Children’s Theatre needs space ? but public support is up in the air

Whether you look at The Children's Theatre Company (CTC), 2400 3rd Ave. S., and see a big, white, boringbox or an elegant statement of modernist restraint, there's almost no arguing that the building, which is slated for a $24-million renovation, needs to expand.

Aesthetics aside, say CTC representatives, the space, which has not been renovated since it was built in 1974, simply isn't big enough to host an ever-expanding program. Specifically, there is no on-site rehearsal or dedicated classroom space.

"We are turning away hundreds of kids each year," said artistic director Peter Brosius.

"We have so many children in our productions, and we like them to be on site with us," said Linda Jacobs, who handles public relations for the theater company. "We have a rehearsal space a few blocks away. Sometimes, we rehearse in our recording studio.

"In the summer, we're doing three shows at a time and we can't be rehearsing on stage if they're building sets for another show, because they're literally pushing out onto the stage."

Both Brosius and Jacobs said that without the various parts of the educational process under one roof, the students lose out on the mentoring and synergistic possibilities of theater.

Targeting teensThe expansion will also include a 288-seat flexible theater that Brosius and managing director Teresa Eyring hope will help CTC attract what they say are two forgotten audiences - children under five and, especially, teenagers.

CTC recently won $700,000 from the Wallace-Reader's Digest Funds to create programming for teens and help draw them in.

"They're a lost generation," Eyring said of the teenage demographic.

Brosius concurred, calling them a "lost opportunity."

Save for high school musicals, they said, not many venues are really targeting teenagers.

"The teenage years are a really critical time in human life," Brosius said. "You feel more isolated, more hormonal, gender is so complicated."

Theater can be a critical tool to help teenagers see themselves in a new light, he added.

"We want a flexible, dynamic theater where we can create works by teenagers and for teenagers," he said. "We don't want to do 'Pippi Longstocking' for this group."

With another theater to play with, Eyring said, CTC can create even more theatergoers. Theater audiences nationwide, she said, are aging.

"But, it's not happening in this city," she said. "I'd like to think we're a feeder for other theaters. We create theatergoers."

"It's a pretty healthy theatrical ecosystem we have here," said Brosius.

Desiring dollars However, both Brosius and Eyring are quick to point out that, healthy as it is, the arts infrastructure needs regular support.

The expansion project, which will increase CTC's current 80,000 square feet to 136,000 square feet, is estimated to cost $24 million. CTC is proposing a private-public partnership to fund the project, including $12 million in contributions from individuals, foundations and corporations. The private fundraising has already reached $9 million, but CTC is still waiting to see whether or not they will receive the $12 million in state bonding they've requested.

"These early significant commitments demonstrate the value of this project to

the community," Eyring said. "CTC's constituents are children and young families, not wealthy individuals, which is why our corporate and foundation donors are so important. It's also why our request for $12 million in state bonding is so critical."

CTC is currently slated to receive $5 million in the Senate bonding bill and no funding at all in the House bonding bill. At present, the issue is in conference committee at the State Legislature.

When asked what their chances are, Brosius and Eyring turn to humor.

"100 percent," Brosius says with an exaggerated air of confidence.

"I like his answer," Eyring laughs.

"I don't know, it's so wild. I know a good psychic, though," Brosius says.

"Of course, I'd love to

see it, but I'm also supporting the various other options for the city of Minneapolis."

-- Representative Phyllis Kahn,

DFL-Minneapolis

Representative Phyllis Kahn, who is on the bonding committee, said that it is hard to guess since the issue is still in conference committee, but that she thinks CTC's chances "are looking somewhat dubious."

"One difficulty is that the Governor has opposed all of what he calls local projects, so it's not just getting it passed but getting it passed with a veto override," she said. "Of course, I'd love to see it, but I'm also supporting the various other options for the city of Minneapolis."

Kahn said that Minneapolis legislators, particularly those in the House, are most strongly behind the Planetarium and the empowerment zones.

"The empowerment zones --

because of what it does for economic development for the people who most need it in the city -- and the Planetarium -- because that's the one that seems the most time-constrained, and if we don't do it we won't get a world-class planetarium, so most of us are really putting our effort into that one.

"I can't tell you where the CTC will fall in that list of priorities."

Brosius, Eyring and Jacobs said they

do not want to posit the CTC renovation as more important than, say, the Planetarium or the Guthrie; however, they all emphasized that the CTC is a unique institution, known the world over, and that it should not be taken for granted.

"You know, I grew up in New York," said Jacobs, "but I never saw the Statue

of Liberty. Sometimes, you just take certain things for granted if they're in the city you live in."