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Where the Wild Things Are

Why the most experimental theater in town might just be for kids



SUNNY REHEARSAL ROOM at the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis, the artistic director, head costumer, music director, and 13 other members of the theater’s core creative team have gathered to discuss the season-opening production, Bert & Ernie, Goodnight! They set down cups of coffee, open laptop computers, and spread out blueprints. Then they begin to talk about “pigeonography”—the choreography of dancing pigeons.

During the next two hours, they also discuss dancing sheep, exploding light bulbs, and the problem of where to place a microphone on a sweaty actor. “He’s more of a chest sweater than a side sweater,” notes Peter Brosius, the theater’s artistic director. These things are important: The mic might short out.

The Children’s Theatre Company, or CTC, often runs into these technical issues. Brosius figures that a recent production of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie may have been the messiest play in the history of Twin Cities theater. “At the end of a show,” he recalls, “we’d have two feet of trash on the stage—we just wrecked the place.”

Anyone who grew up in the Twin Cities over the last 40 years likely has memories of school trips and family outings to the CTC, which occupies the southern end of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts complex—like an animated film amid all the still lifes. With 289 employees and a budget of slightly more than $10.5 million, the CTC is the largest children’s theater in the country (the second-largest is in Seattle). It serves about 300,000 young people and their families every year with a full season of plays, theater-arts training, an annual tour, and other outreach programs.

But from the start, the CTC was never meant to be children’s theater so much as good theater that happens to be performed for children. It opened two years after the Guthrie Theater, in 1965, and is similarly rooted in the regional theater movement that established high-quality, dramatic theater in communities beyond Broadway. The CTC is now the second-largest theater of any kind in the Twin Cities, next to the Guthrie. It hires some of the same directors as the Guthrie, and it commissions some of the same playwrights. It almost never dolls up its actors in animal costumes. In 2003, confirming its all-ages appeal, the CTC became the first children’s theater to win a Tony Award for best regional theater (the same recognition given two years later to the innovative Theatre de la Jeune Lune). Not surprisingly, about 25 percent of the CTC audience comes without children at all, including a significant number of young people on first dates.

Recently, the CTC has grown more experimental—and on a larger scale than any local company since Jeune Lune folded last year. In particular, the addition in 2005 of a black-box theater has allowed for more radical ways of telling stories. The CTC has staged a play enacted largely through video installations, a play with contemporary shadow puppets performed by a cutting-edge Italian troupe, and several shows integrating spoken-word and hip-hop. For last year’s production of Romeo & Juliet, aimed at teenagers, there was no stage, set, or seating; the actors moved among the audience, which remained standing throughout the show.

The experimentation partly derives from the fact that children’s theater, a relatively new genre, has a narrow repertory from which to draw. Elissa Adams, the CTC’s director of new play development, receives numerous unsolicited scripts but describes most of them as “limited stereotypes of what children’s theater is”—talking-animal plays, productions utilizing just a handful of actors (perfect for community centers!). “Children hate cute, especially nowadays,” she says.

“We’re blessed by the fact that there’s no canon,” says Brosius. “You gotta create it.” So at a time when many theaters, in need of cash, are staging tried-and-true productions, the CTC devotes a third to one-half of every season to new works. Few other large theaters—or any kind of arts institution—would ever program that much new work, given audiences’ clear preference for the classics. But the CTC doesn’t struggle to sell new plays to its audience the way that orchestras, for instance, struggle to sell new music. New plays aren’t odd to kids, nor are they particularly special; they’re just plays. “It gives us more freedom,” says Adams, “because they’re not evaluating that way.”

The CTC generally commissions playwrights who have little to no experience in children’s theater, in order to distance itself from children’s theater clichés. The Cuban-American playwright Nilo Cruz, for example, was hired to adapt A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings, a short story by Gabriel García Márquez, for the CTC’s 2002 season. A year later, Cruz won the Pulitzer Prize for an “adult” play, Anna in the Tropics.

The CTC gives these writers just two rules: First, Brosius jokes, do not injure the audience. Second, blow their minds.

In the past year, the CTC, like most businesses, has suffered pay cuts, staff reductions, and a leaner budget. But the CTC’s mission is still highly appealing to corporate sponsors, such as Best Buy, H. B. Fuller, and Target. The CTC also generates revenue by licensing the commissioned plays. Such fiscal good fortune means it can afford to spend an average of two and a half years on each new play and to hire top designers and creative costumers. “Write us a play in verse with a full circus and we’ll produce it,” boasts Brosius.

