Art marks local landmark’s rebirth

Varsity Theatre owner Jason McLean said the space cost more than $270,000 to refurbish.

Mohamad Elmasry

Revisiting Dinkytown’s past, Varsity Theatre reopened last weekend.

The theater’s Jan. 14 reopening featured the film “Shinders to Shinders,” an interactive art performance and a handful of performances by local musicians. Approximately 50 people attended the event.

Saturday evening’s reopening featured more musical performances, and approximately 30 people attended.

The shows were the first since owner Jason McLean – who also owns the Loring Pasta Bar and the Kitty Cat Klub – began revamping the space in early September and since the classic theater closed down in 1989.

The weekend’s opening was not heavily advertised and was intentionally low-key, said Patrick Scully, Varsity Theatre associate performance arts development director.

Varsity Theatre will start with weekend shows and add nights gradually within the coming weeks, Scully said.

McLean said more than $270,000 was spent to refurbish the space, which will serve as a multipurpose performing arts venue.

Mclean said he thinks the opening of the new theater “is going to make Dinkytown a destination for the entire Twin Cities again.”

The theater includes a bar and cafe. The cafe is one of the location’s unique features, Scully said. It will be open during days while artists are rehearsing for shows. Patrons can drink espresso and have a bite to eat while watching rehearsals, Scully said.

During rehearsal breaks cafe patrons can also mingle with artists, he said.

McLean said he intends to use the theater’s nontraditional space and setting to provide alternative seating and viewing areas. In addition to standard chairs, air mattresses, pillows and bean bags are also seating options.

Local filmmaker Emily Goldberg said she likes the way the theater’s layout gives performers and directors creative freedom.

“The first thing I did was lie down (on one of the air mattresses) and think about projecting images on the ceiling,” she said.

The theater’s setup will allow artists to decide where people will sit, what they will sit on and where the stage will be, Scully said.

McLean said he plans to benefit from the location near the University campus, and he intends to differentiate the theater from other entertainment options. He said he hopes students and faculty members will use the venue.

“I want to stand for some things,” McLean said. “If you create gathering places that are designed to (instill) consciousness, the students who have the smarts to pick up on that will respond appropriately.”