Starting Gate Productions bows out with nifty take on theatrical redemption

Categories: Theater
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John Autey
Starting Gate Productions is shutting down after its final production: Our Country's Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker (running through May 16), a smart and engaging story about convicts in Australia's penal colony finding unforeseen nobility through staging a play. Starting Gate artistic director Richard Jackson has decidedly mixed feelings about letting the stage go dark after 8 seasons. 

"Closing the company is a mixed bag," says Jackson. "Personally there's sadness but also a great sense of relief, since I've been pretty much running it myself for the last two years. Going back to the beginning there were six of us, all committing a huge amount of time to running the company."

Starting Gate has been a stalwart on the local theater scene, programming full seasons first at the defunct Loading Dock, then at the Mounds Theatre. They tackled everything from Shakespeare to contemporary comedy, providing a venue for a wide array of talent. Jackson is justifiably proud of the company's accomplishments, but sees that it's time to move on. 

"I would have liked to see us make it to 10 years," says Jackson. "That's a milestone that I had in my head. But I just can't. It's just wearing me down."

Jackson describes a gradual erosion of board members with day jobs and myriad other commitments (Jackson works a day job at the U of M as a financial advisor). In recent years he's been both managing director and artistic director. Recently he's also been to go-to guy on technical matters, which he describes as "a laugh. My technical skills are almost nonexistent."

Our Country's Good is an appropriate send-off for a company that essentially ran on the fuel of loving theater. With a big cast and sprawling script, Jackson directs an entertaining show that speaks to the essential nobility of theater's affects on humanity. 

"It's been on the radar since season two, but it never seemed to fit," Jackson says. "It's all about the redeeming power of theater. Most of us do it because we love it."

After wrapping up Starting Gate's business following the show's run (while the company has debt, Jackson describes it as "not absurd"), Jackson looks forward to getting back into freelance directing and acting on the local scene. 

"I have an Ivey Award in my back pocket to market myself," Jackson notes (for Night Mother at Workhouse Theatre). "But people don't call because they know I'm ridiculously busy with Starting Gate."

That will likely change. For now, Jackson is clearly looking forward to not dealing with the business side of running a theater. And while Starting Gate's absence on the scene will certainly leave a void, it was a memorable run. 

"First I'm just looking forward to taking a break," Jackson says with a laugh. Chances are, though, that the bug to return will strike him sooner rather than later. 



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