On a long gray table just outside Brosius’s office, Eduardo Sicangco, a veteran set and costume designer from New York, is showing the CTC staff his latest sketches for Cinderella, which opens this month on the main stage. The CTC has rarely offered a straight take on fairy tales—its recent Hansel and Gretel replaced the kids’ evil stepmother with two devoted but poor parents, turning the story into an allegory on poverty—and this version of Cinderella is no exception. It features stepsisters in drag, a kitchen that cleans itself, and actors that sometimes break character to riff on American Idol. Sicangco generally works on operas and ballets, and his renderings are exquisite, the costume ideas wildly fantastic. “In another costume shop, they’d laugh me out of there,” he says. “Here, they don’t bat an eye.”

An advantage of creating for kids is that, unlike most adults, they don’t have any preconceptions of how a particular play should be done—they probably haven’t seen any other productions of Romeo & Juliet or Cinderella. “Kids don’t have any baggage,” says Sicangco. “It’s kind of wonderful.”

The experimentation has so far been going over well, with CTC’s youthful audiences typically shouting their approval and literally falling down in the aisles. During the onstage chaos of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, says Brosius, “Kids were laughing their butts off, they were rocking. If they could’ve held up lighters….”

For all the fun and games, however, the goal is serious. “It’s hugely important,” says Brosius, “that we re-orient young people’s expectations of theater. You can excite them to an art form forever or turn them off to an art form forever. The stakes are high. So yeah, we’ve got something to prove.”

Cinderella opens November 10 at the Children’s Theatre Company. For details, call the box office at 612-874-0400 or visit childrenstheatrecompany.org.

Tim Gihring is Minnesota Monthly’s senior writer and arts editor.

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MN Events Calendar

August 2015

Black and White refers to both the striking graphic qualities of the printed image and to the divisiveness at the heart of apartheid—the segregation of black and white. The remarkable story...

Cost: Free

Where:
Weisman Art Museum
333 East River Road
Minneapolis, MN  55455
View map »


Sponsor: Weisman Art Museum
Telephone: 612-625-9494
Contact Name: Erin Lauderman
Website »

More information

Paul Shambroom: Lost presents three new projects by internationally renowned photographer Paul Shambroom. The series Lost features photographs whose imagery is taken from old flyers of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Minnesota Museum of American Art Project Space
141 E. 4th Street
St. Paul, MN  55101
View map »


Website »

More information

Join us for a salon-style show featuring new works by hundreds of artists including Israeli artist Shay Kun and local artists Carl Bretzke, Mary Lingen, Wayne Meineke, Mike Welton, Kevan...

Cost: Free and open to the public

Where:
Douglas Flanders & Associates
818 West Lake Street
Minneapolis, MN  55408
View map »


Telephone: 612791-1285
Contact Name: Douglas Flanders
Website »

More information

The Meeting Waters Friday, August 28, 2015 – Sunday, August 30, 2015  Whittier Studios Reception: Friday, August 28, 6:00-9:00 p.m. Uniting artists from disparate...

Cost: Free

Where:
MCAD Whittier Gallery
2840 Grand Avenue, Minneapolis
Minneapolis, MN  55408
View map »


Telephone: 612-874-3793
Contact Name: Ann Benrud

More information

All poultry enthusiasts, 4-H supporters, and state fair goers, join Minnesota 4-H and Gold’n Plump on Sunday, August 30 from noon to 1:00 p.m. at the sixth annual Poultry Prince and Princess...

Cost: Free with admission to Minnesota State Fair

Where:
Minnesota State Fair Sheep & Poultry Barn
Judson Ave & Liggett St
St. Paul, MN  55108
View map »


Sponsor: Gold'n Plump
Telephone: 612-337-0087
Contact Name: Julia Irwin
Website »

More information

Red Wing Depot Gallery will be full of the season...The Harvest Season. Depending on your background, you may envision different things when you consider harvest time. We have artwork that reflects...

Cost: Free

Where:
Red Wing Depot Gallery
418 Levee Street
Red Wing, MN  55066
View map »


Sponsor: Red Wing Arts Association
Telephone: 651-388-7569
Contact Name: Arlene Roth
Website »

More information

Join us as we gather with MCEA donors and friends at the Grand Ely Lodge on Sunday, August 30th from 4:00-6:00 PM! Enjoy refreshments and conversation as we learn from MCEA’s staff...

Cost: Free, reservations are required

Where:
Grand Ely Lodge
400 N. Pioneer Rd.
Sunrise Room
Ely, MN  55731
View map »


Website »

More information

Franklin Arts Center | Resident Artists Gallery will host a new body of work by Minneapolis artist Sara Suppan. Suppan’s paintings explore the relationship between the home and its...

