The Duluth Playhouse theatrical magic is alive at the NorShor

Dennis O'Hara

The magnificently restored NorShor Theatre re-opened on February 1, 2018. Photo by Dennis O'Hara.

Another Opening, Another Show

It was 1914 when a small group of women gathered around the dining room table at the home of Mrs. Frank Parker to discuss the possibility of starting a drama group in Duluth. They became a chapter of the National Drama League and called their organization “The Little Theater.”

Meeting at first in homes, they later acquired the former Christian Science church building at Ninth Avenue East and First Street. Dressing rooms were in the basement on a cold, damp earth floor; the auditorium was heated by a wood and coal stove that had to be well stoked before performances.

The Little Theatre of Duluth began its historic journey with the American première of Bernard Shaw’s “Dark Lady of the Sonnets.” In the 1930's, the organization was renamed the Duluth Playhouse and is now one of the oldest continuing community theaters in the country.

For over a century, through fires, World Wars, decline and growth in the city of Duluth and different stages in a variety of buildings, the Duluth Playhouse has entered a new era. After 45 years of being housed at the St. Louis County Depot, the Duluth Playhouse had its last show at the venue in August. They are now in their permanent home in the exquisite theatrical gem, the beautifully renovated NorShor in downtown Duluth's Historic Arts and Theatre District (HART).

Like the Playhouse, the NorShor has also had a storied history that traces its beginnings back to the Grand Opera House, built at the location in 1883. The 1,000-seat Opera House also housed a library and was home to the local Kitchi Gammi Club. Sadly, the Opera House was destroyed by a fire in 1889.

Over the years, the rebuilt Norshor became home to vaudeville performers, silent films, and the “talkies.” While it had several renovations over the years, it deteriorated gradually, and in the mid-2000s was in serious disrepair.

With some unsuccessful changes of ownership and a variety of attempts to bring in entertainment, some serious discussions happened about even tearing the building down.

Then, through the Duluth Economic Development Authority, state bonding bills, private funding and donations, the Duluth Playhouse took ownership. After 19 months of renovation, the beautifully restored theatre was reopened on February 1, 2018.

The New Norshor, with the glory of its Art Deco past restored, is now the hub of the HART district. The Duluth Playhouse Main Stage shows moved from the Depot to the expansive stage and the six-hundred-seat venue at the Norshor. They began presenting new seasons of sparkling theatrical entertainment in their new home to the delight of area audiences.

This year, the Playhouse successfully kicked off its 2022-23 season with the Broadway Musical “Once.” Wes Drummond, the Playhouse Executive Director, said,  “I am excited about everything that comes with our new season. The lineup of shows is incredible. Already, the reaction to our first production of ‘Once’ has been huge.”

The Duluth Playhouse Executive Director Wes Drummond.

Drummond stated, “The NorShor speaks for itself. What an incredible venue to call home. We can all agree that the building is stunning. For me, however, it is less about the building and more about the people, the community and the art that is being created on the NorShor stage.”

“Duluth has such incredible talent. I am continually blown away by the artists that show up to audition to be in our shows. But it's not only about the actors on stage. The local musicians, designers, technicians, stage crew all bring their best to every production,” Drummond noted. “Our community is full of professional artists who are ready to put in the work to bring high-quality live theatrical experiences to the Twin Ports.”

Changes this year at the Playhouse have included moving all their shows and programs at the Depot to the Norshor and to Zeitgeist across the street. According to Drummond, leaving the Depot allows the Playhouse freedom and the ability to continue to build momentum. “Operating solely from the HART District already feels right and allows us to further support the other businesses in the area,” he explained.

The NorShor Theatre is now the Duluth Playhouse Mainstage. Submitted photo.

The Youth Theatre and The Duluth Playhouse School of Performing Arts have also all moved to the Norshor Theatre facility. In addition, The Underground series will now be produced at Zeitgeist in the Teatro Performing Arts Theater at 222 East Superior Street.

“This season, we have repriced the NorShor Theatre so that tickets are available at a broader price range. Our front row is now available for $30. We also have student rush, senior discounts and group rates,” Drummond explained. “We are continually taking steps to remove barriers so that everyone can attend a Playhouse production.”

He said that making the Playhouse affordable is also echoed in their classes and education programming where need-based scholarships are available. His message to the community is that if anyone wants to get involved with the Playhouse, they should reach out. “We would not be able to do what we do without our fantastic team of volunteers,” he added.

Drummond is excited about directing “Little Women, the Musical”  this season. He stated, “I have always loved this show and think it is the perfect musical to have at the NorShor for the holidays. I've always been obsessed with these characters and this story. The music of this production is stunning. It soars.”

“It's been a tough 2 1/2 years for arts organizations but it's clear that Duluth will do what it takes to have accessible and affordable high-quality live theatre available to our community. The support that the Duluth Playhouse receives from our community is unmatched,” Drummond concluded.

The 2022-23 Duluth Playhouse Main Stage Season (Performances at the NorShor)

“Little Women”  December 2-18, 2022

“Glass Menagerie”  February 3-12. 2023

“Into the Woods”  March 17-April 2, 2023

“Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-Time”  May 26-June 4

“Kinky Boots”  July 14-30, 2023

2022-23 Underground Season (Performances at Zeitgeist)

Rocky Horror Picture Show”  October 27-30, 2022

“A Doll’s House Part 2”  February 23-March 5, 2023

“Mr. Burns:, A Post-Electric Play”  April 13-23

“What She Said: New Play Festival”  May 11-13

2022-23 Youth Theatre Season (Performances at the NorShor)

“The Sponge Bob Musical” October 21-23, 2022

“Tuck Everlasting” April 28-30, 2023

“Disney’s Newsies Jr.” June 23-25, 2023

“The Addams Family” August 11-13, 2023

For tickets, (individual shows and season) call 218-733-7555 or visit boxoffice@duluthplayhouse.org

To sign up for email updates, audition information, classes for youth, teens, and adults, and gift certificates, visit duluthplayhouse.org

 

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