Community Curtain Call: Lakeshore Players Theatre's 60th Anniversary

After six decades, Lakeshore Players Theatre continues to thrive in White Bear Lake.
Joan Elwell fuels the area's appetite for theatrical production with Lakeshore Players Theatre.

While the Twin Cities is widely recognized as a premier scene for the performing arts, White Bear Lake-area residents have one of its gems in their backyard. For 61 years, Lakeshore Players Theatre (LPT) has been delighting audiences with live theatre and providing opportunities from community members to showcase their talents in acting, music, carpentry, costume design and much more.
“We embrace the community in community theater in every sense of the word,” says executive director Joan Elwell. “Our volunteers are moms, families, doctors, lawyers, judges, retirees—even dogs.” In fact, each season an average of 650 community volunteer actors (including children), musicians, technicians, ushers and others contribute to the organization’s success.
Founded in 1953, LPT is one of Minnesota’s oldest community theaters. “In the early days, the concept of community theater was non-existent. There was nothing like it,” says Elwell. The group began performing in the high school. Later, LPT resided in a building on Second Street—currently the US Bank parking lot—until that facility burned down in the late 60s. Today, audiences revel in the drama and dialogue at the church-turned-playhouse (originally built in 1889) at Sixth and Stewart, which has seating for 175.
Finding their mark as a prime community theater in Minnesota, LPT produces an ambitious lineup of seven shows each season, as well as an interlude of after-school classes, day camps and outreach work, such as “page to stage” performances at the library, and partnerships with COLLAGE and Landmark Center.
Behind the scenes, LPT is lead by Elwell, who has 30 years experience in performing arts, and 3 additional full-time and 7 part-time staff. “We recently hired a new artistic director who plans programming and partnerships with schools. It’s so important that kids feel safe and nurtured and get a chance to share in the creative performing arts,” Elwell says. A variety of acting classes are offered for children in 2nd thru12th grade.
The next act for the LPT is centered on the launch of a capital campaign to fund a new theatre. Maintenance issues, structural limitations and a lack of wheelchair-accessibility necessitated the plan to move. “We did extensive surveys and research on the feasibility to renovate [versus] build new, but ultimately, renovating failed to meet the needs in the long term,” Elwell says. The concept plans include a larger theater with 285 seats, and dedicated space for classrooms. “This will enable us to expand our after-school programs and summer camps. It will also allow us to do other kinds of shows and performances that were limited in our current space.”
On the Stage
Theatre-goers can enjoy the upcoming performance of The Jungle Book, Rudyard Kipling’s classic children’s tale about Mowgli, a boy raised by wolves, who learns the ways of the jungle with the help of his friends—Baloo the bear and Bagheera the panther. Running December 5-15, tickets are $12 for regular admission, $10 for seniors and students, and weekday student matinee performances are $6.
“Ticket sales and class fees are 70 percent of the theatre’s income, so community support of the shows is integral to its success,” adds Elwell. “We offer a variety and each show is something different that appeals to everyone.”

Upcoming Shows
Jungle Book
December 5–15, 2013

The Petrified Forest: January 16–February 2, 2014. A suspense thriller.
Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None: February 27–March 30, 2014. Most popular murder mystery of all time.
Annie: April 24–May 25, 2014. A rousing musical romp for the whole family.
10th Annual 10-Minute Play Festival: June 5–15. Short attention-span theatre.

Lakeshore Players Theatre: 4820 Stewart Ave., White Bear Lake; 651.429.5674.