The Duluth Playhouse celebrates 110 years of producing live theatre
2024 marks the Duluth Playhouse’s 110th anniversary. That’s 110 years of plays, musicals, and community engagement in the city. “Duluth Playhouse is actually one of the oldest continuously running nonprofit regional theaters in our country,” says Executive Director Wes Drummond.
With moving away from The Depot into the NorShor Theatre, or surviving the pandemic, the company has been through a lot of changes in recent years. Some of those changes even surpassing their expectations.
This past winter The Duluth Playhouse saw record breaking ticket sales while they were performing “The Sound of Music”. It became the highest selling show in their history with close to 10,000 people in total seeing the production. The Playhouse had to extend the runtime for that show, adding more dates for audiences. And that’s a trend they’ve continued to see.
But it wasn’t always like that. During their comeback after the 2020 pandemic hiatus, the Duluth Playhouse was nervous about the numbers they were making. Drummond says, “When I got here in 2021 we were still very much feeling the impact of the pandemic. And there was no real way to financial sense to produce theatre.” Producing Artistic Director Phillip Fazio was also with the company in 2021, saying, “We were nervous that we could potentially go down the same path as a lot of other arts organizations.”
But now coming out of the pandemic, ticket sales have been more than exceptional. Drummond says, “The last two years and a half years have really been about building capacity, building audiences, and building up classes and it’s been going very well.” To take a look at the upcoming shows click here.
The Duluth Playhouse’s classes are something that they’ve been developing over the past couple years. They have both classes for adults and for kids. To check out their classes click here.
Getting kids interested in theatre is big for the Playhouse. Director of Education and Youth Programming, Denise Ruemping, says it’s beneficial hobby for them to have. “Getting kids in theatre, it’s not just skill sets and building those life skills, but it’s also a way to collaborate and feel like a part of a community,” she says.
Ruemping goes on to say, “It’s teaching collaboration, it’s teaching self-confidence, it’s teaching time management skills, it’s teaching self-advocacy. There’s so much here.”
And the youth performers are very engaged when it comes to theatre. With some performing in the youth shows at the Duluth Playhouse, and the adult shows too. “It’s really scary, the kids in this community are frighteningly talented,” says Phillip Fazio. In “The Sound of Music” alone close to 15 youth actors performed in the show.
“And as someone who got there start in theatre when he was 6-years-old it’s powerful to see that torch being past. And you know we are just paying it forward to the next generation,” says Fazio.
The Duluth Playhouse team is excited about what comes next after 110 years but also is thankful to the community for coming out to see theatre locally produced.
“Recently with technology and with there being so many forms of entertainment I’ve been like ‘what is it about theatre that makes theatre stick around,'” says Wes, “and I think it’s that sense of like anything could happen.”
Even with consistency through performances Wes mentions that the show can feel different every night. “Everyone has a different reaction… there can always be something that adjusts the show in one way or another,” says Drummond.
When asked about the power of live theatre, Phillip Fazio says, “Theatre has the power to change minds and it has the power to share an experience that’s different from your own. And the magic of theatre to me is a community coming together to watch a story being told on stage; To laugh, to cry, to feel something, and to hopefully learn a little bit more about the people around you.”
There’s always an opportunity to get involved with the Duluth Playhouse. Whether it’s performing or helping volunteer in the costume or scene shop. There’s always an opportunity to be apart of the theatre community. To check out opportunities click here.
You can also audition for the upcoming Duluth Playhouse Mainstage musical 9 to 5. The show runs from July 12th to July 28th. To audition for 9 to 5 click here.