Ben Layne is the co-founder and co-artistic director of Freshwater Theatre, which was founded in 2010 to focus on producing work originating from the Midwest. In his October interview he shared an inside look at bringing the new musical Pioneer Suite to the stage and his inspiration to make art.
In the second interview with Ben he'll discuss what it's like to start a new theater company, how the changing seasons bring reflection, and what's next for him artistically. Enjoy!
Ben: YES. It still scares me every time we produce, in a way. Five years in, we have a good infrastructure. We have built a reputation for doing good work and for providing the people we work with with a supportive structure and a positive experience. But it always feels like organizing a party with literally no idea if anyone is going to attend, even though we've had consistent audiences since our inception.
I think it's a risk any time you go out there and say, "We're here, we're doing this show, come see it," because people have so many choices nowadays in terms of their entertainment dollar. Add to that the fact that we're doing all new works, which are tougher to get people to come see, plus the fact that we run in rep with ourselves each time we produce, it's a huge undertaking, and it's a huge risk to keep doing every time out. But I actually think that's what keeps us going. It forces us to get more creative and push ourselves every time out, and even if at times it seems crazy, it also acts as fuel. It makes us try something new each time we produce.
Could you share a recent successful collaboration between Freshwater Theatre and another organization? What made the collaboration so successful?
Ben: We have done shows as fundraisers for other good causes a couple of times over, most recently with the Minnesota Innocence Project during our run of The Man in Her Dreams last fall. That show was about a man wrongfully accused (and found guilty) of sexual assault. The show laid bare the inherent issues within our justice system that lead to the kinds of convictions the Innocence Project fights to get overturned. We raised money for them and we also had a great talkback with them after one of our performances--maybe the best talkback I have ever been a part of. People were passionate about the topic, and I think we all learned a lot from it.
Ben: The changes at a lot of our major institutions have seen women and people of color taking on leadership roles that even five years ago they might not have had. The diversity of the voices in the theater community here is important, because it will more deeply reflect the voices of our audience, and we need to keep fostering and supporting those changes. This is not to say that I don't think white guys like me have something important to give to theater still. If I thought that, I wouldn't be doing it. But the status quo needs to be challenged more.
Ben: I do enjoy the changing of the seasons deep down inside, even if I grumble about it. But it's really good to go through the yearly process of renewal, like the way our seasons do. Our springs and summers get so jam packed as Minnesotans try to pack in all our outdoor living into something like 6-8 weeks. You also have the Fringe in there as well, so that time of year is often incredibly hectic.
The weather in the fall and winter forces us to slow down, which allows us to generate new ideas and recharge our batteries. You find that by the time January or February roll around, people are starting to work on their next projects, so the holiday months really encourage us to slow down and reflect, which can be vital to keeping the creative juices flowing.
What's next for you artistically?
Ben: Freshwater Theatre is celebrating our fifth year by remounting the very first show we did as a company, with a double bill of Table 12: A Play at a Wedding and An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein presented together in one fun night of theater. Table 12 will also mark the first time I will be onstage in a professional production in almost two years, so that's exciting! And as always, we'll have another show running in rep called We Just Clicked, which will be another of our award-winning anthology shows, this time about online dating.
I am also currently in sort of "pre-production" stages for a couple Minnesota Fringe Festival show ideas. And I'm working on a new solo show with Scot Moore called Break Your Heart, which chronicles a breakup that sent Scot on an accidental trip around the world, while examining what happens when we get our hearts broken, how we can put the pieces back together, and why the experience of such hurt and heartbreak can actually turn out to be a positive experience. Scot will likely tour the piece to a couple other Fringes, and we are submitting it for the Minnesota Fringe as well.
I'm also working with Ariel Leaf again for the upcoming Fringe. We're submitting two different show ideas, one of which will be another of her very personal storytelling shows. It's been a lot of fun working with her on those productions and I am excited to get back together with her to dive in a little more. The other idea will raise a few eyebrows if that gets in, so I'll leave that as a little surprise for now.