Too late to support Play by Play Theatre Bookstore

by Leah Cooper • Jun. 14

News and notes | Management | Training

There will be those who challenge me on this, but I think I was Play by Play Theatre Bookstore's single biggest fan. Ever since turning into a theater kid in a theater candy store at the Drama Bookstore in New York, I've wanted one of our very own here in the Twin Cities. When Kelly Schaub decided to open one, I thought, "If anyone can do it, Kelly can." Kelly has the kind of tenacity that makes a bull terrier look lazy. And that's what it would take to succeed starting a small business in a tattered economy, to make an independent bookstore sustainable, to take on a for-profit endeavor designed to serve an industry that is a bit beleagured and broke itself.

Some might say Kelly was crazy to try it, and perhaps she was. But she was not impulsive, mindless, or whimsical about it. She planned it for years, studied, researched, invested, saved, prepared in every possible way. And with every additional layer in the plan that she shared with me, I got more excited. I dreamed of the day when the cold, lifeless experience of trying to decode one-paragraph synopses on publishers' Web sites would be replaced by the joyful live experience of touching the pages and reading the climactic dialogue of the latest, hottest scripts.

I was at one of the painting parties for the first location on Selby Avenue, high on paint fumes, ladders, and the smell of paper and binding, and I got all silly-warm-fuzzy watching actors, directors, writers come together giggling to spruce up a new space made just for us. And I thought, "The theater community is going to love this." A place for us. To read, to be inspired, to expand our horizons, and to bump into each other accidentally in cozy stacks along the way.

The next gifting holiday that rolled around my husband found just the perfect and most unexpected surprises for me at Play by Play, and I thought, "Yep, the gift market, that's gonna work for sure." Because where else could you buy stuff for theater dorks and be sure they'd like it? Not even glow-in-the-dark spike tape from Gopher could be quite as exciting as the Shakespeare finger puppets and perfect little tech-week clip lights that Kelly had.

The next summer, I found all kinds of people I immediately wondered why I hadn't known already at Theateropolis (where Play by Play took over the former Arise Bookstore space for a week), and I thought, "Wow, look at how these workshops and this space brought us together to challenge each other." Meanwhile, I kept reveling in the joyful surprise people would express when I told them we had our very own theater bookstore. And I was filled with vicarious anticipation when they said they'd go check it out very soon.

And then the new location in Lowertown Saint Paul turned out to be down the hall from my own office for the Minnesota Theater Alliance (at Springboard for the Arts). Now I felt all kinds of special: not just our very own bookstore, but my very own artsy, booksy kinda clubhouse just past the bathroom. "I'll take all my breaks down there," I thought, "and I'll see all of my colleagues all of the time, WOOT!"

During some kind of community hubbub time - I can't remember if it was an art crawl or Fringe or some clever new works reading series or workshop that Kelly put together - but one of those times when theater folks were coming and going and the space was buzzing with clever creative minds contemplating new ideas, I ran into four different colleagues I'd been meaning to get in touch with anyway. And I thought, "Yes, this place is actually going to expand and diversify the work we do, because we're going to read. And think. And talk to each other about new ideas about making art."


That's me on the right, enjoying clever creative minds on the left, like Sonya Berlovitz, Alan Berks, and Ben Krywosz.

By this time, my breathless announcements that we had our very own theater bookstore were generally greeted by, "I know, I know, it's so exciting, I really need to go check it out." And by this time, Kelly was putting all kinds of stuff on the shelves hoping to widen her shopper base, she was pumping out the newsletters, and she was running every kind of discount offer any retailer has ever thought of. And she was inviting the community in for just about every kind of event they ever said they wanted: new play readings, lectures by exotic guest speakers, book signings, book clubs, workshops, parties, fundraisers, board meetings, forums, talk-backs, ... you name it. And I thought, "Wow, this theater community is so lucky. I hope people are buying books."

Well, as it turned out, they weren't. And entirely too few of those who kept meaning to check it out never did. And for all our grantspeak and mission statements talking about building community, apparently we weren't interested in supporting this kind of community within our own industry. And though many of us argue vehemently that if you don't pay artists you won't get art, we didn't seem to think that having our own theater bookstore was worth buying our theater books locally.

And so the market speaks.

As for me, feeling as selfish and bratty as a kid whose candy has been taken away, I will be grumbling and shaking my fist a bit at this community as I head past that dark door, down a quieter hallway, to sit in my office and replace yet one more beautiful live experience with a lonely virtual one.

If you want to say goodbye, get some great deals, and help Kelly with the last of her cashflow challenges, stop by the closing sale - 50% or more off of all books and merchandise - starting this Thursday June 16 at 10:00 A.M. Details below.

Play by Play Theatre Bookstore
308 Prince Street Suite 234
Saint Paul MN 55101
(651) 330-1124

Thursday 10-6
Friday 10-6
Saturday 10-4
Sunday 10-2
Monday 10-6


PBP closing

I'm as sorry as anyone (with the possible exception of Kelly) that PBP is closing. But I can't really find it in my heart to blame the theatre community for doing something wrong. How many theatre books do we buy? Maybe 4 or 5 a year, if that. I myself mostly bought presents for other people. At Christmastime, I always made a trip there.

And you have to remember that, for those of us who didn't live or work in the neighborhood, it took real effort to go to PBP. Therefore, I only stopped by perhaps 6-8 times during its entire existence. So despite the fact that almost every theatre book I bought while it was open came from PBP and the fact that I always came out with more than I had intended to buy, I couldn't really keep it alive. I feel sad about this, and I loved the place, but I don't think I need a lecture. And I don't think the community does, either. Can't we just grieve together?

Daniel Pinkerton, playwright

Re: Play by Play Theatre

Very sad news and I confess I am one who ever made it into Play by Play. I passed by it several times going to and from Springboard for the Arts but always lacking leisure to explore. And that speaks to what I think was the fundamental obstacle to the Play by Play business plan: location, location location. Better location might not have been enough to save the store but without it I don't think the store stood a chance. I say this with regret, not schadenfreude.

There isn't a large enough TC theatre community for a theatre bookstore to survive as a destination. I don't think the Drama Book Store in NYC can either, it survives (and flourishes, I hope) because it's in the heart of the NYC theatre district. Actors, directors, playwrights, etc. have ample reason to make Times Square a destination auditions, classes, performances, etc. and while they're close by it's almost impossible not to drop in to DBS and browse.

The only way I think PBP could have survived was to be in a location that was, in itself, a destination: a place where people who buy theatre books need to be on a regular basis. I'm not sure there is such a place in the TC but hidden away in an office bldg., off the street in St. Paul was definitely not it. Perhaps Uptown? Dunno. I know that I visit Uptown at least 2-3 times a week. My grocery store is there, so is my bank, good restaurants and my two favorite movie theatres. And when I visit Uptown on errands or pleasure, at least half the time I wander into Magers & Quinn Booksellers and never walk out empty handed. But Magers & Quinn is never a destination in and of itself- I practically never go specifically to MQ, but always because I'm in the vicinity. Granted, that's my personal sphere but I suspect I'm not alone in observing the distinction between a place I have to go and a place I don't.

I'm very sorry PBP closed- I'd like to see the TC have such a resource but I'm reluctantly doubtful that the economics would support it. Dum spiro, spero!