Minneapolis' always-on-the-road theater troupe must reluctantly stand pat.
Ten Thousand Things Theater made its name taking minimalist dramas, comedies and musicals to audiences in shelters, prisons and senior citizen centers for more than a quarter-century.
But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the itinerant company has to take a different approach with its new production, "The Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare's shortest comedy, will open Thursday at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis, where it will be parked for the duration of its run.
"The fact that we can do theater now feels wonderful and miraculous, but we have to do it with the utmost care for the safety of everyone involved, including the audience," said artistic director Marcela Lorca. "We're still in COVID times and we're challenged to be creative — challenged by the circumstances."
Theater companies are wrestling with all kinds of COVID-related questions as they re-enter the cultural marketplace. Actors Equity, the union for professional performers, mandates tests and social distancing and masks, and a raft of protocols to keep actors and audiences safe. Some also are following guidance from state health officials and the federal Centers for Disease Control.
In another departure from its usual practice, Ten Thousand Things won't perform in the round, in order to limit traffic flow. Its production of "Errors" also is a 90-minute one-act. And it has made other stipulations to keep its audience and company members safe.
So how does a company that built its reputation on serving underserved communities continue to do so when it can't reach those communities directly?
"We are making the show available on video — it will be captured and shared with our traditional audiences and partners in correctional facilities, senior centers and wherever we can distribute," Lorca said.
Separated by shipwreck
The comedy is about twins separated in a shipwreck. Young actors Nubia Monks and Danielle Troiano depict the twins in a plot that involves mistaken identities, misperceptions and misunderstandings.
The play was chosen both because it is a comedy and the fact that some of its topics are eerily resonant.
"Isn't that the moment we're in?" Lorca said. "The themes of the play are just so relevant in a world where there are so many political, social divisions around facts and truth. It really is about how you're seen and how people see you."
When the company was forced to shut down because of the pandemic, it launched a program called Ten Thousand Voices, engaging members of its audience through creative writing. The company created a podcast and video of stories and poems submitted by its various stakeholders.
"It was so successful, we've decided to run it as an ongoing program because many of our audience are so incredibly talented," Lorca said. "All they needed was an invitation."
Lorca said she was struck by the creativity and originality of the 60 or so submissions they received.
"There was not one bad one in the bunch," Lorca said. "It's a great privilege if one is offered the opportunity to practice art at a young age. Some people have never had the opportunity to do that, yet they may be artists. This invitation may be the thing some people need to discover their creative selves, and ways of processing the world."
The troupe also filmed performances during the pandemic, something that poses challenges. Many of its actors typically play multiple roles. And since design is minimal, it can be challenging, on film at least, to tell which character an actor is playing.
"The most powerful thing about changing character and doing a lot with little is that we're asking the audience to suspend disbelief," Lorca said. "We're not providing all the doors and windows and architecture of the set. They can imagine those things. That's the power of how we do theater."
Drawing in neighbors?
The company hopes to draw from neighbors in the diverse community where Plymouth Congregational is located. The play, after all, is also about belonging.
One character is an immigrant navigating a new land, and the cast is mostly women, including Katie Bradley, Cristina Florencia Castro and Twin Cities stalwart Sally Wingert.
"We miss the thought of touring, particularly to our underserved populations, like a lost tooth," Wingert said. "But if we get folks that decide to walk in, that will be fun. It's a zany production and I hope everybody feels warm, friendly and included."
The one male actor in the cast is Will Sturdivant. He plays a courtesan among several characters.
"And let me tell you, there's no better bad girl — beep beep, toot toot — from the lone testosterone," Wingert said. "You just wait. My role is small but this is a cast of inventive performers with endless sources of energy and a facility in both language and physicality. You just wait."
'The Comedy of Errors'
Who: By William Shakespeare. Directed by Marcela Lorca for Ten Thousand Things Theater. Music direction by Peter Vitale.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thu.-Sat., 4 p.m. Sun. Ends Nov. 21.
Where: Guild Hall of Plymouth Congregational Church, 1900 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls.
Protocol: Proof of vaccination or negative COVID test. Masks required.
Tickets: Choose your price. tenthousandthings.org