This summer, Alexandria area drama students won't have to drive a few hours to the Twin Cities to take professional theater training.
That's because the training will come to them.
The Hennepin Theatre Trust will be providing four master classes at Theatre L'Homme Dieu throughout the summer, beginning June 26 through its Spotlight Education program, followed by programming throughout the school year.
The first class will cover technical theater, movement and acting. The classes are open to high school musical theater students in Alexandria and surrounding communities.
"For them to go to Minneapolis, it's an all-family, overnight experience," said Joe Ferriero, Theatre L'Homme Dieu's box office and audience services manager, who is also a principal at St. Mary's Elementary School in Morris. "Think of all the other schools around here within an hour's drive time."
Though far from its first foray into Greater Minnesota, it will be the first time Hennepin Theatre Trust allies with a local theatrical organization, said Ari Koehnen Sweeney, the trust's director of education.
When it offers classes or critiques throughout the state, it does so at local schools. Working with Theatre L'Homme Dieu will allow it to work with the professional performers coming to put on shows. When dance company Shapeshift comes to Alexandria in July, for instance, performers will work with students on movement.
Nicole Mulder, executive director of Theatre L'Homme Dieu, said the partnership came about after she had lunch with Mark Nerenhausen, president and CEO of the Hennepin Theatre Trust. Her son, who lives in the metro area, participates in the trust's Spotlight programs, and she wanted a way for local students to have the same opportunities.
Sweeney called Mulder "just a brilliant lady."
"She's very passionate and that helps drive our passion, too," Sweeney said. "When you have similar interests, it makes it easy to create partnerships."
Of course, local students do have opportunities. They can take part in high school productions and participate in the Andria Theatre's Student Theatre Project. However, Hennepin Theatre Trust will bring new perspectives and voices invaluable to students with a passion for the performing arts, advocates say.
"Hennepin Theater Trust coming up here is big news in itself and we are very excited for the opportunities for our students," said Ann Hermes, executive director of the Andria Theatre. In the past, she has known some young actors who went to the Twin Cities for classes. "Having these people in our back yard is amazing."
Ruby Thursday, a radio personality on KIK-FM who graduated from Jefferson High School in 1993, said that while teachers and her parents did their best to expose her to Twin Cities shows, she still was unprepared for the competition from college classmates who grew up in the Twin Cities.
"I had a lot of catching up to do," she said. "You find yourself competing for roles and in classes with kids who have seen 10 times the shows you have; that's a conservative estimate."
With this new partnership, Thursday said, students will have the chance to talk to working artists, to find out what their life is like and how they got where they are.
"Anytime you can get feedback and lessons and interactions with a professional artist as a young artist, it forms who you are and who you become," she said. "I do think it's going to help level the playing field."
Hermes said Hennepin Theatre Trust's master classes will provide a great opportunity for those in outstate Minnesota, and that she will inform the students she works with about the opportunity.
"I think there has been a thirst for such classes among not just youth actors but adult actors also," she said. "If they'd consider branching out to older people, I think that would be great."
Jessica Chipman, who teaches drama at Alexandria Area High School, described the news as a welcome addition to a rich local arts scene that includes the school program, Theatre L'Homme Dieu, the Andria Theatre and Fire Pit Productions.
"It's exciting for our local theater artists and students from west-central Minnesota to have the opportunity to take master classes by professionals in the latest partnership with the Hennepin Theatre Trust," she said. "I'm looking forward to seeing how this partnership continues the already-vibrant performing arts legacy in Alexandria."
The nonprofit Hennepin Theatre Trust not only provides educational programming; it also runs the State, Orpheum and Pantages theaters along Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis.