The Guthrie Theater celebrates 50 years

5:00 AM, Jun 21, 2013   |    comments
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Wurtele Thrust Stage

MINNEAPOLIS - One of the Twin Cities' biggest birthday parties of the year is planned for Saturday at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis. The 1960's creation of Sir Tyrone Guthrie is turning 50.

The feted performance venue opened in May 1963 with a performance of "Hamlet" at the original space on Vineland Place, next to the Walker Art Center. The building itself was significant, a masterpiece by Minnesota Architect Ralph Rapson. The unusual thrust stage placed the audience on three sides of the performers.

Unfortunately, the Guthrie outgrew its home. The original building had very little space for storage of scenery and costumes. There were structural issues as well. In 2006, the theater company bid farewell to their birthplace with another performance of Hamlet.

The new Guthrie settled into an iconic blue building bordering the river near St. Anthony Falls. The new building, designed by architect Jean Nouvel, features three theaters, several bars and eateries and a cantilevered "bridge to nowhere", overlooking the river.

"When we were in Vineland Place, we would see 220-250,000 people a year visiting our shows," recalled Joe Dowling, Artistic Director since 1995. "Now is it up to 450,000 people a year."

Dowling said the newer venue is a public space open to anyone for dining, the spectacular river views, and tickets for the world-class entertainment. The three theaters include the 1100-seat Wurtele Thrust Stage, a slightly smaller version of the original Guthrie, the 700 seat Proscenium theater and the Dowling Studio (named for Joe Dowling). The latter is an open space that can be adjusted to seat about 200 in a variety of arrangements.

"The big difference of having three theaters, the range of programming, the number of people we can serve and the opportunity for people to take in all the advantages we have down here by the river," commented Dowling." For us, (it is) the tremendous advantage of now being truly part of the cultural and social landscape here at the river."

Tyrone Guthrie's dream theater has attracted many of America's finest actors in its five decades. Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn performed during the very first season. Since then, stage, film and television stars have graced the Guthrie stages.

Morgan Freeman, Patrick Stewart, Randy Harrison, Sir Ian McKellen, Whoopie Goldberg, T.R. Knight, Christopher Plummer, Peter Michael Getz and Santina Fontana have all added the Guthrie to their resumes.

Dowling pointed out that when he first arrived at the Guthrie in the 1990s, the youngest actor was 35. Since then, the Guthrie has reached out to develop new talent through a teaching program, affiliated with the University of Minnesota. Santina Fontana, recently nominated for a "Tony" in New York was once a student at the Guthrie.

The Guthrie  won a "Tony" in 1982 as the nation's outstanding regional theater.

The theater has planned a weekend of celebration on June 22-23. After two dinner parties on Saturday, there will be a one-night only anniversary performance featuring Whoopie Goldberg and T.R. Knight.

Sunday, the Guthrie has invited the public to join in the celebration with day-long activities, including a 5K race and events inside the theater building. A list of the events can be found on the Guthrie website.

(Copyright 2013 by KARE. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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