UMD’s Marshall Performing Arts Center Celebrates 50th Anniversary

MPAC shines on a beautiful spring night. Photo courtesy of University Marketing and Public Relations UMD     

UMD will celebrate MPAC's 50th Anniversary on Saturday, April 13, 2024

In 1974, the campus of UMD held dedication ceremonies for the new Marshall Performing Arts Center (MPAC), built at a cost of $2.8 million. The School of Fine Arts was established at the same time, giving the music, theatre, and dance programs a home.

Built in 1974, this is the cover for the UMD Dedication Program for MPAC. Submitted by Amy Hill

MPAC was named to honor the parents of Duluthian sisters Caroline and Julia Marshall who were major donors, along with their sister Jessica Marshall Spencer, and Marjorie Congdon Dudley. The Dudley Experimental Theater housed in MPAC was named for Dudley.

According to the UMD website, “The Marshall Performing Arts Center (MPAC) houses the Department of Theatre and offers two unique performance venues. Within the Marshall Performing Arts Center, there is a 550-seat flexible thrust/proscenium theatre as well as a black-box experimental theatre. The 100-seat black box Dudley Experimental Theatre has a flexible seating arrangement, presenting UMD Theatre productions and Stage 2 productions annually.”

“Multiple studios provide designated space for actors, designers, and dancers, while fully equipped scenic, welding, and costume shops, in addition to state-of-the-art lighting and sound equipment, allow student designers and technicians to explore their crafts in lab and production work.”

MPAC Main Stage is bare during pre-production. Photo Courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, Kathryn A. Martin Library, University of Minnesota Duluth

Strong Department Leadership

Bill Payne was at UMD from 1993 to 2022 as a Professor of Acting & Directing, later serving as the Dean of the School of Fine Arts. “An educational performance space like MPAC is an incredible asset for our community. Though our students are still learning, they still bring a great infusion of talent to the region and display it in a great venue at an affordable cost to the public,” said Payne. “Our community needs artists and art just as much as it needs business people and businesses.”

President Emeritus from Baldwin Wallace University, Richard Durst, was at UMD from 1977 to 1996 serving as a  scenery designer, Department Head of Theatre, Artistic Director for Minnesota Rep, and the Dean of the School of Fine Arts.

“I was always thrilled at the community support for theatre and the connection to all the arts in Duluth. MPAC provided a state-of-the-art facility that allowed us to bring high-quality theatre to Duluth,” noted Durst. “The Marshall sisters provided that economic support that allowed it all to happen. The quality of the program enabled us to recruit superior faculty and students to build upon the successes.”

UMD acting students perform “Sense and Sensibility,” in Dudley Experimental Theater, November 2023. Jenna Soleo-Shanks directed the play. Photo by Reece Hickman.

Richard Graves, an Associate Professor and Department Head from the Fall of 1976 through the Spring of 1984, said, “The performing arts are vital to a well-rounded undergraduate education, and MPAC provides an extraordinary cultural asset to the community.”

Mark Harvey came to UMD in May 1983 as the staff technical coordinator for the Marshall Performing Arts Center. He joined the faculty in 1985 and served as Acting Department Head from 1986-1988. He has served as Department Head since 2011 and will retire this May. He designed lighting or sound (and a few times both) for over 150 theatre and dance productions in the Marshall Center, as well as supervised UMD Theatre's lighting, sound and stage management programs for 38 years.

“Dear Finder,” 2008 UMD Theatre production, Marshall Performing Arts Center Main Stage, was directed by Tom Isbell. Photo courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, Kathryn A. Martin Library, University of Minnesota Duluth

Harvey was also the consultant for the three-million-dollar renovation in 2012 when extensive projects were done in both the Main Stage and Dudley Theatre, bringing needed technology updates such as lighting, sound, intercoms, and video monitors. Additional improvements included adding a voice studio, one new office, ADA compliance projects throughout, a sprinkler system, and a new rigging system on both the main stage and the Dudley Theatre.

According to Harvey, “Faculty, staff, and students, of course, have been critical for UMD Theatre's continually growing national reputation, as have been our amazingly loyal patrons and benefactors. However, our dreams and ambitions would not have been possible without a space to make them a reality.”

UMD Theatre cast in a performance of “The Spitfire Grill,” on Marshall Performing Arts Center Main Stage, October 2023, was directed and choreographed by Rebecca Katz Harwood. Photo by Derek Montgomery.