Cost: Free

Where:
Franklin Art Center Resident Artists Gallery
1001 Kingwood St
Brainerd, MN  56401
View map »


Sponsor: Franklin Art Center
Website »

More information

St Paul! Come see Alan Jackson perform all his hits live at the Minnesota State Fair on August 30th. Don't miss this unforgettable night of hits!

Cost: $40

Where:
Minnesota State Fair
St. Paul , MN


Website »

More information

July 13, 2015 – White Bear Lake, Minn. – White Bear Lake is an extraordinarily picturesque Minnesota city that has maintained its small-town character over the past 150 years. It is...

Cost: Free

Where:
White Bear Center for the Arts
4971 Long Avenue
White Bear Lake, MN  55110
View map »


Telephone: 612-990-0126
Contact Name: Lynn Nelson
Website »

More information

Show More...
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Black and White refers to both the striking graphic qualities of the printed image and to the divisiveness at the heart of apartheid—the segregation of black and white. The remarkable story...

Cost: Free

Where:
Weisman Art Museum
333 East River Road
Minneapolis, MN  55455
View map »


Sponsor: Weisman Art Museum
Telephone: 612-625-9494
Contact Name: Erin Lauderman
Website »

More information

Paul Shambroom: Lost presents three new projects by internationally renowned photographer Paul Shambroom. The series Lost features photographs whose imagery is taken from old flyers of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Minnesota Museum of American Art Project Space
141 E. 4th Street
St. Paul, MN  55101
View map »


Website »

More information

Red Wing Depot Gallery will be full of the season...The Harvest Season. Depending on your background, you may envision different things when you consider harvest time. We have artwork that reflects...

Cost: Free

Where:
Red Wing Depot Gallery
418 Levee Street
Red Wing, MN  55066
View map »


Sponsor: Red Wing Arts Association
Telephone: 651-388-7569
Contact Name: Arlene Roth
Website »

More information

Summer Group Show 2015 Featuring the artists of the Kolman & Pryor Gallery: Betsy Ruth Byers: Painting Kate Casanova: Mixed Media and Sculpture Jim Dryden: Painting Jil Evans: Painting...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kolman & Pryor Gallery
Studio 395, Northrup King Building
1500 Jackson St. NE
Minneapolis, MN  55413
View map »


Sponsor: Kolman & Pryor Gallery
Telephone: 612-385-4239
Contact Name: Anita Sue Kolman
Website »

More information

Join us as we gather with MCEA donors and friends at Tycoons in Downtown Duluth on Monday, August 31st from 4:00-6:00 PM! Enjoy refreshments and conversation with MCEA’s executive...

Cost: Free, reservations are required

Where:
Tycoons Alehouse
132 E. Superior St.
Duluth , MN
View map »


Website »

More information

July 13, 2015 – White Bear Lake, Minn. – White Bear Lake is an extraordinarily picturesque Minnesota city that has maintained its small-town character over the past 150 years. It is...

Cost: Free

Where:
White Bear Center for the Arts
4971 Long Avenue
White Bear Lake, MN  55110
View map »


Telephone: 612-990-0126
Contact Name: Lynn Nelson
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Paul Shambroom: Lost presents three new projects by internationally renowned photographer Paul Shambroom. The series Lost features photographs whose imagery is taken from old flyers of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Minnesota Museum of American Art Project Space
141 E. 4th Street
St. Paul, MN  55101
View map »


Website »

More information

Black and White refers to both the striking graphic qualities of the printed image and to the divisiveness at the heart of apartheid—the segregation of black and white. The remarkable story...

Cost: Free

Where:
Weisman Art Museum
333 East River Road
Minneapolis, MN  55455
View map »


Sponsor: Weisman Art Museum
Telephone: 612-625-9494
Contact Name: Erin Lauderman
Website »

More information

Join us for a salon-style show featuring new works by hundreds of artists including Israeli artist Shay Kun and local artists Carl Bretzke, Mary Lingen, Wayne Meineke, Mike Welton, Kevan...

Cost: Free and open to the public

Where:
Douglas Flanders & Associates
818 West Lake Street
Minneapolis, MN  55408
View map »


Telephone: 612791-1285
Contact Name: Douglas Flanders
Website »

More information

Summer Group Show 2015 Featuring the artists of the Kolman & Pryor Gallery: Betsy Ruth Byers: Painting Kate Casanova: Mixed Media and Sculpture Jim Dryden: Painting Jil Evans: Painting...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kolman & Pryor Gallery
Studio 395, Northrup King Building
1500 Jackson St. NE
Minneapolis, MN  55413
View map »


Sponsor: Kolman & Pryor Gallery
Telephone: 612-385-4239
Contact Name: Anita Sue Kolman
Website »

More information

Red Wing Depot Gallery will be full of the season...The Harvest Season. Depending on your background, you may envision different things when you consider harvest time. We have artwork that reflects...

