Theatre in the Round Players (TRP) Overview
"[TRP is one of] a few local playhouses widely acknowledged as Institutions with a capital ‘I' . . . the founders of Theatre in the Round Players didn't realize in 1952 they were helping to create a national model . . . thus has this ‘community theater' - whose alumni have invigorated many other stages - helped build the theater community." -Minneapolis Star Tribune
2001-2002 was TRP's 50th Anniversary Season. Only one (non-academic) theatre in the Twin Cities is older than TRP -- Old Log Dinner Theatre in Excelsior, which was founded in 1942.
TRP produces 9 shows with performances on weekends, one of the few theatres offering mainstage productions year-round.
TRP performs on a unique arena stage in a century-old building. [more info follows]
An average of 400 people contribute their time and talents every year -- in acting, backstage work, and support services. TRP alumni appear on- and off-Broadway, in film and television, and in regional theatres and teaching. [more info follows]
The theatre serves as a major resource for the local performing arts community -- with large collections of props, costumes, and sets; databases of actors, directors, and designers. [more info follows]
The theatre is self-supporting, with its principal source of income from the box office. About 15% of its operating budget comes from patron donations and grants.
Uncle Vanya, part of TRP's 55th season, was the theatre's 450th mainstage show.
Several theatres in the Twin Cities got their start at TRP, including Penumbra Theatre in St. Paul, one of the nation's preeminent African-American theatres, and the Youth Performance Company, one of the top youth theatres. [more info follows]
The theatre maintains a paid staff of three positions.
Auditions are open to anyone in the community. An average of 80 people audition each month, of which 30 are new to TRP. Its listing of 2,200 actors is often used by theatres, casting agencies, filmmakers, and others.
In the biennial Festival of American Community Theatre, TRP has won first-place at the state level seven times, first-place at the regional level twice, and a national title -- a record for theatre in Minnesota. [more info follows]
TRP does not have an artistic director on staff: the theatre hires professional directors for each production.
Theatre in the Round Players, Inc. is a membership organization, open to anyone interested in its work and mission. There is no membership fee. There are more than 800 registered members. At an annual meeting, members elect the volunteer Board of Directors.
The Board of Directors oversee all operations of the theatre. Committees choose the play titles and artistic directors.
The theatre's facilities are accessible for audience members using wheelchairs. Equipment to help audience members hear is provided free of charge. Assisted viewing of performances -- in which a narrator describes visual elements of a production to patrons with visual impairment -- is also available free of charge.
Community theatre is the prevalent type of theatre in the United States.
There is no formal definition of "community theatre"; as a working definition, it is theatre in which actors are not paid. It encompasses groups in which no one is paid, to companies with million-dollar budgets in which everyone is paid except the actors.
These groups may perform musical revues...dramas of the Hmong culture... Shakespeare... material on the edge -- overall, non-professional theatre is made up of actors, designers, directors, stage managers, backstage and crew people who create theatre for its own sake.
Founded in 1952, TRP is the oldest community theatre in the Twin Cities. It is the fourth-oldest in the state, after Duluth (1914), Fargo-Moorhead (1946), and Rochester Civic (1951).
Of the community theatres considered in the top rank in the United States, TRP is one of the few in a major urban center (let alone an area with so many other theatres): major community theatres are in Kalamazoo, Michigan; Waterloo, Iowa; Topeka, Kansas; Omaha, Nebraska; Spokane, Washington.
Every two years, a Festival is held by the American Association of Community Theatre to select the best community theatre in the country. Entrants advance through three levels:
• At the state level, TRP has been named to first-place seven times, most recently in 2001;
• At the regional level, TRP has been named to first-place twice as the top theatre in seven states;
• At the national level, TRP was named to first-place in the United States in 1973, and represented our country at an international theatre festival in Monaco.
TRP has a paid staff of 2½ full-time positions and its artistic directors receive an honorarium. No other positions are paid.
