Quick Q&A: The Red Eye Theater

It’s been a long year for arts organizations, but many of the intrepid creatives that drive our Arts & Culture scene haven’t just been sitting at home in their comfy pants spending all their time . Case in point: The newish leadership of the Red Eye theater, one of the best performance groups in MPLS + STPL, has spent the pandemic getting a new space to replace their previous–and we’d even go so far as to say iconic–spot that was torn down for fancy condos. We checked in on the new spot and the Red Eye’s upcoming plans with Co-Artistic Directors Emily Gastineau and Theo Langason. 

So, what has Red Eye been doing for, well, a whole year? Anything exciting like getting a new space?

Co-Artistic Director Emily Gastineau: Yes! We’ve been working on finding a new home for Red Eye ever since we said goodbye to the old space, so we’re over the moon that it’s official and public and everything. Drumroll, please! We’ve signed a long-term lease for a space in the Focus Arts building in the Seward neighborhood, which we will build out into a black box theater and develop as a hub for contemporary performance in Minneapolis. 2020 was always going to be a year for us to lay the groundwork, and we took the time to do some deep internal work on how we want to work together, how we want to build reciprocal relationships with artists and audiences in our community, and what we hope Red Eye can become. We also sustained our commitment to all the artists whose work we were supporting when the pandemic hit, and are producing a few digital projects this spring. 

The former Red Eye spot has such a wonderful character, it was both unique for MPLS + STPL, but also felt like the classic small black boxes of bigger markets like NYC + LA. Are you trying to recapture some of that or is this a totally new look and feel?

Co-Artistic Director Theo Langason: We’re trying to carry forward what we liked best about the old space: the size, the flexibility, the ethos that gave artists permission to use the space as if it was their own. But some of the things that gave the old space it’s character we’re happy to have only in our memories. I can confirm that there will be at least 90% fewer bats, the parking situation will be marginally better, and we’ve even upped the flexibility with no fixed seating–alas, there will be no carpeted moat! We’re hoping the new space will be similarly loved as the old; it’s definitely an upgrade in a lot of ways.

We are in love with Miriam Must, one of the original Red Eye cofounders with Steve Busa. She is so great. What did Miriam say about the new spot? When will we get a Miriam Must mural or Mary Tyler Moore-esque statue in MPLS?

Theo Langason: We love Miriam! And Steve! We’ve actually been having some really thoughtful conversation around how to honor these cool, visionary artists who started this org nearly 40 years ago! We have great reverence for the work Miriam and Steve have put into the company and we’re taking the time to interrogate the inherent power structures that exist around founding and legacies and overly precious lenses of the past. But don’t worry, the statue or mural or experimental rock opera is on its way. And Miriam is very excited about the space!

You mention the importance of other orgs like Threads Dance Project, Foci Minnesota Center for Glass Arts, Somali TV, All My Relations Gallery, Native American Cultural Corridor, etc. How does Red Eye fit into this mix? Is Seward going to be the new hot arts district!?

Theo Langason: We’ll leave it to the boy mayor to start naming any corridors or zones or districts (Editor’s Note: oh snap!) but Seward and its adjacent neighborhoods have a long history of arts and culture and we’re thrilled to add our name to that list. We’re looking forward to being in collaboration and community with our neighbors in the Focus Arts building and beyond.

How were you able to find a space that works for so, so, so many artistic co-directors? Some of whom can be quite picky we imagine?

Emily Gastineau: If you think seven opinions sounds like a lot–when we’re making decisions for the space, we’re actually thinking about many more people than that! We’re planning for the whole broad range of artists who will make work at Red Eye in the future, and everyone else who will attend performances and exchange ideas here. We can’t do it without you! In a way, the seven of us are a little microcosm of how a wider constituency might function. Accessibility and flexibility are key. Also… strong facilitation skills and a willingness to compromise. Also TBH it never hurts when the price is right–thanks, Seward Redesign!

What’s the over-under on when programming will start up in that new space? 

Theo Langason: Fuck if we know! The space will be in construction through June, so definitely not before that. We’re obviously waiting until it’s safe and comfortable to open our doors to audiences, and we’re almost certainly going to cry when we get to gather again. In the meantime everyone should check out our new video series JOBSITE where we’re featuring some of our favorite artists performing in the raw, under-construction space, and the annual New Works 4 Weeks Festival happening online in June.

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