Cost: Free

Where:
Red Wing Depot Gallery
418 Levee Street
Red Wing, MN  55066
View map »


Sponsor: Red Wing Arts Association
Telephone: 651-388-7569
Contact Name: Arlene Roth
Website »

More information

This is a Minnesota Recovery Month event to express gratitude, convey hope and to celebrate all in recovery—family, friends, and everyone in our communities who help recovery happen. ...

Cost: $15.00

Where:
Target Field
822 S 3rd St, Suite 101
Minneapolis, MN  55415
View map »


Sponsor: Minnesota Recovery Connection
Telephone: 612-584-4158
Contact Name: Julia Parnell
Website »

More information

July 13, 2015 – White Bear Lake, Minn. – White Bear Lake is an extraordinarily picturesque Minnesota city that has maintained its small-town character over the past 150 years. It is...

Cost: Free

Where:
White Bear Center for the Arts
4971 Long Avenue
White Bear Lake, MN  55110
View map »


Telephone: 612-990-0126
Contact Name: Lynn Nelson
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Black and White refers to both the striking graphic qualities of the printed image and to the divisiveness at the heart of apartheid—the segregation of black and white. The remarkable story...

Cost: Free

Where:
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333 East River Road
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View map »


Sponsor: Weisman Art Museum
Telephone: 612-625-9494
Contact Name: Erin Lauderman
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Cost: Free

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Cost: Free

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Red Wing Depot Gallery
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View map »


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Website »

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Cost: Free

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1500 Jackson St. NE
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View map »


Sponsor: Kolman & Pryor Gallery
Telephone: 612-385-4239
Contact Name: Anita Sue Kolman
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Cost: Free

Where:
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Website »

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Show More...
Show Less...

Thursday, September 3, 2015, 7:30 a.m. Hoversten Chapel, Foss Center, Augsburg College  625 22nd Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55454.  Keynote Speaker — Johnny Smith. ...

Cost: $15.00

Where:
Augsburg College
Minneapolis, MN


Sponsor: Minnesota Recovery Connection
Telephone: 612-584-4158
Contact Name: Julia Parnell
Website »

More information

Black and White refers to both the striking graphic qualities of the printed image and to the divisiveness at the heart of apartheid—the segregation of black and white. The remarkable story...

Cost: Free

Where:
Weisman Art Museum
333 East River Road
Minneapolis, MN  55455
View map »


Sponsor: Weisman Art Museum
Telephone: 612-625-9494
Contact Name: Erin Lauderman
Website »

More information

Paul Shambroom: Lost presents three new projects by internationally renowned photographer Paul Shambroom. The series Lost features photographs whose imagery is taken from old flyers of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Minnesota Museum of American Art Project Space
141 E. 4th Street
St. Paul, MN  55101
View map »


Website »

More information

Join us for a salon-style show featuring new works by hundreds of artists including Israeli artist Shay Kun and local artists Carl Bretzke, Mary Lingen, Wayne Meineke, Mike Welton, Kevan...

Cost: Free and open to the public

Where:
Douglas Flanders & Associates
818 West Lake Street
Minneapolis, MN  55408
View map »


Telephone: 612791-1285
Contact Name: Douglas Flanders
Website »

More information

Red Wing Depot Gallery will be full of the season...The Harvest Season. Depending on your background, you may envision different things when you consider harvest time. We have artwork that reflects...

Cost: Free

Where:
Red Wing Depot Gallery
418 Levee Street
Red Wing, MN  55066
View map »


Sponsor: Red Wing Arts Association
Telephone: 651-388-7569
Contact Name: Arlene Roth
Website »

More information

Summer Group Show 2015 Featuring the artists of the Kolman & Pryor Gallery: Betsy Ruth Byers: Painting Kate Casanova: Mixed Media and Sculpture Jim Dryden: Painting Jil Evans: Painting...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kolman & Pryor Gallery
Studio 395, Northrup King Building
1500 Jackson St. NE
Minneapolis, MN  55413
View map »


Sponsor: Kolman & Pryor Gallery
Telephone: 612-385-4239
Contact Name: Anita Sue Kolman
Website »

More information

Join Ian Karl for an evening of carving canoe paddles, sharing stories of paddling adventures, and sampling some of the fine dark beer that the Midwest has to offer. Ian is an accomplished...

