Best Live Theatre in City South

While there’s no “Best of” voting category for live theater, we at City South dedicate our Noteworthy section to a few of the many fine venues and acting companies readers can find in nearly every corner of our distribution area.

Sit back, read, order some tickets and go!

Women Lead the Way
Jungle Theater “A little neighborhood theater with national impact.”

At only 150 seats, Lyn-Lake’s highly awarded Jungle Theater is “an intimate space, a little neighborhood theater with national impact,” says theater artistic director Sarah Rasmussen. She’s happy to report 92 percent capacity last year and suggests it may be because, in addition to doing a lot of new work and work by women, “We also do lots of work that is joyful and fun. This is a public service in these times,” she says.
 
Rasmussen is an anomaly in American theater leadership, where only 20 percent of artistic directors are female. And while that statistic may be discouraging, there is nothing discouraging about what it has meant to the Jungle and each of four other theaters across the country: a February 2018 grant of $250,000 from the Bold Theater Women’s leadership circle, awarded only to theaters with a woman in the position of artistic director.

The Jungle has big plans for the money. “We are committed to commissioning and developing the work of top female playwrights,” she says. Actor/playwright Kate Hamill’s adaptation of Little Women will be the Jungle’s first-ever commission, and the play will have its world premiere at the Jungle. “I love being involved with things at the very beginning,” says Rasmussen.

Two more of Rasmussen’s initiatives set the Jungle apart. Stay Late at the Jungle is a discussion with at least one actor in a show after every performance. It may be only a 15-minute informal conversation, says Rasmussen, “but it gives the audience more context about how artists make the work.” JungleWrites is a free program for teenaged girls interested in theater arts. The program includes playwriting classes and mentorship with professionals in the theater community.

Coming up, from July 21 to August 19: Hand to God, “a light, irreverent summer comedy,” says Rasmussen. “It was a big hit on Broadway and on the West End in London.”

A Bit of Everything
Bryant Lake Bowl Theater Playhouse celebrates 25 years in Lyn-Lake neighborhood.

Currently located in the restaurant/bar/vintage bowling lanes also known as Bryant Lake Bowl (BLB), the BLB Theater was a space dedicated to pinball and video machines until renovated to a 85-seat theater opening on Halloween night, 1993. What’s unique about the theater, says managing artistic director Kristin Van Loon, is its variety of performances (including rock bands, science lecturers, straight-up theater and improv), its artist-friendly financial arrangement (they split the ticket 50/50), its full-bore assistance with promotion and the diversity in age and experience of its performers—high school and college actors all the way to Dan Wilson.

“The theater is run in keeping with [BLB founder and James Beard nominated restaurateur] Kim Bartmann’s values of ‘Everyone is welcome,’” says Van Loon. Just as a restaurant patron can find “full-service dining or a $4 can of beer with chips and salsa,” she says, so can a theatergoer find inexpensive seats and even a sliding scale for ticket prices.

Open seven nights a week, BLB Theater offers an abundance of entertainment choices. Go to bryantlakebowl.com to sign up for a monthly newsletter and “to learn about upcoming shows and score a sweet deal on tickets,” Van Loon says.

Community Effort
the Park Theater Company

Park Theater Company of St. Louis Park has been around for over a decade. Since its inception, the theater company has done upwards of 30 productions, with two–five major productions each year thanks to support from St. Louis Park Friends of the Arts. “Most of our major performances since 2013 have been at Sabes JCC’s theater,” says production manager James McDonnough. “The Jewish community center has been very open and inclusive, too.” At the end of the summer the company will stage a multicultural musical at the new recreation outdoor center—the ROC—located next to St. Louis Park’s indoor Rec Center.

Healing Art
zAmya

For community members experiencing homelessness, zAmya Theater Project is a space for creative expression and healing. The program brings together homeless and housed individuals to create and act in plays, and “turns homeless from a word back into a person,” according to its website. “We use the tool and process of theater to explore, understand and become aware of homelessness,” program manager Maren Ward says. The Theater Project is a way for participants to start a healing process, either through the paid ensemble or the open sessions including a yearlong residency at the Central Library on Nicollet Mall. The name zAmya is a Sanskrit word meaning “aiming at peace.” “It was chosen by our founder to describe her found impulse,” Ward says. “‘How can we be at peace when there are people who have been unhoused?’”

Small but Mighty
Matchbox Theater

The Tangletown neighborhood of Minneapolis is host to local performance venue Matchbox Theater. Tucked snugly between other shops, the site is “an intimate theater space,” producing artistic director Douglas Stewart says. Stewart oversees performances and teaches theater classes. Classes are available year-round in stage, television and film acting, and Matchbox has a cooperative relationship with the performing arts department at nearby Washburn High School where Stewart’s daughter attends. The theater employs student ushers and offers paid internships and volunteer positions for student stage managers. Matchbox also funds acting and production support for the school’s theater department. Keep an eye out for David Mamet’s Oleanna at Matchbox this fall and winter.