People who contribute their time and talent include:
• theatre professionals -- who are paid for their work elsewhere but volunteer to work on a certain show, for a certain director, or for the experience and exposure;
• experienced non-professionals -- people who are experienced onstage or backstage, often with degrees in theatre, but do not make a living in theatre. They choose involvement based on the role, the director, and their schedules;
• aspiring professionals -- including those who have recently graduated and want to build their resume or who have recently moved to the Cities;
• and those with no experience in theatre crafts. They come from all backgrounds with a desire to learn new skills or apply their skills to the arts.
Some 32,000 hours were volunteered by more than 450 people in TRP's 2005-06 season. These hours (which don't include the artistic directors, paid staff, or ushers) came from 355 actors, stage managers, designers, and others who created nine mainstage productions...box office, house managers, and other support staff...people volunteering professional services, such as bookkeeping, graphics, legal work, services for patrons with disabilities...hours in workdays and maintaining the facility, in meetings to select the plays and directors...and more.
Community theatre is typically self-supporting, with 70-90% of operating budgets from "earned income" (which is income from ticket sales and season tickets, as opposed to "unearned income", such as grants and donations).
TRP has a policy of open auditions with all roles in each production available. In TRP's 50th season, 710 actors auditioned for its nine mainstage productions (of that total, 302 had never before auditioned at TRP). Roughly half of those cast had not acted at TRP previously.
The theatre offers training and experience in stage lighting, sound, costuming, set design, stage management, and other technical areas. Virtually every production has first-timers backstage.
TRP is one of the founders of the Minnesota Association of Community Theatre and a charter member of the American Association of Community Theatre, where TRP people have regularly served on its Board. The annual award of the state association, given to recognize outstanding contributions to theatre, is named in honor of Richard and Kay Fliehr, who were instrumental in developing TRP, the state association and the national association.
In the 1960's and ‘70s, as part of its community outreach programs, TRP toured one-acts and cuttings of shows that demonstrated various illnesses (e.g., The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds for alcoholism) to medical students at local universities and hospitals.
A Unique Stage in a Unique Building
There are three types of stages: proscenium, the traditional "flat" stage a la Childrens' Theatre; thrust, in which the audience surrounds three sides of the stage, as at the Guthrie; and arena, where the audience totally surrounds the stage. Arena is also known as theatre-in-the-round staging.
Arenas are ancient of course, but drama in-the-round -- performed for an audience surrounding the stage -- is largely a 20th-century American development. In-the-round performances date to 1914 in the U.S.; in 1940, the University of Washington built the world's first arena theatre. Arena theatres opened in England in the '50s: Alan Ayckbourn, who writes for in-the-round, is artistic director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round in Scarborough, named for his mentor who helped bring arena staging to Britain.
A successor to the Circle Theatre (1951-52), Theatre in the Round Players performed in gym-like spaces until moving to its present location in 1969, where volunteers built a permanent arena theatre under the guidance of Ralph Rapson Assoc., designers of the original Guthrie and University of Minnesota theatres. It was built with 288 seats (currently there are 245), seven rows deep, with no seat more than 30' from the center of the stage.
The only other permanent arena in the Cities is a small one at the University of Minnesota. Local theatre groups with flexible seating will occasionally configure their spaces to stage a show in-the-round.
Entrances and exits in an arena are called "voms", an abbreviation of "vomitory".
There is no "stage left" or "stage right": blocking rehearsals rely on north-south-east-west, the hands of a clock, or the names of the voms (e.g., "now walk towards the Cedar vom").
TRP's seats came from the Cedar Theatre, a movie theatre two blocks away that was converted to the Cedar Cultural Center in 1989 (allowing TRP to replace the seats it had gotten years before from the bankrupt Leola Movie Theatre).
TRP's stage is also unusual in that it is a theatre stage that is used by the public: audience members must cross the performing area to get to their seats, go to intermission, etc. As a result, the theatre requires scenic designs to accommodate wheelchairs, women in high heels, and other public vagaries (not to mention posting ushers at intermission to keep the audience from handling or eating the props).
Once the production begins, most audience members cannot leave their seats. A special entrance is used to usher in late-seaters (who must then wait until intermission to get to their assigned seats). Of course many audience members have been known to get up and cross the stage during performance -- new artistic directors are reminded that any act longer than 90 minutes will find audience members jostling the cast on stage on their way to the restrooms.
