An Inside Look at White Bear Lake’s New Hanifl Performing Arts Center

by | Aug 2018

Hanifl Performing Arts Center

Photo: Rick Allen Photography

The Lakeshore Players Theatre has a new home, the Hanifl Performing Arts Center. Since its beginning in 1953, it has been based in two different churches. Now for the first time, the White Bear Lake-based theatre has a performance space to call its own.

Like producing a play, pulling the endeavor together was a group effort. The team behind the capital campaign that funded the new center has been at work since 2012. The Lakeshore Players Theatre will share the space with Children’s Performing Arts, and the center will also offer space for theatre, dance and concerts for the greater northeast metro community.

Thanks to community support and donations, after 65 years, the time was right to invest in the future of the arts in White Bear Lake.

“In regard to our young community members, with school funding being so limited, arts are frequently the first programs to get cut,” Rob Thomas says. As executive director of the theatre, Thomas has a front-row seat for seeing what the arts can provide community members.

Along with critical thinking, Thomas believes music and theatre training are linked to increased short- and long-term memory. “Art allows communication beyond the barrier of language. Theatre collaborations help promote social skills and builds sociological imagination,” Thomas adds.

“As for the rest of the community, everyone needs an outlet. We provide opportunities for people to participate in whatever way they want, either as an audience member being entertained or engaged in a conversation sparked by the issues of the play, or someone who needs a more creative outlet who’d like to step onto the stage and perform. We provide that outlet.”

Two women are due credit for this creative opportunity—Truly Lachow and Laurie Peterson. In 1953, the pair put a notice in the local newspaper looking for “all theatrically-minded persons,” and live theater became a part of the White Bear Lake community for good.

The Lakeshore Players have staged musicals, thrillers, 10-minute plays and everything in between. The most recent season featured The Wizard of Oz, The Great Gatsby and Into the Woods.

Theresa Rotter has been acting since high school and began performing with Lakeshore Players over a decade ago after moving close to the theater.  “Any day that I can sing and dance, and people applaud is a fine day indeed,” says Rotter. She loves Lakeshore’s creative staff and actors, all of whom have contributed to her desire to return time after time, and she loved the former space.

“That intimate feeling remains on the new Hanifl stage, but with the new tech and modern accommodations, we are poised to explore new shows that would have been impossible in the old church,” says Rotter.  “The community support for this theater has been astounding. I remember the first rumblings about a new space ages ago, and thinking it was an insurmountable task. But that is what is so magical about this community—they’ve come together to achieve something that will have a truly wonderful and lasting impact on the next generations of performers and patrons.”

A new nine-foot Steinway concert grand piano will also share the space. As a part of the capital fundraising campaign, the theatre purchased the piano that will be utilized in future live performances. Speaking about reaching out to the community, “We found that not only were they interested in supporting our current programming, but they wanted more,” says Thomas.

“One of the most frequent requests was for a high-quality, classical music series for our patrons that were no longer able, or no longer wanted to drive into St. Paul or Minneapolis at night, find parking and walk to a concert hall.”

The capital campaign team decided to consult Dr. Reid Smith, a Juilliard-trained concert pianist who currently teaches piano in Dellwood, who recommended the Steinway.

Leaving the 1880s-era Swedish church was bittersweet for the theatre after having called it home for 40 years, but expansion and accessibility for all members of the community needed to be addressed.

Capital campaign consultant Kathy Blegen-Huntley says, “It was time.” Blegen-Huntley has been on the team that’s been working to open the new center for the past six years. “We wanted to expand our programming.”

Blegen-Huntley points to marketing as the biggest partof her job. “It’s hard to sustain that excitement. You have to keep rethinking your strategy. Once I met the Lakeshore Players, I realized what a gem they are in the community.”

Being a part of the campaign has been extremely rewarding for Blegen-Huntley, who says she is looking forward to experiencing the new performance center after the long effort, especially for musical theatre.

“With a big stage and the orchestra pit, the acoustics are top-notch. It’s an intimate venue space, not a huge stage or theatre space. It’s only 250 seats plus 60 seats in the blackbox theater. It’s also completely accessible—there are only a couple of steps.”

Tickets for the forthcoming 66th season of production are currently on sale. Classes are available for all ages, and class offerings have been expanded to meet additional needs. From a meeting at White Bear Lake city hall to a 22,000+ square foot space, the Lakeshore Players Theatre is here to stay. Be a part of their next chapter.

First season on the new stage

Cabaret Sept. 13–30
One Man, Two Guvnors Oct. 25–Nov. 11
It’s A Wonderful Life Nov. 29–Dec. 16
A Sherlock Holmes Mystery! Jan. 10–27, 2019
Steel Magnolias Mar. 14–31, 2019
Mary Poppins May 3–19, 2019
15th Annual 10-Minute Play Festival May 30–June 9, 2019


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