“The Marshall Center has made it possible for us as artists, practitioners, and audience members to come together as a community for an in-person storytelling experience, if just for a single performance, to laugh, cry and ponder the mysteries and challenges of life,” stated Harvey.

“Over the past 50 years, UMD Theatre has graduated over 800 Theatre majors and produced over 350 productions to over half a million patrons. Some of those 800 graduates went on to successful professional careers in the theatre,” Harvey added.

“Seussical," a 2008 UMD Theatre Production on Marshall Performing Arts Center Main Stage was directed and choreographed by Ann Aiko Bergeron. Photo Courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, Kathryn A. Martin Library, University of Minnesota Duluth.

Alumni Memories and Reunion

Bonnie Anderson was a Theatre major/French minor at UMD from 1974-1978. She explained, “I am a strong proponent of arts education, offering skills to students and arts and messaging to our culture. Experiencing live theatre, music, and dance performances enriches our view of the world. Because MPAC was so new and so beautiful, the building itself made a big impact on me. I spent four  years in and out of every space in the building.”

Amy Hill, who attended UMD from 1973-1977, earned her BFA in Theater and was a teaching assistant, managing the costume shop until 1976. She worked on costumes for the first production at MPAC in 1974, the musical “Hello Dolly,” directed by her brother, Don Dornacker.

This is the program for “Hello Dolly,” the first UMD Theatre production in MPAC. Photo Courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, Kathryn A. Martin Library, University of Minnesota Duluth.

Hill, who is still a freelance Costume Designer in the Twin Cities, has fond memories of MPAC.”The building was brand new, so we, as students and TAs, had a lot to do with developing the useful new spaces. Each of us Tech TAs had office spaces and keys and worked all hours of the day. The building was new and wonderful, but the real treasure was the friendships and collaborations that occurred within its walls. Many of the friends I had there are still special friends today.”

Hill added, “UMD and MPAC are treasured in the community. I worked in educational theatre for 18 years and have sent many students to study theatre at UMD over the years. Its excellence in education and quality performance have grown exponentially.”

“Legally Blonde,” a 2014 UMD Theatre Production on Marshall Performing Arts Center Main Stage, was directed and choreographed by Ann Aiko Bergeron. Photo Courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, Kathryn A. Martin Library, University of Minnesota Duluth.

50th Anniversary Celebration 

On Saturday, April 13, 2024, UMD will celebrate MPAC's 50th Anniversary and welcome back students with a reunion. They have invited all students, staff, and faculty who have participated in events at MPAC during the past 50 years to return home.

The day will include social time, slide shows, tours, lunch, a soiree, and a performance of the UMD Theatre Department’s musical, “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.” The performance will be followed by a planned cabaret and impromptu performances by alumni from the past 50 years at MPAC, as well as some current Theatre students.

Anderson is excited about the reunion. “When a group of my theatre alumni friends get together, we pick up the conversations right where we left off — however many years have passed. We have lifelong strong supportive friendships and really appreciate each other.”

“Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812”

Written by Dave Malloy
Directed by Thomas Jacobsen
Apr 12th, 13th | 7:30 PM
Apr 14th (ASL interpreted performance) | 2:00 PM Apr 17th, 18th, 19th | 7:30 PM
Apr 20th | 2:00 PM & 7:30 PM
Marshall Performing Arts Center Main Stage
Advance tickets are on sale at or 218-726-8561. Advance tickets $25 adult | $20 senior/UMD Faculty & Staff/Veteran | $10 all students. UMD students are also eligible for free rush tickets 30 minutes prior to a performance with a valid UMD student ID; subject to availability.

UMD’s Department of Theatre is concluding its spring season in spectacular fashion with a production of the twelve-time Tony nominee “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812.”  Based on a scandalous slice of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, this electro-pop opera tells the story of Natasha, a beautiful (and betrothed) ingénue visiting Moscow, who is seduced by the dashing (and married) Anatole.

According to Mitra Emad — Associate Dean of the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” is a unique and exhilarating example of how the arts at UMD enrich our region.”

“One of the things we do best in this college is create space for fresh, experimental, and widely appealing performances that showcase the hard work and talent of our students,” said Emad.


Back to Top
Next Post:

Magical “Snow White” Ballet Delights Children and Adults

Previous Post:

Ursa Minor – The Beer with the Bear Logo Also Offers Amazing Pizza

Website Brought To You By:

  • Essentia Health
  • City of Duluth Minnesota
Other Supporting Partners
© 2024 Destination Duluth