This week’s Eye on Monday has a dual purpose. It not only will highlight one of the two professional theatre companies for young audiences in the Twin Cities, but it will also serve as what amounts to an opening act for a new Blog Harbor feature called Spotlight. Spotlight will be an interview series that does exactly what the word suggests: Shine a bright light on someone worthy of your attention, no matter their profession.
Tomorrow kicks off Spotlight with someone I hold in the highest personal and professional regard: Sandy Boren-Barrett, artistic director of Stages Theatre Company.
And so today, what better subject for Eye on Monday than… Stages Theatre Company (STC), a wonderful theatre in the quaint Minneapolis suburb of Hopkins, Minnesota.
Founded in 1984, STC has grown to become one of the largest and most respected professional theatres for young audiences in the United States serving over 120,000 individuals annually through production, training and in-school outreach programs. STC is widely recognized as a leader in theatre production and education for children and youth. They’ve received a number of regional and national awards including the 2001 Award for Arts Organization Excellence in Educational Programming from the Minnesota Alliance for Arts in Education and have been supported by the National Endowment for the Arts. The NEA has awarded STC grants for both their production and school outreach programming. STC operates out of the Hopkins Center for the Arts, a 37,000 square foot arts facility located on Mainstreet in the heart of downtown Hopkins. Productions are mounted in their attractive, and spacious, mainstage theatre as well as the more intimate studio theatre.
What makes STC such a vibrant, compelling and unique player in both the Twin Cities theatre scene as well as on the national stage is their commitment to training young artists.
STC’s conservatory program and workshops engage children and adolescents ages 4-18 in high quality theatre arts training programs during after-school and non-school hours. No less important is their desire to provide students with opportunities for personal growth through learning responsibility, self-discipline, perseverance and cooperation as both an individual and within the ensemble of a class. As one who has been an instructor in the acting conservatory for the better part of the past six years, it is nothing short of thrillig to watch these kids develop both as artists and as people.
The annual season of plays offered by STC inspires audiences with high quality productions of new work, popular musicals and adaptations of beloved children’s stories. The method at STC is simple: Feature youth performing with professional adult actors who serve as mentors. The Twin Cities area is rich in talent and STC engages some of the most respected theatre designers, playwrights, directors, artists and technical personnel in the creation of their plays. A very high premium is placed on youth participants learning important values as part of their experience. More to the point – it’s not just about learning lines, singing songs and taking bows. They learn to respect and care for their fellow actors, and to be responsible and trustworthy.
Another wonderful aspect of STC is their commitment to the development of material that reflects the diversity of the Twin Cities community. Accordingly, they seek to commission and present work that represents the experiences of people of color which diversifies the content of their production season, attracts new audiences and provides enlightening theatre for all.
For example, for the 2004-05 season STC produced Jack and Rochelle: A Holocaust Story of Love and Resistance. For this project, they commissioned award-winning playwright Buffy Sedlachek to write the script, which is based on the collected memoirs of Holocaust survivors and Minnesota residents Jack and Rochelle Sutin. The play chronicled their personal experiences and described the dangerous circumstances under which they resisted and survived the war.
In the 2005-06 season they produced A Single Shard, a play based on the Newbery award-winning book by Linda Sue Park. For this production they commissioned playwright Katie Leo to write the script which explored a young Korean adoptee’s struggle with her cultural identity. Leo is a highly regarded local artist and a Korean adoptee.
And this season Katie Leo was once again commissioned to adapt Ken Mochizuki’s award-winning book entitled Baseball Saved Us. The story is set in the 1940’s during World War II and is about the experiences of Japanese Americans placed in internment camps in the United States.
Mission statements for theatres are often a long, drawn-out treatise that ends up being more confusing than a German translation of Hamlet. Not so for STC. Concise, direct and spot-on, it resonates for anyone who has passed through their doors:
Stages Theatre Company is committed to the enrichment and education of children and youth in a professional theatre environment that stimulates artistic excellence and personal growth.
Ultimately, STC does much more than produce great theatre. They make a profound difference in the lives of young people. With daily extracurricular activities dominating the schedules of young people more than what most adults face in their professional lives , there’s a reason the vast majority of kids who commit to the theatre’s acting conservatory remain with it all four years.
But what’s most compelling about STC is their board and staff are acutely aware of the powerful impact the theatre has on each and every young person who comes through their doors.
The play’s the thing. But at Stages Theatre Company the kids are center stage. Always.
Thank you to Jill Harper and Danielle Ryan of Stages Theatre Company for providing photos and source material.
About the Author: Christopher Gabriel is the host of the cleverly named Christopher Gabriel Program on AM 970 WDAY in Fargo, North Dakota. You can hear him weekdays from 9 to Noon. As a writer and humorist, his work has been been published online by the Chicago Sun-Times, Reuters and publications within the Sun-Times News Group.