Theatre in the Gopher State: The Guthrie Theater

Amanda Pyfferoen

  • OnStage Minnesota Columnist
  • @AmandaPyfferoen

As one of OnStage’s newest bloggers, and the only one currently representing the Land of 10,000 Lakes, I thought I would introduce you to the theatre scene in Minnesota. There have been some claims that the Twins Cites have the “second most theatre seats per capita” after New York; there is no hard evidence or data to back this claim. Whether you believe that or not, one thing is clear, the theatre scene in the Twin Cities is thriving. There are many wonderful theatres and I am planning to share some of my favorite experiences at these venues in hopes that it will entice you to attend one of their productions.

One of the most prominent theatres in Minnesota is the Guthrie. Tyrone Guthrie established the theatre in May of 1963 with the intent to create a core company of actors to perform classics on a rotating schedule. In 2006, the Guthrie began performing in their current home on the banks of the Mississippi River where they have three performance spaces: The Wuretle Thrust (1,100 seats), The McGuire Proscenium (700 seats), and the Dowling Studio (a black box that can seat up to 200).

I was personally blown away the first time I saw a Guthrie production, it was 2007 with a production of The Glass Menagerie. They began with a bare stage and narrator Tom (they had two Tom’s) began his opening monologue and all of sudden the entire set emerged from upstage and I actually gasped…maybe even teared up. I was chaperoning a high school junior class trip (I had graduated two years earlier so I knew many of the students) and there I was weeping over how they revealed their set. I credit that with the first moment I cried at the theatre – with the set and not because of the story.

The Guthrie Theater

The Guthrie Theater

A few years later I finally saw my second production, The 39 Steps. My brother and I were both attending the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities and our professors would often require us to see productions they were working on. My brother’s acting prof at the time happened to playing one of the clowns in this production and needed to write a paper about it. We got tickets at the last minute, were a little rushed, and didn’t know where to put our winter coats – but we laughed so hard we cried. At times it seemed like we were the only ones laughing however it was a blue-haired crowd and the show had a quick pace. It was another amazing Guthrie experience for me.

 During grad school I took my mother to her first Guthrie show Appomattox which is a historically inspired drama paralleling the end of the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. Maybe a tad heavy for her first Guthrie experience, but my mother is a history buff and thoroughly enjoyed the production. I wanted to see it because I had a friend in the show (a few small roles but he was great). At the time we were focusing on gestures in one of my graduate acting classes so that was all I could focus one…almost to the point of missing what was being said. To this day I still remember the actor playing Lincoln and Johnson repeating this habitual gesture where he would stick his hands in his pockets and jingle coins around which left me wondering if he consciously chose to make that connection or if it was something the actor did subconsciously…I’ll probably never know.

The most recent Guthrie production I attended was this past February of new artistic director Joseph Haj’s debut with Pericles. It was visually stunning, especially the billowing fabric used to represent the ocean and the video projection. The live, underscoring music was a wonderful addition and helped to set the mood of each act. Was it my favorite Guthrie production? No, but it was still amazing and I am looking forward to see what Haj has in store of his Guthrie tenure.

The Guthrie continues to create stunning productions and remains a top theatre in the Midwest. One of these years I’m going to get to their annual A Christmas Carol production. For more information or tickets visit