Many people know Hennepin Theatre Trust for its Broadway touring productions—and right now the season is kicking off with “Pick your Own Package” tickets available—but that’s only one segment of what the Trust does. In addition to hosting Broadway shows, concerts, comedians, dance programs and speakers, the Trust is a nonprofit playing a leading role in the Twin Cities by offering a variety of community engagement programs. The Trust’s educational initiatives now include the SpotLight Musical Theatre Program, Critical View student reviewer program, and Kids’ Night which helps introduce families to theatre. That’s in addition to owning and maintaining three historic venues downtown—the State, Pantages, and Orpheum theatres.
“The work we do is important and has significant cultural and economic benefits to our region,” says Tom Hoch, president and CEO of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
One of the highlights of Hoch’s working career, he says, is the SpotLight Musical Theatre Program, established to honor excellence in high school musical theatre. The program utilizes theatre educators and professionals to attend over 35 high school performances and offer insight and instruction through critical feedback, workshops, and a collaborative conference and year-end awards ceremony.
“We’re encouraging and celebrating those who participate in the high school musical,” Hoch explains. “There’s a need for this kind of recognition. Historically, the football and hockey teams have a case full of trophies, now theater programs can gather similar awards. We believe these drama programs are essential to high schools and want to help position them so they’re acknowledged as essential.”
What’s more, he says, it’s about celebrating what high school musicals do for students: It’s not just about having fun (although that’s important, too), it’s about learning memorization, poise and confidence, and working with a group to achieve a desired outcome.
“If you can’t sing, you can work on the set, or help with the lighting, or sell tickets,” Hoch adds. “This is something these kids can participate in for the rest of their lives, either as a career or as a hobby. These productions can and do light fires in a lot of young people.”
Another initiative of the Trust is the Minnesota Proud Walk of Fame in Downtown Minneapolis, honoring Minnesotans who have earned national and international recognition in the entertainment and film/TV industry. Similar to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the celebrities will be permanently recognized with a terrazzo plaque imbedded in the Hennepin Avenue sidewalk. The first three actors to be honored are Marion Ross (she played the mother, Marion Cunningham, on “Happy Days”), Tippi Hedren (best known for her role as Melanie Daniels in Hitchcock’s “The Birds,”) and Loni Anderson (who played the stunning receptionist Jennifer Marlowe on “WKRP in Cincinnati.”)
It is very possible that some of the talented artists on our high school stages will one day have a star honoring them on the Walk of Fame, since Cunningham, Hedren and Anderson all became involved in drama or fashion as youthful Minnesota students. Previous SpotLight participants, like Laura Osnes with roles in “Grease and “South Pacific,” are already on Broadway stages.
The Trust’s 2009-10 Broadway season is brimming with exciting shows and talented casts. From September 2009 through May 2010, the roster includes many productions coming to Minnesota for the first time—Disney’s Mary Poppins, the U.S. tour premiere of 101 Dalmatians the Musical, the 2008 Tony winner In the Heights, Dreamgirls, Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, as well as crowd pleasers Mamma Mia!, The Wizard of Oz, Avenue Q, and Cats. Select three or more shows and assemble a “Pick your Own Package.” Visit www.HennepinTheatreTrust.org for more information.