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Name: Michelle Hensley
Job: Artistic Director and Founder of Ten Thousand Things Theater Company
Current City: Minneapolis, MN
School: Princeton - Class of 1980
Major: English (MFA, Directing, UCLA, '87)
Early on, I saw that the audiences who came to theater were primarily wealthy — and I didn't want to spend my life creating things for only wealthy people! I didn't want to leave so many people out! And I wanted an audience that would really care about the stories we told — so many wealthier audiences seemed so jaded and critical.
So I took a Brecht play to a homeless shelter — and found an audience that was open-hearted and honest and voiced their opinions and advice to the characters during the show! So rewarding — for the past 20 years I've been taking the big stories of theater — Shakespeare, the Greeks, musicals — to people who have never seen live theater before in prisons, homeless shelters, adult ed centers and housing projects — and making amazing discoveries about how theater works as a result. I work with the best professional actors in the Twin Cities, and we've all become so much better artists as a result of these non-traditional audiences, who demand we be clear, lively and urgent in everything we do.
I've learned things I would have never learned if I had followed the traditional route for young directors, trying to climb the hierarchical ladders at big regional theaters, rarely getting a chance to create work I was truly passionate about — and not making very much money either!
I spent quite a few years supplementing my income by teaching ESL, proofreading at law firms, temping, etc — but again, the struggle and uncertainty was really worth it!
So many big institutional systems aren't working any more, especially in the arts — so make up your own! You really don't need THAT much money to be happy. What makes me happy is controlling my own TIME, and doing pretty much exactly what I want, when I want — work that I feel is somehow making a little difference in the world. Be willing to struggle and be uncertain for a while, as you figure out how to do just what you want with your life. It takes time — it took me almost 20 years to get to the point where I could support myself just through my artistic work — and even though there was a lot of uncertainty and anxiety during that time — it was all SO WORTH IT!
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