The Guthrie

Wed 05/10/06 at 2:29 pm

My brother called me Sunday night. We’d already had a fairly lengthy conversation earlier in the day, but he’d forgotten to ask whether I knew that it was the night of the last performance at The Guthrie Theater (The Guthrie). After we spoke, I started to wonder how many other phone calls were made (or emails were sent) to commemorate this event around the nation and the world? (Since I started to write this entry, I’ve received an email from one friend attaching a news story about the closing and one from another letting me know she was there for the final performance.)

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this hallowed space, a little background. According to the information provided by clicking the “History” link on the above-provided website:

The Guthrie Theater opened on May 7, 1963 with a production of Hamlet directed by Sir Tyrone Guthrie, the theater’s founder. The idea of the theater began in 1959 during a series of conversations among Guthrie and two colleagues — Oliver Rea and Peter Zeisler — who were disenchanted with Broadway. They wanted to create a theater with a resident acting company that would perform the classics in rotating repertory with the highest professional standards.

On May 7, 2006, The Guthrie came full circle, closing its doors at Vineland Place after a final performance of Hamlet. The new Guthrie on Second Street is slated to open in July with a performance of The Great Gatsby.

During my high school years, I was fortunate enough to live just 100 miles south of Minneapolis. In addition, for a time while attending the University of Minnesota in the mid-70’s I had a fabulous 4th floor walk-up studio apartment that overlooked the Walker/Guthrie Complex just a couple blocks down the hill. During those years The Guthrie was an integral part of my life.

I think I’ve remarked in earlier blogs about how extraordinarily lucky I was to attend high school in a small rural community where, as I and others have been told time and again by professors and others “in the know,” we received a top-drawer education. I’d just like to take this opportunity to thank one of my English teachers, Karen (“Mrs.”) Anderson, who, over the years, on her own time, would fill her car with students and head up to The Guthrie for a Saturday or Sunday matinee. I’m pretty sure the first performance I attended was The Tempest in 1970. I can still close my eyes and see the opening shipwreck scene. To this day, when I’m particularly irritated about something I hiss like Caliban, or, as I have affectionately come to refer to this now part of myself, “Banni.” Indeed, at any given time, I can close my eyes and be greeted with a flood of images and sound bites from other performances like Cyrano or The Taming of the Shrew or Under Milkwood, as well as concerts with the likes of Laura Nyro and Janis Ian and Sarah Vaughn.

As we got older, we used to drive ourselves up for performances. I can still remember my disappointment when, on one Saturday, my buddy David and I queued to see The Guthrie’s production of Oedipus. This particular performance was significant because, in stark contrast to traditional Greek drama where the violence occurred off-stage, Oedipus actually gouged his eyes out in living color on-stage. Alas! David got the last student ticket available, and I was consigned to spend those two hours wandering the Walker Art Center (“the Walker”) (the two are attached) waiting for him.

The announcement of plans to build a new facility coupled with the Walker’s intention to demolish the old building (designed by Ralph Rapson) caused a major uproar. In 2002 the National Trust for Historic Preservation put the old Guthrie building on its list of the most endangered historic properties in the United States. Notwithstanding, at present the original Guthrie building is slated to be torn down late in the summer of 2006. I hope the old theatre gets saved, but just in case, the last time I was in Minneapolis I made it a point to stop by, say good-bye, and, of course, get me a cap.1

cap from the Guthrie1 My intention when I sat down to compose this entry was to write a relatively straight-forward “farewell to the Guthrie” entry. I had been forewarned that doing so would take some discipline on my part as I am on prednisone at the moment. Prednisone sort of gives my brain a wake-up call and suddenly I am ready to Dominate With Attitude. In other words, I get a tad manic. I had already appended a comment to a simple “you’re welcome” email reply to my sister that could take years of therapy fully to explore. That was followed by another email outburst to a friend concerning the act of reading a book as opposed to having read a book and how sometimes the enjoyment of reading a book crumbles into regret for having taken the time to read it if it has a singularly disappointing ending. I went on to question whether that regret was “justified” if the actual reading of the book had, overall, been a positive experience. I’m still on the fence in that regard with Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I am decidedly not on said fence when it comes to The Rule of Four – shame on them.

