Building a better BFA

BFA acting students will get love from the new Guthrie Theater

by Emily Garber

A young partnership at the University is quickly approaching a growth spurt.

The Bachelor of Fine Arts Actor Training Program is eagerly awaiting the Guthrie Theater’s upcoming move. The theater’s larger facility downtown on the river will mean more stages, staff and opportunities for the students in the University’s Bachelor of Fine Arts program.

The University and the Guthrie have had a relationship since the theater’s opening. Tyrone Guthrie, the theater’s founder, was drawn to Minneapolis as a location for his theater in part because of its active university theater community.

Only recently have the two organizations created a formal partnership ” the Actor Training Program ” based around the University’s academics and the theater’s professional standards.

Alumna Betsy Reisz was in one of the only two Bachelor of Fine Arts classes the program has graduated. “The reason I went to the University of Minnesota was because of the program and the Guthrie’s reputation.”

The Actor Training Program gives students opportunities to work directly with Guthrie actors and staff members.

“When we began, we were really unsure as to how far it was going to go,” said Judy Bartl, the department’s program director. Those involved are hopeful that the Guthrie’s move will mean another step up for the program.

“It’s been an incredibly wonderful relationship ” the curriculum, the recruitment, the faculty,” Bartl said.

Through the Actor Training Program, students spend the beginning of the week at the theater for “Guthrie Mondays,” where they meet with artists, directors and stage managers. This continues through junior year, when students begin developing their senior project.

Students also have the opportunity to use Guthrie lab space for productions. The old facility was, Bartl said, “always extremely accommodating.”

Yet because the building was set on the border between Uptown and downtown Minneapolis, the old facility’s main disadvantage was its location. Students traveling from school to the Guthrie for their studio workshops would either need to transfer bus lines or chance finding a parking spot.

The new facility is in Minneapolis’ Mill District. Not only will it be within walking distance of the University, but also a 1,000-vehicle parking garage will be across the street.

The new theater will have three stages, including a studio theater, as the “Black Box,” to house the Bachelor of Fine Arts program. Students will put on more performances in the new space as well as use it for practices and workshops.

A larger theater also means a larger staff ” 200 additional full-time workers ” which will give students more guidance.

“A building won’t create great theater,” said recently graduated Bachelor of Fine Arts student Claudia Vázquez. “It will be the people behind it.”

The new Guthrie will focus more on education, staff members said. Numerous classrooms and studios, one fully equipped with distance learning technology, will make up the Guthrie Learning Center.

Theater staff members also hope to expand that education, not only with the University, but also with other nonprofit organizations in the area, such as the Mill City Museum, the Open Book Center and MacPhail Center for the Arts.

By increasing space, staff members hope to increase the number of actors, directors, patrons and scholars. University of Minnesota students make up a small percentage of this number.

But the partnership is notably important to the theater’s success. With the opening of the new building, Bartl said, “I can only imagine seeing that relationship strengthen.”