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All the Lights On

All the Lights On

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Reimagining Theater with Ten Thousand Things

Author Michelle Hensley

Minnesota Historical Society Press (March 1, 2015)

All the Lights On is a history of the Twin Cities' theater company Ten Thousand Things, which brings intelligent, lively theater to nontraditional audiences—to prisons and homeless shelters, adult education centers and rural areas—as well as the general public.


Published in association with HowlRound, A Center for the Theater Commons

Michelle Hensley, founder of Ten Thousand Things Theater in Minneapolis, shares more than twenty years of her company’s nationally unique work bringing professional theater to those in prisons, homeless shelters, adult education centers, and rural areas, as well as the general public. More than a chronological history, All the Lights On is also about the radiant power of theater.

In this articulate and compelling book, Hensley distills what nontraditional audiences, along with the conditions her artists must perform under to reach them, have taught her about Brecht, the Greeks, Shakespeare, musicals, and the essence of what is necessary to make vibrant and essential theater. Her experiences lead her to conclude that theater artists become better and the art form itself much richer when everyone is included in the audience. In Ten Thousand Things productions, people from very different economic classes sit next to each other in the round and often experience unexpected connections with each other. Hensley writes in the introduction, “Not only do we have a chance to experience the multiple viewpoints of many characters in the play, but with all the lights on, we are able to consider the differing viewpoints of the other audience members seated around the circle. It all serves to increase, just a little, the radiance of our world.”

Author information

Michelle Hensley is founder and artistic director of Ten Thousand Things in Minneapolis, where she has brought over fifty tours of award- winning drama to nontraditional audiences in prisons, shelters, and housing projects, as well as the general public.

Reviews and news

Advance Praise:

“Michelle Hensley’s radiant vision has already converted thousands (including me), and this book will swell that number. One of the very few books that should—no, must—be read by anyone who cares about making an American theater that matters.”
Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director, The Public Theater

“A call to arms for our field. Like the seminal works of Grotowski and Brook, Hensley’s book in its quiet way could redefine and revolutionize theater for generations to come.”
Bill Rauch, Artistic Director, Oregon Shakespeare Festival and co-founder, Cornerstone Theater Company

All the Lights On is an indispensable guide to doing this work: a manifesto, a checklist, and a road map. It captures Michelle’s special voice—conversational and warm, passionate and smart—as it reminds us of the theater’s unique capacity to connect us all to our one beautiful humanity.”
Barry Edelstein, Artistic Director, The Old Globe

“In Hensley’s work through Ten Thousand Things, everything and everyone conspires to make the theatrical experience excellent: the central focus on telling a great story; the hiring of the best actors from diverse backgrounds to tell that story; the setup of the room that makes the story come alive intimately, honestly, and with full immediacy; and finally, and most essentially, the audience itself, different in different settings, representing everyone in our society.”
Jon Moscone, Artistic Director, California Shakespeare Theater

“Working with Ten Thousand Things remains one of the most artistic and humanitarian experiences of my adult life as an artist and person. The world of Ten Thousand Things reflects the world we live in, and no audience is turned away. It is unlike any other theater I know of. To support Ten Thousand Things is to support the human in us all.”
Marion McClinton, Tony nominated director

“It’s a delicious irony that to see some of the most skilled theater in the Twin Cities, you must journey to its least prosperous fringes.”
Dominic Papatola, St. Paul Pioneer Press

In the Media:

New York Times feature on Ten Thousand Things

"All The Lights On is part diary and part exegesis on principles that have evolved through Hensley’s decades of work in the theatre: Respect the audience, for example. . . .There’s no do-gooding about her work. Her book instead offers principles on emotional pain, on metaphor, on rehearsals, on script work, on fable and parable—all of which accrue into an aesthetic."
American Theatre

MinnPost Feature
Star Tribune Review
MPR Interview
Minnesota Playlist interview
Minnesota Playlist review
Pioneer Press
Longfellow Messenger
KUMD interview
WATCH: The LiveStream of Michelle’s Book Talk on HowlRound

Read an excerpt!

  • This title is also available at your favorite e-book vendor.
  • 232 pages
  • 40 B&W PHOTOS
  • 7 x 9 inches
  • ISBN: 9780873519830

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