Major scenic elements in-the-round are the floor and the "modesty panels" which front each seating section (originally developed for women sitting in the front rows).
Theatre in the Round began performing in the YWCA at 12th and Nicollet in downtown Minneapolis. It performed at 1308 Stevens Avenue (currently occupied by the Convention Center) from 1963-68 and moved to its present location in 1969.
The structure dates from 1910, when a building permit records a stone foundation laid for a "new brick store building".
The last tenant before TRP was Bimbo's Pizza Emporium, a bar-dance hall that was boarded up after a fire in 1968.
In 1969, TRP moved into Cedar-Riverside, a neighborhood infamous for panhandlers and hippies. In the years that followed, so many other groups moved in -- Dudley Riggs, the Guthrie Lab, Mixed Blood, and others -- that the City designated the area the West Bank Theatre District in 1985.
A nonprofit corporation, Theatre in the Round Players, Inc. owns its building and land.
In 1985, the theatre painted its facade with a mural of its blueprint. This bright blue design was featured in national press, including the cover of the magazine Theatre Crafts. The front entryway built for the 50th anniversary season realized part of the blueprint.
TRP is one of very few local theatres with all operations under one roof. Its 27,500+ square feet houses the stage, rehearsal space, makeup and dressing rooms, a scenic shop and storage, costume shop and storage, props storage, lighting and sound work areas and storage, a recording studio, offices, a library, meeting rooms, and more.
Helping Build Local Theatre
When TRP was founded, the Twin Cities had one major non-academic theatre -- the Old Log Theatre in Excelsior. A tenet in its original mission statement was to "encourage a cultural environment in the community" and TRP has worked in developing theatre in the communities in the Cities and state. A half century later, the Twin Cities are a recognized leader in theatre in the country, and TRP continues as a seedbed and major theatrical resource.
From 1965-69, the University of Minnesota's Office of Advanced Drama Research worked with TRP in creating a "playwright's laboratory", a new concept in which playwrights would work with directors and actors in developing scripts.
In 1967, TRP toured the state to help develop theatre groups, through a special grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board.
In 1970, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra performed in the arena in the "Sound in the Round" series.
In 1973, TRP co-founded the Minnesota Association of Community Theatre to promote and develop theatre in the Cities and statewide.
TRP pioneered theatre for minority communities in the Twin Cities. In 1975, TRP's area premiere of The Great White Hope pointed up the lack of local theatrical opportunities for actors of color: TRP used proceeds from the production to help start a theatre dedicated to African-American experience -- Penumbra Theatre in St. Paul. The following year, TRP produced Sizwe Banzai Is Dead, the first staging of an Athol Fugard play in the Twin Cities; during this time, TRP pioneered color-blind casting in the Cities.
If a history of Twin Cities theatre is ever written, there is sure to be a chapter on...The Great White Hope.... It set in motion events that brought the Twin Cities two professional theaters [Penumbra and Mixed Blood] devoted to providing opportunities for actors of color, and it ushered to prominence playwright August Wilson...Burks looks back on those distant events and says "Everything came together...It took that place and that time" - Minneapolis Star Tribune, 1993
In 1976, TRP produced the first Vietnamese play in the area, Genghis Khan by Vu Khac Khoan, an exiled playwright whose works had been banned by the Ky regime in his native country.
The success of The Faggot in 1976, convinced its cast and company members that the Cities could support a gay theatre group. A special benefit performance helped raise funds for the beginning of Out And About Theatre, the Twin Cities' first gay theatre group, which became one of the longest-running gay theatres in the country.
In 1977, Time of the Indian was presented, a dramatization of poetry written by Minnesota Indians, and one of the first Native American productions staged in the Cities.
In 1989, artistic directors Jacie Knight and Laura Rudy started a youth theatre as a program of the theatre. TRP's Youth Performance Company performed at the Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis and proved so successful that it established itself as an independent theatre group in 1993. YPC is now one of the top youth programs in the Twin Cities.
