The Jungle Theater’s Boehlke to retire in 2015

Bain Boehlke, founder and artistic director of The Jungle Theater in Minneapolis, announced today that he plans to retire from his post in June 2015.

"I've been here a quarter of a century and I think that's a good number," Boehlke said. "I'm not by any means stopping directing, acting and designing, but I'll do it in another fashion. I'm not sure what that is yet but I trust in the fates. I'm still healthy and still running around, so I look forward to the next incarnation of my career."

Bain Boehlke in "The Gin Game" at The Jungle Theater in 2008. (Photo by Michal Daniel)

Boehlke, a native of Warroad, made the announcement just two days before his 75th birthday.

"I would hate to overstay my welcome, to get aged and not be able to do my job," he said. "I'm still in good health and I can still do my work. In fact, I'm at the top of my form. I just think it's wise to leave an organization when it's at an apex and it's healthy and strong, rather than wait until things start to fall apart."

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Five years ago, Boehlke took a sabbatical, fueling speculation that he might be preparing to step down. Joel Sass, then associate artistic director, was believed to be the heir apparent. While Sass no longer has that position, he still directs regularly at The Jungle.

"The assumption that I was stepping down was an assumption by others," explained  Boehlke. "That was never my assumption, and it was never our intention. Joel Sass' name will definitely be in the running for the new artistic director but I think the search may be a little broader. That's up to the board."

The theater's board of directors has stated that it will appoint an interim director while it searches for a permanent replacement for Boehlke. Executive Director Margo Gisselman will remain in her position. Boehlke said he will retain the title of "Artistic Director Emeritus" and will continue to be involved with the theater company in a less formal way.

Boehlke, who has been recognized for his commitment to theater by both the Ivey Awards and the McKnight Foundation, has been active in the Twin Cities theater scene for more than a half-century, including a 13-year stint at the Children's Theatre Company. When he first came to Minneapolis there were just a handful of theater companies, but he said the 1960s brought with them a cultural renaissance.

"I think the Guthrie Theater was a catalyst in a way , but I think the city was just burgeoning, bubbling with creative talent," Boehlke said. "Within a decade there were close to 100 theaters here.  It was so exciting for me as a young artist to be involved in that movement."

Today, Boehlke sees a whole new wave of young theaters in the Twin Cities. Despite a tidal wave of electronic devices that offer entertainment at the touch of a finger, theater continues to play a vital role in the cultural life of the Twin Cities.

"I think the scene is really quite strong," he said. "I've great hopes for it. I just think it's going to continue to be very exciting."

If he could ask for anything, Boehlke said, it would be for a greater respect of the craft of theater.

"You have to pay attention to the details - the acting, costume design, the marriage of the elements of theater, the music, the soundscapes, the settings - to create a whole world the audience can enter into," he said. "I'm in no way critical of anyone's endeavors because it's a real bear; it requires a tremendous amount of faith in the art. Theater will lead and guide you if you have the courage to surrender."

Boehlke's last day as The Jungle's artistic director is set for June 30, 2015. This fall, he will star in The Jungle's production of "On Golden Pond" beside longtime acting partner Wendy Lehr.