Nevertheless, I did real well with this entry right up until the time I completed my final draft. And then, a title for it leapt into my brain in the form of the word “touchstone.” To make sure “touchstone” meant what I intended to convey, I looked it up. The act of “looking up” for me generally entails first clicking on the “Encarta Dictionary Tools” icon on my Quick Launch Toolbar. Doing so in this case yielded no results because I searched for “touch stone.” Undaunted, I moved the mouse onto the desktop and clicked the Oxford English Dictionary (“OED”) icon. This time, I typed “touchstone” in the search field (what a difference a space makes) and arrived at the following definition: “That which serves to test the genuineness or value of anything; a test, criterion.” “Well,” I said to myself, “Self, as the first reparatory theater in the country, The Guthrie is a touchstone, and I confess I tend to judge other live theater performances by those experienced at The Guthrie, but that’s not what I meant to say, is it?” Before I knew it, my brain had taken command of my fingers and we were off on a mouse-clicking, word-typing fest in search of the word I had meant.

In the next few minutes I went from the OED back to Encarta to the Visual Thesaurus to the “Synonyms” function in Word. That’s when I stumbled across the “Lookup” function because the right-click menu for a word contained in the endnote portion of a document fails to contain a “Synonyms” option. Instead one gets the “Lookup” option which, when chosen, provides Encarta definitions, thesaurus entries in English and, in my case, French (though I’m sure that can be easily customized), as well as a translation section.

All right, back to my struggle to find the word I thought touchstone meant. But it’s really quite hopeless as I’ve now had to find out about “all right” as opposed to “alright.” The American Heritage Dictionary appends the following usage note to its online definition of “all right:”

Despite the appearance of the form alright in works of such well-known writers as Langston Hughes and James Joyce, the single word spelling has never been accepted as standard. This is peculiar, since similar fusions such as already and altogether have never raised any objections. The difference may lie in the fact that already and altogether became single words back in the Middle Ages, whereas alright has only been around for a little more than a century and was called out by language critics as a misspelling. Consequently, one who uses alright, especially in formal writing, runs the risk that readers may view it as an error or as the willful breaking of convention.

(So, does using it as the “willful breaking of convention” make it alright? Even so, how will we know? And what if, deciding to give an author the benefit of the doubt, we’re wrong?)

Okay, back “on task.” From “touchstone” I went to “waypost” and “marker” and other similar words that came to mind. Eventually, I ended up at which presented me with the term “benchmark.” That sounded right/rang true. I was pretty sure I meant “benchmark” when I initially thought “touchstone.” Having answered that question, it was time for a nap.

After said nap, I started writing this endnote. At this point, some of you may be asking, “what does it matter? After all, the terms ‘benchmark’ and ‘touchstone’ are ‘synonymous’.” (Don’t worry, I am not going there – not yet, at any rate.) Suffice that I wanted a term that conveyed a sense of place as well as an abstract concept. For me, “benchmark” does that more so than “touchstone.” Even so, neither term really served my purpose, and so I had to resort to making one up.

The first word that came to mind was “mindpost.” As near as I can tell, “mindpost” has not yet made it into any dictionary or thesaurus. A Google search yields a “” and a link to a blog where the term is used by someone to describe his blog entry. I considered using “mindpost” and so give the term a second definition, but instead I settled on “mindmark.” Again, I found no dictionary or thesaurus entries for this word. There is a “,” but I really can’t tell what it’s all about. There also seems to be a “mindmark” entity associated with Legos®. I found no evidence, however, of the term being used as I mean it; i.e., as a landmark in one’s brain, but that is precisely what The Guthrie is for me — a place I can visit every now and again and, for a moment at least, re-experience some of the most excellent times of my life.

next post: Happy Bloomsday
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