TRP has produced many Directors' Showcases over the decades, one of the few (non-academic) programs in the area to help develop artistic directors.
TRP was a host theatre for the first Twin Cities' Fringe Festival, which began on the West Bank in 1994. It is now the largest of its kind in the country.
TRP is a major local resource for costumes, props, and set pieces. Rentals, for which volunteers handle many and frequent requests, are considered a service to the performing community so fees are kept to a minimum.
The theatre produced radio and television shows as trial programs:
• In its 1988 "Radio in the Round" Series with KFAI Radio, artists from the community, working under professional directors, broadcast three live shows from the arena, including live sound effects;
• In 1995, TRP TV produced two half-hour original plays that were shown over local cable channels.
TRP maintains the largest databases in the region on actors, directors, and designers and makes them available to other theatres. Cross-indexed records allow for specific searches of more than 2,500 actors, 150 artistic directors; and 350 designers and technicians.
TRP's library of scripts is one of the largest in the region, with computerized indexes of more than 3,900 play titles, as well as books on theatre crafts and history.
Theatre in the Round Players, Inc. has helped many start-up theatre groups over the years in the role of fiscal agent, in which TRP serves as the legal conduit for funds until new groups can obtain their own non-profit status and fiscal systems.
In 1990, TRP was a featured presenter at a program for theatre directors on our Army bases in Europe: the U.S. Army's Director of Entertainment had contacted the National Assoc. of Community Theatre to recommend speakers on producing quality theatre with minimal budgets.
As with all community theatres, TRP offers training in all aspects in theatre. Classes and workshops are offered and hands-on training is available in all technical areas.
Alumni (a brief listing of people who have worked at TRP)
Local -- Performing Arts
"A measure of TRP's influence on Twin Cities' theatre can be seen in the names of the professionals who got their start there...Children's Theatre Co. Jon Cranney, former Cricket Theatre and Chanhassen Dinner Theatre artistic director Howard Dallin, former Chanhassen director Gary Gisselman and Penumbra artistic director Lou Bellamy did some of the early directing at TRP. Young actors who worked there include Linda Kelsey, Sally Wingert, Carl Lumbly, and Abdul El Razzac, who have all made full-time careers in acting here or on the coasts." - Minneapolis Star Tribune, 1988
Allen Hamilton, actor in several feature films (e.g., The Fugitive) and in the recent Pulitzer Prize-winning production of Death of a Salesman, directed Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (‘96).
Former head of the Univ. of Minneota Theatre Dept. and Broadway/film actor Charles Nolte directed 13 shows (‘64-79). TRP produced nine of his shows.
Stephen Kanee (the Guthrie, University of MN) credits TRP with getting him the initial work to launch his directing career. "I directed Old Times in 1972 and Michael Langham (then Guthrie artistic director) made a rare visit to another theater and saw it. It was strictly because of his impression of that production that I made a career in directing." - Minneapolis Star Tribune, 1988
Curt Wollan, director of Plymouth Playhouse and Troupe America, directed two shows, most recently Sylvia (‘99).
Professional local actress Shirley Venard: "I was working fulltime but at night I was doing real theater at TRP. I will be forever grateful for that theatre." - Minneapolis Star Tribune, 1983
Michael Brindisi, director of the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, directed Once in a Lifetime (‘84).
Choreographer Joe Chvala directed a one-act as part of the Director's Showcase in 1987.
Bill Semans, director/writer of the feature film Herman, U.S.A., and founder of Cricket Theatre, performed in three shows (‘67-71).
"Puke and Snot", a popular comedy act at Renaissance Festivals throughout the country, are Joe Kudla, who directed four shows (‘79-83) and acted in seven, and Mark Sieve, who acted in nine shows (‘71-81).
Playwright John Fenn directed two shows in 1971 and 1972.
Bill Partlan, artistic director of the Cricket Theatre, directed The Transfiguration of Benno Blimpie in 1975.
Jack Reuler, director of Mixed Blood Theatre, acted in Steambath (‘77).
Allan Lotsberg, TV show host and local producer (Old Fogey Follies), was in three shows (‘59-61).
