MOORHEAD — Theatre B celebrated its upcoming season last week in an event that was equal parts block party and pep rally, fitting that the troupe calls the former Lincoln Elementary School, at 215 10th St. N., Moorhead, home.
After surviving the past 17 months of pandemic-impacted productions, the company isn’t just celebrating a new lease on theatrical life, but something of an actual new lease.
At the Aug. 26 event, the troupe revealed that its home space had been purchased by supporters Del Rae and Ron Williams. The move ensures the company will retain its Moorhead residence for the immediate future, something that was uncertain months ago.
The development has the troupe energized and ready for its 19th season, which starts in October.
“I’m excited,” said Theatre B Executive Director Carrie Wintersteen. “Everything is ambitious, exciting work. This ensemble is on fire.”
Wintersteen said former owners Karin and Joe Rudd told her earlier this year they would be selling the building. That announcement had Wintersteen’s head spinning for a day as she wondered where they would move.
“I woke up the next morning and it was clear as a bell, call Del Rae,” Wintersteen recalled.
She called asking for advice. Williams’ answer was that she and her husband Ron would buy the building.
Del Rae Williams was Moorhead’s mayor in 2017 when the troupe moved across the river after spending its first 15 years in Fargo, and has been a backer ever since.
The upcoming season, which was announced at last week’s event, features four productions, including two musicals, a rarity for the troupe that mostly focuses on dramas and comedies.
Actors offered previews of two plays, including “The Cake,” which opens the season on October 8. The play follows a baker who struggles with her conservative beliefs when the young woman she helped raise asks her to bake a cake for her marriage to another woman.
The second preview was for “Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play,” which uses an episode of “The Simpsons” to examine life after an international disaster.
Introducing the segment, Wintersteen said despite a willingness to tackle the production, there were some concerns.
“It was too ambitious, too expensive. And then the pandemic made it timely,” she said.
She also used the event to announce that the company had started the Matthew Burkholder Artists' Fund thanks to an anonymous donation of $15,000. She said they would be looking to raise another $25,000, all of which would help pay cast and crew for their work. About $15,000 was raised Thursday night, of which Wintersteen estimated about $10,000 was dedicated to the artists' fund, named after the popular ensemble member who died of cancer in 2012 at the age of 43.
Wintersteen said as of now the troupe is planning to seat a full house of 99, with all audience members wearing masks. She said they will follow local and state health guidelines, but that if a 6-foot social distancing limit is suggested, that would leave room for only about 17 people.
Performers onstage will not be required to wear masks, but the troupe tests for infection once a week.
All of that uncertainty makes knowing she can count on the building’s new owners to be good landlords something to breathe easy about.
“They seem open and accessible to just being able to dream on what might happen in the future,” Wintersteen said.
Already the couple invested $100,000 in property improvements, including a new roof going up soon and resurfacing the parking lot and putting in a new sidewalk, complete with an embossed image of Abraham Lincoln, the building’s namesake as a school. The owners will also install door openers to make the building more ADA compliant.
The new owners are following the previous owners, Karin and Joe Rudd, in reducing rent for the remainder of the year, acknowledging the hit theaters have taken during the pandemic. Del Rae said they would be open to renegotiating rent aid through the remainder of the pandemic, not only with Theatre B, but with the building’s other tenants, including visual artist Emily Williams-Wheeler.
Del Rae also said they are open to the idea of adding on to the building, as well as selling it to Theatre B.
“As mayor, I was excited to bring Theatre B to Moorhead,” Del Rae said. “It’s such a great piece for our community and I was concerned we would lose it.”
“She seems to understand that the arts go hand-in-hand with economic development,” Wintersteen said. “She’s Moorhead’s biggest fan so she’s really excited when things happen.”