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The Guthrie: More open than ever

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Sir Tyrone looks on
Heart of the Beast puppets were one part of opening day festivities at the new Guthrie Theater Complex. An image of founder Sir Tyrone Guthrie greets the public.
MPR Photo/Marianne Combs

Guthrie Artistic Director Joe Dowling was greeted with a standing ovation when he walked onto one of the complex's three stages and welcomed the public. 

Joe Dowling
Guthrie Artistic Director Joe Dowling welcomes the public to the theater company's new home. Dowling stands on the new Wurtele Thrust Stage, built to pay homage to the original thrust stage in the Guthrie's old home.
MPR Photo/Marianne Combs

"Thank you so much for that wonderful welcome," said Dowling. "I hope you are enjoying our first full public day here at the New Guthrie, and have the opportunity to explore all the various facets of this new theater complex."

Dowling spoke warmly of founder Sir Tyrone Guthrie, and even read from Guthrie's journals which recounted his search for a home for his regional theater company. Guthrie wrote that it was the Mississippi River which led his team to choose the Twin Cities over six other locations. 

The new thrust stage
The Guthrie Theater complex has three stages. The Wurtele Thrust stage is a close replica of the original Guthrie stage, only with fewer seats and slightly better sight lines.
MPR Photo/Marianne Combs

"'Eventually, the Twin Cities will realize that their river can be and ought to be a wonderful and life giving amenity,'" read Dowling. "'It has taken 2000 years even to begin to appreciate this about the Thames. Perhaps it is not unreasonable to expect that the Twin Cities will make the most out of the Mississippi in a mere hundred.' Well, ladies and gentlemen, it has taken half of that mere hundred, but here we are."

Dowling says now that the Guthrie has a large, state-of-the-art home it will look again at becoming a repertory theater, playing multiple shows in tandem. He also wants to see the Guthrie expand its tours to become a regular player on the international theater scene.

On the 9th Floor
A young volunteer looks out the amber window from the ninth floor, as an image of Othello scrolls up one of the two vertical marquees.
MPR Photo/Marianne Combs

Dowling says just as Sir Tyrone Guthrie's vision significantly influenced the development of American theater in the second half of the 20th century, the new Guthrie Theater has the opportunity to play a major role in American theater of the 21st century.

"I believe that the American resident theater movement, which was founded here in the Twin Cities with the birth of the Guthrie, now stretches from sea to shining sea in theaters all around the country. But it lacks a center," said Dowling, "it lacks somewhere that can call itself a national center of theater art and theater education. And that is what we aim to become."

Out the window
French Architect Jean Nouvel designed the new Guthrie with a myriad of windows. The cantilever bridge in particular is riddled with windows. Each offers a uniquely framed view out onto the river, or in this case, looking back at the Guthrie's main building.
MPR Photo/Marianne Combs

Just outside the thrust theater, thousands of people mill through the hallways, stopping to admire the views out the many windows, or to peer at pictures from past performances. Lydia McInerny says she loves all the ghostly images of actors that are imprinted on the walls, the ceilings, and the exterior of the building. 

"It's just different from other buildings, it's really making a statement," she says. "Most things blend in. This definitely does not blend in to the landscape."

When asked if she thinks the building might become dated after a few years, McInerny says she thinks, instead, it will take a few years for other buildings to catch up to the Guthrie.

McInerny's friends Barbara Natoli and Fred Kohout are visiting from Boston. They admire the modern look of the building, and the view of the locks and dams from the Guthrie's cantilever bridge.

View from the Guthrie bridge
The Guthrie Theater's cantilever bridge is the longest such bridge open to the public in the world. The end of the bridge has built-in seating, so people can relax and take in the view of the Mississippi River and the stone arch bridge.
MPR Photo/Marianne Combs

"In Boston we have a lot of theaters. It's a cultural center as well as Minneapolis. [In terms of the Guthrie] I'm not sure what might be equivalent," says Natoli. "Nothing comes to mind right away."

"Nothing this modern looking," adds Kohout. "You don't find anything like this in Boston, I don't think."

Reviews of patrons are decidedly positive, although Mary Jane Anderson of White Bear Lake admits when she first saw the new Guthrie theater, she thought it was ugly. But she says she's warmed up to it.

"What I like about it is that it's a social hangout, so to speak," says Anderson. "So people don't necessarily have to come to see a performance, but they're here for more social aspects."

Acting classes
Aspiring actors in this summer's "Guthrie Experience" program participate in an improvisational warmup exercise. The new Guthrie Theater has four classrooms that will offer opportunities for both professional actors and interested amateurs.
MPR Photo/Marianne Combs

Anderson catches an elevator up to the ninth floor, home to the Guthrie's black box theater. Today, aspiring actors participating in this summer's Guthrie Experience program are using the space for some improvisational warmup exercises. 

The black box theater is situated just above four classrooms, which the Guthrie will use for teaching professional acting classes, as well as classes geared towards the enthusiastic amateur. 

Someday that might be young Andy Reeves. Reeves has travelled with his family from Roseau for the opening. He stands in the ninth floor lobby on a plate of thick amber glass, where he can see down several stories below him, while above him is a skylight. French architect Jean Nouvel has managed to get his attention.

"It's incredible," says Reeves. "You can look down and up, and it's just amazing."

When asked if he plans to come back to the Guthrie, Reeves says he hopes so.   Artistic Director Joe Dowling says the goal of the new Guthrie is not only to be a national center for theater, but to be a public source of pride that draws people in for the spectacular views, and convinces them to stay for the theater. If Reeves does come back, and goes with his family to see a show, the new Guthrie will be a success.