‘West Side Story’ success helps Guthrie log revenue at historic season high

Photo by T Charles Erickson
Marco Antonio Santiago as Bernardo and Ana Isabelle as Anita, and the cast of the Guthrie Theater’s production of "West Side Story."

A hit summer musical, historically high ticket sales, and an operating surplus are among the reasons to applaud the Guthrie’s 2017-18 season. In the annual report released at Monday’s annual meeting [PDF], the Guthrie announced that “West Side Story,” which played to 100 percent capacity, helped the season become the highest grossing in the theater’s 55-year history. The Guthrie ended its fiscal year with an operating surplus of $22,213 on a $29 million budget.

Overall, the season played to more than 80 percent capacity. Nearly 400,000 people attended 608 performances of 30 productions on the Guthrie’s three stages. They came from 90 percent of the state, reflecting artistic director Joseph Haj’s commitment to serve Greater Minnesota as well as the Twin Cities.

It was an eclectic season of plays classic and contemporary, serious and funny, bookended by “Romeo and Juliet” and “West Side Story” on the thrust stage, ending with “The Legend of Georgia McBride” (in which an Elvis impersonator becomes a drag queen) on the proscenium. In between: Lillian Hellman’s “Watch on the Rhine,” Paula Vogel’s indelible “Indecent,” and “Familiar” by playwright and “Walking Dead” star Danai Gurira. Of the ten mainstage productions, three were written by women and five were directed by women.

Contributions from more than 6,000 donors helped the Guthrie provide 93,651 free and subsidized tickets. More than 35,000 students from 190 schools attended matinees. The Level Nine Initiative, supported by a grant from the Mellon Foundation, sold 8,777 tickets to six productions in the Dowling Studio, where tickets are always $9. Five Happenings inspired by current events and topics drew crowds.

This is all good news in a year when some other news out of the Guthrie hasn’t been that great. Development director Danielle St. Germain-Gordon resigned in May for a job at San Francisco Ballet. Managing director Jennifer Bielstein resigned in June to become executive director at American Conservatory Theater. Production director David Stewart left in July for a position at Disney. Earlier in 2018, complaints of gender discrimination and sexual harassment led to an independent investigation and the development of new training and policies.

Haj came to the Guthrie in July 2015 with a three-year contract. In August, the Guthrie’s board unanimously extended his contract for five more years. Looking back at 2017-18, Haj said in a statement, “Artistically, we featured prolific and diverse playwrights, an inspiring lineup of directors, creative teams and actors who moved our audiences to laughter, tears, introspection and action. I firmly believe that a theater belongs to the community it serves, and my great hope is that audiences saw more of themselves and their neighbors in our work this season.”

September is coming

In case you’re already missing the crowds, the heat, the lines and those tubs of Sweet Martha’s cookies, the State Fair has announced the first shows confirmed for the 2019 Grandstand Concert Series.

They are (drum roll on a stick): Hootie & the Blowfish: Group Therapy Tour with special guest Barenaked Ladies on Thursday, Aug. 22, and “Weird Al” Yankovic Strings Attached Tour on Tuesday, Aug. 27.

Hootie took a break from touring in 2007, and 2019 will be its first full-time touring year since then. On his 2019 tour, four-time Grammy winner Yankovic will be backed every night by a full orchestra. That’s weird.

For those who like to plan ahead, tickets go on sale this Friday (Dec. 7) at noon.

The picks

At St. Catherine University: “Roots and Fruits: Exploring the History and Impact of the Women’s Art Registry of Minnesota.” Organized in 1973 to support the work of women visual artists in Minnesota, WARM provided a network and organized exhibitions. From 1976-91, it had its own gallery in the Minneapolis Warehouse District. Curated by Heather Carroll, “Roots and Fruits” looks back at pivotal events in WARM’s early history and how the collective shaped the careers of women artists in Minnesota and beyond. The exhibition includes works by dozens of WARM artists, archival materials and rare portfolios of prints. In the Catherine G. Murphy Gallery. FMI. Closes Dec. 15.

Tonight (Wednesday, Dec. 5) at Gamut Gallery: Raging Art On opening night party. Crumple up your Christmas shopping list and buy art instead. Gamut’s annual holiday pop-up shop features work by 50 artists, half new to the show. It’s cash-and-carry, ceiling-to-floor, all curated by the artists themselves. Looking for paintings, photos, prints, collectibles, jewelry, housewares and handmade apparel? You’ll find them. The first-dibs opening night party features DJ Baard. 7-10 p.m. Capacity limited. Reserve here ($20, free with membership).

Morgan Thorson dancers present "Public Love" with music by Low's Alan Sparhawk.
Photo by Bobby Rogers
Morgan Thorson dancers present "Public Love" with music by Low's Alan Sparhawk.
Thursday-Saturday at the Walker: Morgan Thorson with collaborators and Alan Sparhawk (Low): Public Love. Award-winning choreographer Thorson has worked with singer-songwriter-musician Sparhawk before, on “Heaven” (2009), a meditation on perfection. For this Walker commission and world premiere, Thorson, Sparhawk and six dance artists have made a work about touch, tenderness, consent, action, agency and connection. That explains the billboards at 7th and Hennepin in downtown Minneapolis, the ones showing a cluster of bodies, arms and legs. Thorson never fails to be really interesting. For multiple reasons – the dance, the dancers, the music, the message, the thought and intent behind it all – this is a must. 8 p.m. FMI and tickets ($28/$22.40).

Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Polina Leschenko
Photo by Marco Borggreve
Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Polina Leschenko
Friday-Sunday at the Ordway Concert Hall: Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Polina Leschenko with the SPCO. The return of Moldovan violinist and SPCO artistic partner Kopatchinskaja – a barefoot virtuoso who brings everything she plays to blazing life – is always a reason to jump up and down. We can hardly wait for her appearances with the SPCO, because her passion for music is so catching that everyone (musicians and the audience) seems more excited about everything. This time she’s bringing Russian pianist Polina Leschenko, her longtime duo partner, for a program that includes music by Clara Schumann, Robert Schumann, Haydn and Mendelssohn. The two made their Washington, D.C., debut on Sunday, and the Washington press called it “exhilarating” and “electrifying.” Friday at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m. FMI and tickets ($12-50, children and students free).

Monday at the Seward Co-op Creamery Café (formerly the Franklin Ave. Creamery): “A People’s History of the Seward Community” book release. The story of the colorful South Minneapolis neighborhood is filled with memories of people who grew up there, lived there and moved there from elsewhere – all footnoted, a sign that care has been taken. Chapters cover Seward’s beginnings, early immigrants, the State Fairs that were once held there (true!), riots, churches, bars, art, mom-and-pop businesses, and homes. Local historian Iric Nathanson wrote in his foreword, “The Seward story will inspire people everywhere who look to neighborhoods as the foundation of a healthy civic life.” May it also inspire anyone who attempts a book of this type, because from what we’ve seen, “A People’s History” is well-researched, well-written, nicely illustrated with historic photos and elegantly designed. Nodin Press is the publisher. This event will be a combination party and book sale, with snacks provided, drinks available for purchase, historical posters of the neighborhood on display, and music from Seward’s “golden age” (Koerner, Ray and Glover, Willie Murphy, and more) playing in the background. 6-8 p.m. Free.

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