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ISSUE 119 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/17/2006

Guthrie moves downtown

By Peter Farrell
Variety Editor

Friday, March 17, 2006

Way back in 1999, when the Y2K threat loomed large on the horizon and 'N Sync was still frighteningly popular, Minneapolis' Guthrie Theater announced plans to move from the warm bosom of the Walker Art Center to the banks of the Mississippi River in the city's historic Mills District.

The Guthrie, which up until then had paid the Walker only $1 a year in rent since it was built in 1963, sought a new location for a variety of reasons, most of them administrative and spatial. The new location, spread out over 250,000 square feet, will unite three Guthrie affiliated theaters in one location.

The Guthrie will finally have the space necessary to make some long desired additions to the company's main facility. The new complex will house the theater's administrative offices as well as production and rehearsal spaces, educational classrooms and a restaurant.

The Walker also benefits from the Guthrie's departure to downtown. Long anxious to expand its facilities, the Walker's triumphant new construction, first unveiled on April 17, 2005, will finally be completed after the Guthrie ends its run on 725 Vineland Place.

William Grier, assistant director of communications at the Guthrie, emphasized the importance of the theater's ability to centralize its satellite companies.

“The biggest advantage of the new space is that we'll now have the thrust stage [the main stage], the proscenium stage and a flexible seating black box studio in one complex,” Grier said.

With the added space, the Guthrie will be able to offer better services to Minnesota's theater aficionados.

“We love our space at the Walker on Vineland, but with the new location, we get to offer more in one location,” Grier said. “Our educational programs, for instance, will be significantly expanded with the move.”

Already renowned for its effort to bring theater closer to the community, the Guthrie Learning Center (GLC) will be able to expand upon well-established programs as well as develop new courses of theater education. The theater, which already enters into hundreds of school-based partnerships throughout the state of Minnesota, hopes to use the new location to motivate to engage the dramatic arts consistently and passionately. This summer, the GLC has expanded its summer camp programs to take full advantage of the new facilities. The Guthrie's Day Camp, Theater Camp and Camera 1 program all stand to benefit tremendously from the move the downtown.

The Camera 1 program, offered for the first time this summer at the new location, illustrates the Guthrie's reinvigorated effort to unite theater with more modern forms of production. Targeted towards middle school and high school students interested in film, advertising or television journalism, the offers young actors and writers a chance to hone their skills in the flashier mediums of television and film, while simultaneously immersing them in Guthrie's tradition of smart, classic and erudite theater productions.

The Guthrie chose to end its 43-year run at the old location with a run of one the paradigmatic plays in the Western theatrical canon, Shakespeare's “Hamlet.” The run will end on May 7, which marks the 43rd anniversary of the Guthrie's initial opening of “Hamlet” in 1963. The epic tragedy, long considered one of Shakespeare's most penetrating and powerful plays, opened last weekend to a packed house.

Joe Dowling, the theater's artistic director since 1995, is personally directing the effort that, while accompanied with some sadness, mostly portends the coming joy of move that will allow the long-enduring theater company to realize its full potential.

“The most important thing about the move is that we will be able to offer better services,” Grier said. “The new location will only affect our upcoming programs for the better.”

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