When COVID-19 hit the Twin Cities artistic scene and Minneapolis’ streets filled with protests following the murder of George Floyd, Jack Reuler knew the Mixed Blood Theatre would need to change dramatically.
That change, it turns out, will include Reuler relinquishing the reins of the theater company he founded in 1976.
“What's happened in our field and in our city and in the nation, it was time for a leadership change,” Reuler said. “It is not a time for an old white guy to be running an organization that does what Mixed Blood does.”
The transition wasn’t pre-ordained when the pandemic forced a reckoning for Mixed Blood last year. Like all enterprises that rely on live audiences, the company tried to figure out how to adapt to the new reality.
“When you’re in a field whose signature is assembling people for a common shared experience, and it’s illegal to do that, what do you do?” Reuler said.
Mixed Blood, located in Minneapolis’ Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, quickly transformed its building — an old firehouse — into at various times a food bank, a census-taking and voter registration center, as well as COVID-19 testing site. The company commissioned artists to create responses to city events.
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But Reuler also started meeting with staff and board members to figure out a strategic plan for the organization moving forward.
“When COVID came and then the death of George Floyd came and theater was deemed on the lowest tier of essential, Mixed Blood started a strategic planning process and really said, ‘How do we go from the theater we do now reveals the change that is needed and now how do we use our theater to drive change?” Reuler said.
Seven months of planning later, Reuler is in agreement that it’s time for him to step down from the role he’s had at the theater for more than four decades.
Mixed Blood will start a national search for a new leader in May and plans to announce their choice in early 2022. Reuler will leave his position in July 2022.
He said the theater will continue to move forward. They already have an interactive show about race and philanthropy planned at Como Zoo in September.
“Stages and seats and intimacy and plays may not be all the way of the world,” Reuler said. “So we are going to do shows in places other than in our historic firehouse building.”
The director hasn’t completely figured out what he’ll do after July, but he knows it will involve social justice. And he’s excited for what will happen at the theater after he steps down as his community adapts to the changes the pandemic and the Floyd protests have made possible.
“[We will be] exploring things and trying to be the spark plug of change, not just the mirror to look at what change might be,” Reuler said. “It’s an exciting process. One of my personal joys in life has been ushering in the next generation of theater leaders. The time is right for Mixed Blood to have its next leader.”
Correction (April 30, 2021): An earlier version of this story misstated when Jack Reuler will be stepping down. The story has been updated.