June 20--Founders of Rooftop Theatre Company couldn't quite figure out how to categorize the group in the theater world.
Eventually they landed on "professional community theater."
"It's the best we've come up with," said John Newstrom, the group's managing artistic director and founding member.
The thinking is that the company will be the next step for people who have had experience in the area in things like GREAT Theatre and community theater productions.
"What GREAT has done is phenomenal ... to bring out talent," Newstrom said. "We want to do the next level."
They hope to pair local actors with professionals that work in the Twin Cities theater, partnering people with actors who have, for example, worked at the Guthrie.
The aim was to put the company at a professional theater level, with Central Minnesota prices, Newstrom said.
Members of the company had worked together for three or four years, with the intention to become a full company at some point. They incorporated in January.
"The time just happened to be right," he said.
"There's a big shift right now in the theater community," he said. "In general, what are the next 20, 30 years going to look like?"
The past 30 years have operated on the regional theater model -- think of the Guthrie and Arena theaters.
The community has seen a shift away from those recently, he said. Instead of funding theater through grants, sponsorships and big endowments, it's moving towards a more self-sufficient model.
"It's offered a new take on some things," he said.
Actors are being paid on a scale of how well the show does.
"Those who have any creative control over quality should benefit from its success," he said.
For Rooftop, that's everybody from Newstrom to ensemble members. There are 23 members in the cast and another 25 in the production crew.
Two years ago, they mounted a statewide tour of "Nunsense" to Duluth, Chanhassen and St. Cloud to see how well it could do.
It's an easy show to tour, with a five-person cast. But they wanted to do bigger shows, such as the Broadway-inspired season with an aim toward creating large-scaled shows they will do this summer.
The founding members have been involved with theater in the area for almost 20 years.
The company will have two productions in St. Cloud this summer.
The first, "Guys and Dolls," is described by some as the "perfect Broadway musical." It runs today through June 30.
It features a mostly professional cast with some familiar faces. The show also will be performed in Chanhassen.
The songs have taken on a fame of their own, like "Luck Be A Lady." And everyone knows the '50s film starring Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra.
Theatergoers will see another version of "Guys and Dolls" by the Great Northern Theatre Company Aug. 1-4 and Aug. 7-9 at Rocori High School in Cold Spring.
In July, the company will have a production of the musical "The Wedding Singer," whose plot follows the '90s movie starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore.
In that production, they hope to really celebrate the '80s, the era the storyline is set in.
"It really brings the Cyndi Lauper sensibility to the stage," Newstrom said.
Theatre-goers also will recognize Rooftop from its "Scrooge In Rouge" production last December and "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change" in February. They've also performed at the Minnesota Fringe Festival in Minneapolis and St. Paul in "The Complete Works of William Shatners" (think "Star Trek" to Priceline commercials).
St. Cloud residents will again participate in the fringe festival in August, with plans to bring up a couple of the fringe productions to Pioneer Place in late August.
Newstrom said they don't plan to take up residence at any particular venue.
"We'll float until maybe one day, we pick up our own venue," he said.
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