There’s a whole lot of theater going on….
I may be stating the obvious, but Minnesota’s theater community is vast. 450+ theaters and thousands of people – it is extensive in its geography and impressive in its quality. While 450 may just feel like an arbitrary number, take a moment to think about how many theaters you actually know of, first-hand. While it is not my intention in this article to figure out where we rank nationally from the theater-per-capita perspective, there is a lot to be proud of within our theaters across the state. Here are a few timely and fun highlights in celebration of our vibrant theater scene:
- A quick count from the website shows 86 companies are part of the Ivey Awards, and we will gather at the State Theatre on September 25th to celebrate their work.
- This year, Minnesota hosted the regional and national Association of Community Theater festivals, in addition to the longstanding Minnesota Association of Community Theaters Festival with the support of 53 member community theaters and many artists.
- 167 productions with 1,200+ artists participated in this year’s MN Fringe Festival.
- According to the Creative MN 2017 report: “the Twin Cities are second only to New York City for percentage of the workforce employed in theater companies. New York City has 3 times the national average, the Mpls/St Paul MSA has 2.4 times the national average.”
Getting the Full Picture
While the Twin Cities harbor the largest concentration of theaters, Twin Cities theaters only make up a part of the picture. Minnesota metro areas including Duluth, Brainerd, Rochester, Mankato, Bemidji, Winona, and Moorhead all have vibrant theater communities, as do many of the rural areas surrounding them. Many of these theaters boast beautiful historically renovated or brand-new, state-of-the-art facilities. Some create theater in found spaces or facilities that could use significant investment, because that is what they have available to perform in.
Partnerships with regional arts councils, universities and colleges, and tourism groups create unique performing arts activities for residents and guests to the areas. Those involved may be employees, contractors, or volunteers. They may be professionally trained, or simply have enthusiasm to create art. There is no cut and dried standard anywhere in the state when it comes to theater. The main common factor is that communities crave the performing arts, and theater people find ways to create productions, usually with limited resources.
Almost ten years ago, when the founders of the Minnesota Theater Alliance discussed what this arts service organization should look like, they made the decision that it should truly be a statewide endeavor. Therefore, it has been my focus over the past year to learn as much as I can about our whole theater ecosystem, not just the areas with the greatest population. When I came on board at the Minnesota Theater Alliance, I assumed that I already had a strong understanding of our theater community; with 15 years of experience working with many theaters in several different roles, I felt confident that I understood who the players were. Very quickly in my new job at the Alliance, I realized I had only seen the tip of the amazing iceberg that is Minnesota theater.
I cannot think of a more exciting example of connecting our statewide theaters than our first statewide theater conference, which took place in July of 2016 at St. John’s University in Collegeville. At our first conference, about 75 people from theaters across the state came together for a weekend of learning, discussion and fun. We referred fondly to the weekend as “Theater Camp”.
Folks employed by or involved in theaters of all sizes and types made up this group, just as they make up our Alliance theater membership. While great takeaways were had from workshops and trainings, it was very clear that the most valuable aspect of that weekend was simply having theater people from across the state in the same room.
Coming together like this reminds us exactly why we have an Alliance of theaters. While the Theater Alliance offers a variety of programs and services to help theaters and theater practitioners do their work and make their art, perhaps our greatest asset is that we can bring the community together for the good of all. If you have attended a TCG conference, or a USITT convention, or an AACT festival, you know how powerful it can be when a group of theater people come together outside of their normal production process to meet people with life experiences that are different from their own. On a statewide scale, the Minnesota Theater Alliance Statewide Theater Conference (MTASTC - #rhymeswithfantastic) aims to do just that, and we invite you to join us.
Our second annual statewide theater conference will take place October 6-8, 2017 at Hamline University. While space is limited at this conference, we want to make sure that as many people as possible know about the opportunity. The more theaters we have represented, (as well as independent artists!) the stronger our sense of united purpose and collective strength. By connecting and sharing, we can return to our own theaters and communities with new ideas, partners, and inspired energy.
I hope I will see you at MTASTC in a few weeks. If you can’t make it, send someone else from your company! If you have a show that weekend, our schedule makes it possible to attend most events and still make it to an evening call time.
Looking through my files recently, I uncovered the following quote from one of our member theaters, which was written several years ago as part of a membership recruitment effort:
“Our community is stronger when we invite everyone into this conversation. We are proud to join with the many other theaters in Minnesota who seek to create vibrant, engaging theater and expand the conversation to every Minnesotan and everyone who travels here to enjoy the arts scene we create together. Together, we can to not only improve the art we produce, but the administration, promotion and fundraising that allows us to get that art to our patrons.”
Reflecting on these words, I can see that the Theater Alliance goals of connection and solidarity remain as strong today as they were when the organization was created, and speak volumes to the importance of gathering together this October and into the future.