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Stage Stories

From wardrobe malfunctions to nude scenes to celebrity sightings, actors reflect on 50 years behind the curtain at the Guthrie

Stage Stories
Photo by Guthrie Theater

The Guthrie Theater is marking half a century with a gala and an open house. We asked some of its most beloved employees, including one who was there at the beginning, for their favorite memories.

RAYE BIRK
Guthrie debut: 1966 • “I moved back to the Twin Cities from L.A. in 2003 and got the role of Mr. Bennett in Pride and Prejudice. I remember our first curtain call—the waterfall of applause on all three sides. I’d forgotten entirely what that was like. It was emotionally overwhelming.”

PETER MICHAEL GOETZ
Guthrie debut: 1967 • “We auditioned on the actual thrust stage and were allowed to watch the others audition, which is highly unusual. During the process, I saw three company actors cross upstage. These were my idols; I wanted to reach out and touch them. I felt so privileged to be sharing a stage with them, to be at the Guthrie. Broadway, Hollywood, other major regional theaters—nothing compares to this place.”

SALLY WINGERT
Guthrie debut: 1985 • “We used to bump into musicians all the time at the old theater.  I remember watching Roger McGuinn rehearsing “Eight Miles High”—just casual as shit, playing with his band. I saw Todd Rundgren in his dressing room. We’re still in our toddler years in the new place. Hopefully in 50 years they’ll look back at us and feel that way, too.”

ISABELL MONK O’CONNOR
Guthrie debut: 1981 • “The old theater had a bar called the Dram Shop. It was only for people working at the Guthrie. It had big leather couches, darts, a pool table, a card table. It would stay open as long as people were there. When Garland [Wright] was the artistic director, the bar would be blue with smoke. He was an outrageous smoker—four packs a day.”

GRETA OGLESBY
Guthrie debut: 2009 • “Caroline or Change (2009) was an extraordinary experience. None of us realized how life-changing it would be. It was so empowering to have Tony Kushner around. You could always find him to ask questions, pick his brain. He’s so warm and kind and generous.”

RANDY REYES
Guthrie debut: 1999 • “M. Butterfly (2010) was all kinds of scary and exhilarating—a mental and emotional Olympics. Especially the whole being-naked-on-the-thrust-stage thing. I remember Peter [Rothstein] telling me it was going to be a bare set for that scene, like two fighters in an empty stadium. We did a lot of variations of when to put the robe back on, trying to figure out how long was too long to be naked, what’s the most elegant way to put underwear back on. It’s distracting for the audience if you’re naked too long.”
 

 

BARBARA BRYNE
Guthrie debut: 1970 • “I played Dolly in The Matchmaker, Big Mama in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Paulina in The Winter’s Tale, and Mrs. Stockmann in An Enemy of the People—all in one week during the 1976–77 season. It was frantic but exciting.

I was playing Abby Brewster in Arsenic and Old Lace (1975) and had on long dangling earrings. Somehow, one got caught on a brooch I was wearing and my head kept bobbing sideways because of it. Well, that was too much for Peter [Michael Goetz]. He started laughing and left me on stage! Just ran off and left me.”

STEPHEN YOAKAM
Guthrie debut: 1983 • “The old stage was like a great vintage cello, seasoned by years of work. The new stage is just starting to get its own seasoning with people tramping on it, saying words, filling in the blank spaces. Theater has to keep on its toes and be exciting and generative and pay attention to social issues going on, to reflect what’s happening in the country and be socially proactive.”

JOHN SKELLEY
Guthrie debut: 2008 • “There was a scene in Charley’s Aunt where my character was supposed to dive into a dress. There were lots of layers and buttons—it was a difficult dress. One night I ended up twisting it inside out and the three of us could not for the life of us figure it out. We kept improvising as we tried to fix it, and eventually I ended up just yelling, ‘Ahhh!’ When I told a few people who’d seen it that night, they said, ‘That was hilarious! It should always be like that!’ I was like, ‘No. It will never be like that again.’”

SARAH AGNEW
Guthrie debut: 2003 • “When you say something during rehearsals—‘Gosh, wouldn’t it be great if we had a little motor scooter in this scene?’—a half-hour later you get a beautifully crafted mock-up of whatever you asked for. The attention to detail is incredible; everyone is so focused on providing what’s needed for the work to happen.”

SHEILA LIVINGSTON
Director of Artistic Relations; involved with the Guthrie since 1961 • “I fell in love with theater after seeing Richard III (directed by Tyrone Guthrie) at the Stratford Festival in 1953. When I heard in 1959 Tyrone was looking to plant a theater outside New York, I was on the steering committee to make sure he chose the Twin Cities. Everyone was so excited that first year; they had to stop selling season tickets at 23,000. Tyrone’s dream was to make theater accessible—to do the classics as well as identify future classics. The theater today is what Tyrone hoped it would be. His dream has been realized.” 
 

 Read extended interviews and see historic photos at MNMO.com/Guthrie50.

 


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