In Focus: Theatre in the Round Players

Article by Steve Antenucci, TRP Executive Director

Many arts you can pursue on your own -- you can learn and perfect your craft in photography, writing, sculpture, painting, and more. 

Not so the dramatic arts. You want to pursue theatre, you need others.

That’s what actors and designers and other artists faced here in 1952. If you weren’t a student, your only choices to create theatre were to work as a professional at the Old Log in Excelsior, or with the Edyth Bush Little Theatre and the Group Theatre, both in St. Paul.  

So seven of those theatre enthusiasts decided to create another choice, and one using a new approach -- a theatre supported by its members.

Named for its staging, Theatre in the Round Players would be an arena (to keep down the costs of sets). It would be financially self-sustaining. And its mission: to give anyone the chance to work in theatre, as well as to "encourage a cultural environment in the community".  From their opening night, TRP established a regular slate of productions that helped develop audiences in the Twin Cities.  It toured the state showing communities how to set up their own theater groups. It co-founded the Minnesota Association of Community Theatres. It worked with the University of MN on the first “playwrights lab”. 

Hundreds and hundreds of artists -- and even other theaters -- got their start at TRP. 

Today there are 100+ performing groups in the area and Theatre in the Round is recognized as one of the “legacy theatres” that helped develop the Twin Cities as one of the top theatre markets in the country.  Minneapolis has certainly changed.  But its oldest theatre still performs in an arena -- and still exists to give anyone the opportunity to work in theatre arts. 

Its year-round schedule of nine shows is produced by more than 250 volunteer artists, designers, and technicians, with each show under the guidance of a different  guest professional artistic director, all supported by 80+ volunteers behind the scenes -- box office staff, house managers, members of the Board and various committees (the only paid staff are two full-time administrative positions and 3 part-time).

Who are these artists and designers and technicians who volunteer?  For more than 500 productions spanning more than 60 years, TRP’s shows have been created by: 

  • People who want to work in theatre -- but are not trying to make a living at it.  They often have theatre degrees and backgrounds but make a living wage in other ways. They are artists who enjoy working onstage and off-, being part of the creative process in putting up a show.

  • People who do want to make a living in theatre, and look to use TRP as a bridge to professional work. They may have just graduated or have just moved to the Cities. They may have discovered it’s difficult to break into established professional operations.  Once in a show at TRP, they’re connected with other cast members and designers and technicians who work throughout the Cities.  It’s common for people to work a show or two at TRP before moving on to paid work elsewhere.

  • Theatre professionals.  Actors, designers, technicians, and other non-union workers who are paid at other houses but choose to do a show at TRP for a variety of reasons: the opportunity to work with a certain director … to do a certain script … to get design experience through the challenges of working in-the-round …

  • And people with no training or background in theatre who simply want to learn. They’re exploring, wanting to see what it takes to mount a show and where they may fit in.  They may enjoy their experience so much they decide to pursue it – or find out it’s not for them and move on to explore other areas.

That is the mix you’ll find on any given show in the arena – old faces and new (about a third of the people in each company have not worked at TRP before).  All backgrounds and abilities. 

Working in a great environment, with complete shops and storage and work areas.  All working towards the same goal – opening night.  

A few local playhouses are widely acknowledged as Institutions with a capital “I”: these companies are the grandparents of today’s Twin Cities theatre scene. Theatre in the Round Players has always focused on welcoming first-timers as actors, designers, directors, and audience… thus has this ‘community theatre’, whose alumni have invigorated many other stages, helped build the theatre community.
— The Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE

Want to know more? This brief profile aired on TPT TV’s weekly arts series MN Original