TRP’s role in building Twin Cities theatre

“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

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 have a international reputation for theatre, 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.

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.

Theatre in the Round Players 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.

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 3,000 actors, 100 artistic directors; and 500 designers and technicians.

TRP’s library of scripts is one of the largest in the region, with computerized indexes of more than 3,400 play titles, as well as books on theatre crafts and history.

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.