When the Plymouth Christian Youth Center, the north Minneapolis nonprofit that runs the Capri Theater, shut it down in 2019 for an expansive renovation, nobody expected the building to be closed for more than a year.
But the pandemic had other plans, limiting access to resources, delaying the long-awaited build and further inhibiting PCYC’s programming. The Capri wouldn’t fully reopen until last month.
To those who run the theater, it was worth the wait, leading to a better-realized form of the nearly one-hundred year old institution. “We’ve been in this community for 94 years, and one of the things I often say is I’m looking forward to making the next 94 years of memories,” theater director James Scott said, “We’re trying to get that sense of community, that sense of pride in a space, back into the space,” he added.
Built in 1927 and located on West Broadway, the Capri is the last of what had once been 13 independent movie theaters in North Minneapolis. It was known as the Paradise until 1966, when another renovation changed the layout enough to warrant a new sign. “This space has been… sort of the heart, or the heartbeat, even, before phones and multiplexes and Netflix,” Scott said. “These were the places that you came together.”
The Plymouth Christian Youth Center (PCYC) acquired the theater in 1987, according to former Executive Director Anne Long. “It was a historic place, but it was in very bad shape originally,” Long said.
Long was a social worker before joining PCYC in 1973 and worked at the Capri for 35 years before retiring late last year. She is credited with converting the space into the Capri Arts & Learning Center in 1993, when PCYC shifted the theater’s focus towards community building, youth outreach and education. The organization pursues those goals by offering accessible pathways to the arts, mainly through two major educational programs: PYC Arts & Technology Alternative High School and their Bright Futures K-5 afterschool program, both of which utilize the Capri’s space in some capacity.
Long recalled one early occasion in the early 2000s during a classical performance from the visiting Piatigorsky Foundation when “music waifed out onto West Broadway,” and a group of neighborhood kids wandered in just to listen.
“It was just one of those beautiful moments,” she said. “Many children had their lives significantly touched by theater music,” which “shows them what people that look like them can do.”
The road to renovation
The Capri has attempted other large-scale renovations previously under PCYC’s ownership. In 2009, it expanded the lobby and updated their sound systems, but the project was hindered by the financial crisis that hit that year.
PCYC began fundraising for renovations again in 2014, though leaders were careful to avoid rushing the process again. “It took five years for us to get to the point where we felt comfortable committing the money that we had towards the project,” Scott added.
The pandemic offered an unexpected opportunity for the Capri, despite its obvious downsides. “We’ve lost a year of revenue, but we haven’t lost two years of revenue because we already planned to be closed for the one year,” Scott said.
And when their original reopening date came and went, they decided to regroup rather than panic. “We had to believe that it was going to happen, even when it was so easy to get discouraged,” said Long.
Their small staff was able to pull back and take a look at their options for the future, knowing that the project would mark a new era for the organization. “I’m excited for the things we haven’t fully envisioned,” Long said.
Another reason the project finally came to fruition was because of Long herself, said Scott, “It was her force of will that got this building built.”
The space now has significantly more square footage, according to Scott. Major additions include the new exterior, which encases the Paradise Community Hall (one of many nods to the site’s history) and a gallery space to showcase local artists. The building now also has an outdoor plaza that will hold a farmers market during warmer months, along with a service pantry for catering and a concessions area for snacking.
Many of the additions — like the new rehearsal room, dressing room, and added backstage area — are designed to accommodate hosting more live performances in addition to film screenings. The theater has also updated its lighting and sound systems and new seating for 256.
The Capri will be hosting the company Stage North’s “King of the Kosher Grocers” until mid-November, along with the return of their usual community programming (Capri Glee adult choir and Freedom of Xpression open mic nights, among others).
The theater’s reopening also means the return of their many youth-oriented programs, now aided by new classrooms and a Best Buy Teen Tech Center, which will provide students with access to equipment, software and training on how to use the technology. Camp Capri, a monthly arts education program for middle schoolers, will be returning in November and will continue every third Saturday of the month after that. The theater will also continue to house PCYC’s school programming.
Though the expansion has changed the Capri’s appearance, its goals remain the same. “What so many people hear about North Minneapolis is not good. And that’s controlling the narrative about an incredibly rich artistic, giving, community,” Scott added, “We’re hoping that this becomes the catalyst, then, to start bringing resources back into an underserved neighborhood.”
There are signs of history throughout the building, including touches of the original exterior brick and stage floor. The lobby still holds photos of Prince’s 1979 performance there, while well-loved lockers (predating the renovation) upstairs testify to the many students who’ve come and gone.
“We built this space not for us but for them,” Scott said. “Every person we bring through is just wide-eyed and in disbelief that something this beautiful, this well thought out, this affordable, is available right here, two blocks from their home. I just can’t wait to get people back in the building.”