When Marcela Lorca left the prestigious Guthrie Theater after serving many years as its movement director and choreographer to take the helm of Ten Thousand Things, it was hard to imagine her moving to a theater more different.
The Guthrie has three stages and is known for its elaborate sets and costumes. Ten Thousand Things Theater Company has no stages and is known for bare-bones productions that tour to correctional facilities, schools and community centers.
But Lorca says her new job is not so different from some of her earliest work in theater, in her hometown of Santiago, Chile.
"So in a way, it's back to the beginning, and back to picking up the broom and do it yourself, and solve problems as they come," she said. "And that's been actually refreshing."
Ten Thousand Things is currently touring its production of "The Sins of Sor Juana" to audiences around the state. The show caps off Lorca's first season as the company's artistic director.
In that year she has stayed true to the company's mission, while adding an artistic sensibility all her own.
"The Sins of Sor Juana" follows the life of the 17th century self-taught scholar and poet, Juana Inés de la Cruz. Lorca said Cruz came from low beginnings, but her intellectual prowess earned her an invitation to the Viceroy's court in Mexico City. She became a nun in order to pursue her studies without distraction, but eventually her writings on the need for women's education got her in trouble. The play takes place while she is in the convent, fighting for her right to continue her studies and poetry.
To Lorca, the story seemed like a good match for Ten Thousand Things.
"And I was thinking in particular to people who are incarcerated ... what they go through and that they could empathize with this character that is so creative with her writing, so creative with her imagination, and that even given the confines of her space that she finds a way to free herself," Lorca said.
She has spent the past year getting to know her new audiences. She said that unlike the majority of modern theatergoers, many of her audience members don't own or have access to smart phones or other distracting devices.
"And those are the best-listening audiences," she said. "They listen very deeply, and language falls into them and into their hearts, really, like water in a desert. So they are the most appreciative audiences that you could ever wish for."
But a performance at an all-male correctional facility will land very differently from a show for an all-female audience, or at a community YMCA, Lorca said. That's challenging for the actors.
"So they'll have a show where everybody's laughing a lot, and then they'll have a next show where everybody's feeling things very deeply, and then they'll have a next show where people are coming and going and they just have to go with the flow and just be present," she said.
Lorca hopes audiences will be inspired by the story of Sor Juana. Even though she lived in the 17th century, the issues she fought for are still very much alive today.
"Her fight is still our fight as women," she said, "that we still have to fight for our rights to work, to be heard, to be respected. As not only women, but as intellectual powerhouses."
Public performances of "The Sins of Sor Juana" run through June 9 at Open Book in Minneapolis.
Lorca will be back for a second season with Ten Thousand Things, starting in October with Shakespeare's "The Winter's Tale."