Stephen Barberio, director of Stages Theater in Hopkins, acted in three shows.
Faye Price, director of Pillsbury House/actor/dramaturg, acted in Getting Out (‘84).
Santa Claus (Dick Holmberg, consistently written up as the best Santa) got his start at TRP (‘77-87).
Local -- Community
John Beardsley, partner of Padilla Speer Beardsley PR firm, acted in The Price (‘90).
Marilyn Carlson Nelson, president of Carlson Companies, appeared in Goodbye My Fancy (‘56).
Dolly Fiterman, philanthropist/gallery owner, was one of the founding members of TRP, performed in eight shows, was costume designer and worked on five other shows (‘52-60).
The late TV newscaster Dave Moore acted in Yanks 3 Detroit 0 (‘79) and worked on many benefits for the theatre. His wife Shirley was president of the Board (‘82); son Peter Moore directed 7 shows in the arena and was combat choreographer for Hamlet (‘86) and others.
District Court Judge for the State of Minnesota, Kathryn Quaintance acted in three productions (‘90-99).
Hennepin County Judge Myron (Mickey) Greenberg acted in two productions (‘96-00).
Ed Felien, publisher/editor of Southside Pride and The Pulse, acted in three shows (‘54-58).
Marcia Fluer, former TV personality/University of MN PR director, appeared in The Heiress (‘89).
Nationally-renowned director Marion McClinton performed in three shows: "I often wonder what would have happened to me if I hadn't gotten cast in The River Niger at Theatre in the Round back in 1976...it was my first show and I have to believe it saved my life." - Minneapolis Star Tribune, 1998
Comedian turned Senator Al Franken acted in Invitation to a March (‘62); his father and mother performed in 37 productions and were active backstage.
Broadway and film actor/director/producer Claude Woolman directed two shows in 1964 and 1970.
TV series writer (Hill Street Blues) Mark Frost acted in two shows and directed one (‘78). His father Warren Frost wrote and directed The Unknown Soldier, which won first-place at a national festival in 1973 and represented the United States at an international festival in Monaco.
Ernie Hudson, film/TV actor (Ghostbusters) was the lead in The Great White Hope (‘75).
Richard Dean Anderson, star of TV's MacGuyver and producer/star of the series Stargate, performed in Scuba Duba (‘71).
Emily Mann, artistic director at Princeton University, directed three shows (‘75-79).
TV and film actor Granville Van Dusen performed in six productions (‘66-73)
Dorothy Lyman, TV actor/director, acted in Take Her She's Mine (‘64).
TV actress Linda Gehringer was the lead in A Moon for the Misbegotten (‘76).
Richard Hoover, winner of a Tony Award for his scenic design of Not a Nightingale on Broadway, designed sets for The Iceman Cometh (‘72).
TV actor Peter Krause (Sports Night, Six Feet Under) was in the cast of Light Up The Sky (‘86).
Bill Corbett, writer and the voice of the robot Crow in the TV series Mystery Science Theatre 3000, appeared in Wild Honey (‘90).
Playwright Steven Dietz directed The Philanthropist in 1985.
David Ira Goldstein, artistic director of Arizona Theatre, acted in five shows, directed The Dresser (‘84), and served on the Board of Directors.
TV/film actor Doug Hutchison (The Green Mile, X-Files episodes) was the lead in Equus (‘79) and acted in The Little Foxes (‘84).
Steve Thayer, author of the Saint Mudd detective series, was in the cast of Julius Caesar (‘91).
Andrea Beutner, who acted in three shows from 1989-1991, is the voice of the motorcycle in the TV series Team Knightrider and does voices for characters on the cartoon series Men in Black.
John Orlock, chair of theatre at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, directed two shows and taught classes for years. He chose TRP for the world premiere of his Work of Water in 1998.
Michael Arndt, chair of theatre for California Lutheran University, directed five shows.
TV/film actor Ron Perlman (Beauty and the Beast, Name of the Rose) was in the cast of The Iceman Cometh (‘72).
Broadway/TV actor T. R. Knight (Grey's Anatomy) performed in Gemini (‘92).