in the theater did create an excellent time to introduce our new name and logo
TC Jewfolk: The big word of this past year was “unprecedented.” The pandemic has been very rough on Minnesota theaters and we have lost a few beloved companies. Under your guidance, MJTC – now Six Points – managed to weather the storm and even produce a few shows over the pandemic year. Can you talk a little about the challenges – the ‘unprecedented’ trials and the triumphs – you and the company experienced?
Brooks: Producing during the Covid pandemic has been incredibly challenging. It was very important to produce in a way that is safe for artists, audiences, and staff. This affected play selection in many ways, such as minimizing the number of artists, choosing pieces that would allow distance in stage blocking, and work that could logically be produced with mics when working outdoors as part of the production, for example with 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother which was a bit like a stand-up show where mics are typical. We conceptualized and created an original musical review, Promise of America, almost totally without in-person work. Our director rehearsed the actors/singers via zoom, and then we filmed them in their homes. They only had the music accompaniment track to sing to; if they were singing back up, they recorded their part without the lead singer. We had to secure a lot of music rights with national companies at a time when people weren’t in offices so that was a big challenge. Working with the actors’ union was very challenging as they were short-staffed and not in the office but working remotely.
TCJewfolk: Let’s talk about the 2021-22 season! You’re starting off with a re-up of A Pickle, a version of which was first staged at the Minnesota Fringe Festival in 2016, and which you revived last spring with Sally Wingert starring – to sold-out performances, and has sold out the run through Aug. 15. The play is based on true events and it concerns our local critic Doris Rubenstein’s experience entering her kosher pickles at the Minnesota State Fair. Can you tell us a little more about the production – and why you think it’s been so successful and resilient?
Brooks: We’ve opened this season with A Pickle because it sold out in the spring and there were so many people that wanted to see it but didn’t get the chance. I think it resonated so strongly with audiences because it’s about a revered MN institution, the state fair, and has universal themes that everyone can relate to. Of course, Sally Wingert is an amazing actor and brings the story to life in such an enjoyable way.
TCJewfolk: In October you’re staging a play called The People’s Violin by Charles Varon. In your press release, the play is described as a “mysterious drama that explores family and truth.” Can you tell us how you came upon the play and also why you are choosing to stage now?
Brooks: “The People’s Violin” has been waiting to be produced since it was canceled in spring, 2020 because of the pandemic. This is a show that the director, Warren Bowles, and I have been waiting to be back in the theater to produce. We’re very fortunate that all of the actors who were cast for production in spring 2020 have remained with the show, which will feature JC Cutler who is appearing with Six Points Theater for the first time.
TC Jewfolk: You always put on a Hanukkah-themed show for kids in December. This year you’re producing a world premiere play called Chanukkah in the Dark. Can you talk about the new play and its evolution?
Brooks: We’re very excited to be producing a new holiday show which we commissioned a few years ago but also stalled due to covid. It’s written by Hayley Finn, with original songs composed by Adam Wernick who worked on O my God. Hayley has directed many shows for us including Significant Other, Handle with Care, and Bad Jews to name a few, and she also served as a dramaturg on our world premiere production of We are the Levinsons.
TC Jewfolk: What’s your 2022 winter fare?
Barbara: Our winter slot is a new initiative, a New-Play Reading Festival. We’re hand-picking three new plays, not-yet-seen by the public anywhere, to be presented in readings, allowing our audiences to experience cutting-edge work and Six Points Theater to broaden the landscape of Jewish theater.
TC Jewfolk: Your final show of the season is “a seriocomedy about survival”- and its intriguing title is Two Jews Walk into a War. The press release says it takes place in Kabul, is “inspired by true events” and “touches on the theme of cultural continuity.” Why did you choose this play to finish off the season and who is Seth Rozin?
Barbara: “Two Jews Walk into a War,” is a little-known piece that I’ve held onto for a few years. Sometimes it’s just a matter of producing a piece at the time I perceive is the right time. The playwright, Seth Rozin, is the artistic director of Interact Theater in Pennsylvania and is an excellent writer. I’ve actually got another of his plays, not yet produced, in my back pocket.
For tickets and further information, call 651-647-4315 or go to sixpointstheater.org. The venues for A Pickle will be a combination of various outdoor sites. Six Points is planning to return to the Highland Park Community Center Theater at 1978 Ford Parkway, St Paul, for all remaining shows.