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Minnesota Performs for Groups

From the Twin Cities to Bemidji, the arts thrive in Minnesota. Whether it’s a small-town orchestra that’s been warming hearts since 1938, historic theaters with bright futures or a performing arts center that’s getting locals into its act, groups will find plenty of places to enjoy captivating performances.

If you count theater lovers among your customers, be sure to include some of these performing arts venues on your next trip to Minnesota.

Sheldon Theatre

Red Wing

In late 2018, the Sheldon Theatre, Red Wing’s 1904 showplace, wrapped up the final stage of a five-year renovation that gave it brighter lights, superior sound, a fresh look, accessible restrooms and a new reception space.

“We invested in the infrastructure of this remarkable place to protect and preserve it and enhance the user experience with contemporary amenities and expectations people have for a modern building,” said executive director Bonnie Schock.

Now, when Shawn Colvin sings in the 460-seat southern Minnesota theater, Schock said, “it sounds pristine, unbelievably true,” thanks to new equipment that enhanced the theater’s already-strong acoustics. And if a group wants a private pre- or post-show reception, there’s a stunning space for it  — what was once the second balcony — with an aerial view of the theater below through its large windows.

A new live performance series was “intentionally designed to appeal across audience demographics,” Schock said. “We have raised the bar on our programming.” That, combined with physical improvements, has attracted a larger audience base and more and different artists.

What has not changed about the Sheldon are characteristics that have always attracted its patrons: quality shows, easy access and an intimate venue. The Sheldon disrupts the assumption that high-quality entertainment is found only in big cities.

“That has been a feature of the Sheldon all along,” said Schock. “We have world-class performances on a regular basis. People will experience a show in a way that is much more intimate and up-close and personal than in the big city. Many times, the artists are popping out in our lobby — we can’t guarantee it, but it often happens.”

Bemidji Symphony Orchestra


There’s no need to put on the pearls or polish the dress shoes for a Bemidji Symphony Orchestra concert. The BSO, said Beverly Everett, music director, encourages people to come as they are.

“People think the symphony means you have to dress up,” said Everett. “We have people who come in hunting attire, suits and dresses and everything in between.”

Everett and the orchestra are far more interested in having an audience with attentive ears and open hearts. Feelings outweigh fashion.

“It makes me feel wonderful when they attend a concert and tell us they actually feel physically better afterward,” Everett said.

Professional musicians travel from around the region to play with the orchestra, which was established in 1938. Everett doesn’t pretend it performs at the level of, say, the Boston Symphony or other well-known peers.

“Our goal is to make it as perfect as we can in terms of notes and rhythm, but we know that what we offer has a little more to do with the heart,” Everett said. “It is important to us in that in playing, we have an emotional impact on our audience.”

A number of guests who perform with the orchestra during its seven-performance season have local ties. “We have guests who connect to the community because they are from here or are people who I know and have worked with, and [they] have the confidence they will connect with the audience on and off the stage,” said Everett. Post-performance talks are often part of the experience, giving audiences the chance to talk about what they heard.

The orchestra performs in the arts center at Bemidji High School, known for its acoustics and lack of visual obstructions. “It seats 1,100, has wonderful acoustics and no bad seats,” said Everett.

Paramount Arts Center

St. Cloud

In two years, the historic theater that is the core of St. Cloud’s Paramount Arts Center will be 100 years old, and having saved it looks smarter all the time.

“In many communities, assets like this were lost through the years, or by the time they decided to resurrect them, it was cost prohibitive because they had waited too long,” said executive director Bob Johnson.

About an hour northwest  of Minneapolis, St. Cloud has taken the performing arts foundation laid long ago and built beyond it. The Paramount today is about art in many forms, which makes it even more attractive for group trips.

“People know us as the theater, but we also have visual art studio spaces where people can participate in classes,” said Sara Erickson, marketing and special projects coordinator. Those courses run the gamut: pastels, watercolors, papier mache, pottery, weaving and calligraphy, for example.

Of course, the theater’s shows remain the biggest draw. A night at the theater might include dinner or tours through the center’s art galleries. “We have a nice downtown with wonderful restaurants, and if you arrive early, we have three art galleries,” said Erickson.

“Groups often travel up from northern [Twin Cities] suburbs, for one of the 17 matinees during the season,” said Johnson.

The range of performers at the Paramount is wide, from national acts like Paula Poundstone to concerts by locals, including the popular rock group Fabulous Armadillos.

“We want to meet the needs of all our potential patrons,” said Johnson. ”We have national and regional groups, but we are also on a mission to serve local artists, some who are just emerging and who find it so exciting to be on the stage of a nearly 100-year-old theater.”

Guthrie Theater


Kate Roarty, box office manager at the well-known Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, has this advice about planning a group trip there: “Call us. We love talking about all the cool things at the Guthrie.”

Even with websites and online ticket sales, there’s much to be gained by calling to talk to Guthrie staff. For example, if off-color language is an issue for a group, Roarty could supply more details than the standard “contains strong language” included in a show description. “We can have a conversation about the finer details of the content,” she said.

Lighting and special effects can also be an issue. For a group whose members must avoid flashing lights for health reasons, staff can tell the planner when strobe lights will be used so group members can know ahead of time and prepare. “We can let people know what is coming and when,” Roarty said.

A phone call might also enlighten a planner about substantial group discounts, which vary depending on day, time and seats; other options, like tours, could also be discussed.

“We can do private tours for $7 per person,” said Roarty. Backstage, architecture and costumes tours are popular, and private talks on those and other topics can also be arranged.

“During the backstage tour, they’ll see the shops in the building where we make everything for a show, and meet the amazing craftspeople who build all our sets [and] props and make our costumes.”

The architecture tour delves into Jean Nouvel’s arresting building design for the new Guthrie Theater, which opened in 2006 on the banks of the Mississippi River.

For the costumes tour, groups travel off-site to a warehouse where “retired” costumes are stored. “It’s like looking into a huge closest of the best friend in high school that you always wished for so that you could dress up in all her cool things,” said Roarty.

Reif Performing Arts Center

Grand Rapids

Already, the Reif Performing Arts Center in northern Grand Rapids packs its annual calendar with more than 50 national and international touring shows. That doesn’t even count its long list of local performers and groups.

Still, the performing arts complex, renovated and expanded just three years ago, wants to add even more for its patrons. So Shantel Dow, executive director, put out a call for local musicians to come perform in the lobby before shows.

“The lobby is like a community living room, just a beautiful space,” she said. “We are trying to make it more of an experience by offering music by local talent, young and old, the hour before the show starts.”

This year, cozy gas logs will glow in the fireplace as the cafe supplies coffee and treats for theatergoers who want to listen to live music. Among local talent signed on are Michaela Smith, a college student who plays the ukulele; board member Abby Kuschel, who plays piano; and singer and pianist Ariana Aitken. Their reward will be tickets to the show and any tips that land in the jar.

Dow and her staff also look for extras to enhance an evening out. For a “Music of Abba” show, they snapped pictures of theatergoers in front of a ’70s backdrop. Photos were given away as free souvenirs. “You’d have thought we had given them a million bucks,” Dow said.

The center’s also had trivia, crossword puzzles and other games tied to shows. “We’re trying to do something fun before every show,” said Dow.

All the efforts are with one goal: to encourage the community to come to their theater. “It is such a beautiful facility; we want the community to embrace it,” Dow said.