Actors unite on Guthrie stage

Juliette Crane

University theater students will soon have a new place to play.
Guthrie Theater officials are in the midst of full-scale plans for a bigger theater, closer to the University, providing theater students and faculty members with a new and different space to work in.
The theater’s prospective site on south West River Parkway, near St. Anthony Falls and the Stone Arch Bridge, will allow for more joint workshops and other programs between the University and the Guthrie.
Steve Rosenstone, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, recently announced details of the first intensive program to allow students to work directly with the Guthrie’s artistic staff.
Auditions are currently underway for an actor-training program that gives incoming freshmen the opportunity to develop as artists under the direction of accomplished professionals.
Beginning fall semester 2000, 16 to 20 students from around the country, including the University, will enroll in the four-year intensive program, which includes a solid liberal arts curriculum, coordinator Judy Bartl said.
“It would be a wonderful opportunity to get hands-on experience in a brand new theater,” said Lindsay Hinman, a University theatre arts and dance major.
University and Guthrie artists fit well together, as both are solely interested in the development of classical theater, rather than the training of actors and actresses for film and television.
In addition to the University’s program, Guthrie directors are working on a youth-training program to further develop young actors, artisans and future technicians, as well as an expanded educational program for students within the community.
The Guthrie’s move
Guthrie officials began planning for a move to the riverfront property as a result of large increases in ticket sales during the past few years, in addition to more productions and performances during the last season.
During the 1998-99 season, theatergoers broke attendance records with crowds of more than 360,000 people. This season, officials estimate more than 400,000 theatergoers will attend shows.
Future plans for the three-theater complex include a 1,300-seat thrust stage for large-scale and classic works, a 500-seat flexible proscenium stage for more intimate and contemporary work, and a black box theatre for new work and actor/artistic development.
The new complex will also allow for more legroom, better parking facilities and an additional area for restaurants and bars.
With an expansion site for the theater finally agreed upon by both the Minneapolis City Council and the theater’s board, Guthrie artistic director Joe Dowling said he is confident the theater’s riverfront plans will move quickly.
The prospective site is near newly renovated and still-vacant mills, where new high-end housing is being built, as well as other new warehouse rehabilitations, including the Milwaukee Depot and the Center for Book Arts. Additionally, it is just blocks from the proposed light-rail line.
The Guthrie currently operates out of five locations throughout Minneapolis, with 23 percent of its staff working off site. The theater’s signature space is next to the Walker Art Center, across from Loring Park in downtown Minneapolis.
Affordability of a new theater
The theater’s fund-raising history is strong, but it will still have hurdles to leap before the new theater can become a reality.
In addition to lobbying state officials for funding, Guthrie officials are expected to announce a capital campaign this month to begin raising the $75 million it needs to buy land and finance construction. If the Legislature approves the theater’s request for $25 million in state bonds, the complex will be complete by 2004.
However, there could be complications.
Some people worry the proposal could take away from other city bonding requests, including $3 million toward a new downtown library and another $3 million for redevelopment projects, such as new street connections between north Minneapolis and other areas of the city.
The bond proposal must also be approved by Gov. Jesse Ventura, who has set a low-bonding limit. State bonding requests total $1.5 billion this year, but Ventura is recommending only $400 million for specific projects — and the Guthrie is not one of them.
In fact, none of the arts organizations requesting capital funds from the state were among Ventura’s list of recommendations. In addition, Ventura did not fund the University’s proposed art building.
Theater and city leaders had considered building the theater’s new complex on the Parade ball fields site, near the Guthrie’s current location, but the complicated plan would require realigning city streets and moving the city’s impound lot and concrete crusher.
The riverfront site had previously been designated as the City Council’s preferred site for a new baseball and/or football stadium.
Part of the alternative stadium site covers four city blocks. Those blocks are home to the Bureau of Engravings site between Portland and 5th avenues South and a Minneapolis Star Tribune building at 329 Portland Avenue.

Juliette Crane welcomes comments at (612) 627-4070 x3238.