Cost: $20 per person

Where:
Northwest Passage's In A New Light Gallery
7417 North Bass Lake Rd
Webster, WI  54893
View map »


Sponsor: Northwest Passage
Telephone: 715-309-4254
Contact Name: Brenda Martin
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In our latest best-of show, "Throwback BNW: Junk from our Trunk," the cast takes a look in the BNW archives for the best sketches from the last decade. The show will feature recent...

Cost: $25-$32

Where:
Brave New Workshop Comedy Theatre
824 Hennepin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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Sponsor: Brave New Workshop
Telephone: 612-332-6620
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#1 Good Dogs Coming Again to Hudson Badlands for 30th Annual Competition Have you ever tried to teach your dog to lie down on command? How about come when called while playing with his favorite...

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Cost: Free

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Cost: Free and open to the public

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View map »


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Website »

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Sponsor: Studio Z
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July 13, 2015 – White Bear Lake, Minn. – White Bear Lake is an extraordinarily picturesque Minnesota city that has maintained its small-town character over the past 150 years. It is...

Cost: Free

Where:
White Bear Center for the Arts
4971 Long Avenue
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View map »


Telephone: 612-990-0126
Contact Name: Lynn Nelson
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

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Where:
Badlands Sno-Park
772 Kinney Road
Hudson, WI  54016
View map »


Sponsor: Wisconsin Working Stock Dog Association
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Website »

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#1 Good Dogs Coming Again to Hudson Badlands for 30th Annual Competition Have you ever tried to teach your dog to lie down on command? How about come when called while playing with his favorite...

Cost: $7

Where:
Badlands Sno-Park
772 Kinney Road
Hudson, WI
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Black and White refers to both the striking graphic qualities of the printed image and to the divisiveness at the heart of apartheid—the segregation of black and white. The remarkable story...

Cost: Free

Where:
Weisman Art Museum
333 East River Road
Minneapolis, MN  55455
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Sponsor: Weisman Art Museum
Telephone: 612-625-9494
Contact Name: Erin Lauderman
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Paul Shambroom: Lost presents three new projects by internationally renowned photographer Paul Shambroom. The series Lost features photographs whose imagery is taken from old flyers of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Minnesota Museum of American Art Project Space
141 E. 4th Street
St. Paul, MN  55101
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Looking for something new to kick off Labor Day Weekend?... Try this...No Dog Left Behind's inaugural 5k for both humans & their dogs. Run, Walk, Bark along the Shores of Beautiful...

Cost: $20 in advance, $30 Race day

Where:
Brighton Beach
Brighton Beach Road
Duluth, MN  55804
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Sponsor: No Dog Left Beind
Contact Name: Susan
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The public is invited to attend the ninth annual Blue Moon Art Tour on Saturday, September 5 and Sunday, September 6 of Labor Day weekend, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Visit artists at their studios...

Cost: Free

Where:
Art Studios
Blue Moon Road
Drummond, WI  54832
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Telephone: 800-533-7454
Contact Name: Cable Area Chamber of Commerce
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Join us for a salon-style show featuring new works by hundreds of artists including Israeli artist Shay Kun and local artists Carl Bretzke, Mary Lingen, Wayne Meineke, Mike Welton, Kevan...

Cost: Free and open to the public

Where:
Douglas Flanders & Associates
818 West Lake Street
Minneapolis, MN  55408
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Telephone: 612791-1285
Contact Name: Douglas Flanders
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Red Wing Depot Gallery will be full of the season...The Harvest Season. Depending on your background, you may envision different things when you consider harvest time. We have artwork that reflects...

Cost: Free

Where:
Red Wing Depot Gallery
418 Levee Street
Red Wing, MN  55066
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Sponsor: Red Wing Arts Association
Telephone: 651-388-7569
Contact Name: Arlene Roth
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In our latest best-of show, "Throwback BNW: Junk from our Trunk," the cast takes a look in the BNW archives for the best sketches from the last decade. The show will feature recent...

Cost: $25-$32

Where:
Brave New Workshop Comedy Theatre
824 Hennepin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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Sponsor: Brave New Workshop
Telephone: 612-332-6620
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July 13, 2015 – White Bear Lake, Minn. – White Bear Lake is an extraordinarily picturesque Minnesota city that has maintained its small-town character over the past 150 years. It is...

Cost: Free

Where:
White Bear Center for the Arts
4971 Long Avenue
White Bear Lake, MN  55110
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Telephone: 612-990-0126
Contact Name: Lynn Nelson
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