Stage Debut

Horizontal AndreasesAnyone who has been around Paul Hustoles during his nearly 31 years leading the Minnesota State Mankato Department of Theatre and Dance has heard this statement: Mankato is among the top 1 percent of theatre programs for attendance in the United States.

The 529-seat Ted Paul Theatre (named for Hustoles predecessor, who was chair of the department from 1955 to 1985) is the primary setting for theatre audiences, but the flexible, 250-seat Andreas Theatre—known as the “black box”—has been a welcome change of scene for the past 15 years. An on-site “second stage” was part of departmental plans since the Performing Arts Center opened in 1967, but it wasn’t realized until 2000. The addition of the Andreas Theatre as a second mainstage space allowed the department to increase the shows in the subscription series while offering students and audiences a greater variety of staging options.

Lowell and Nadine Andreas, lead donors, “both considered charitable giving as an investment in the community they regarded as home,” says Jane Earley, dean emerita of the College of Arts and Humanities who, with Hustoles and Evan Bohnen, asked the Andreases to help set the stage. Both Andreases also understood the importance of liberal arts in life, their son David says.

“I don’t think of myself as being different from [Ted Paul],” says Hustoles. “I think that I’m carrying on his tradition. I’ve exploded it a little bit, expanded it a little bit, but that’s just because we have that other gorgeous space.”

The Andreas Theatre was not the first second stage for Minnesota State Mankato Theatre. There had been one at least since the move to the upper campus in the 1960s, but never were they full-fledged theatre spaces.

After being in a basement room of McElroy Center, The Pit Theatre moved to the lower level of the Centennial Student Union. There, with CSU Director Jim Zwickey serving as producer, The Pit gained more legitimacy and departmental oversight. Before the 1988-89 season, however, the space was targeted for a non-alcoholic bar.

With space on campus tight, the department looked off campus, Hustoles says. They settled on the Carnegie Art Center on South Broad Street, a space formerly occupied by Cherry Creek Theatre. Although the space was more a theatre, and its location sparked the wonderful Off-Broad Street Theatre name, it lacked parking and other amenities.

“That was pretty easy for us to move into, but the problem I had with that space was that it wasn’t flexible,” Hustoles says.

For 1990-91, the theatre landed in a storefront in the Belle Mar Mall, 10 minutes from campus. Hustoles credits faculty member Ron Olauson with nurturing the second stage. Olauson designed what became Theatre Phoenix.

“With the Belle Mar Mall, by golly, we had a black box,” Hustoles said.

For the next 10 seasons, Theatre Phoenix was home to a second stage that started moving toward being a smaller mainstage.

Tom Bliese, scenic designer from 1977 to May 2007, remembers when discussions about an on-site second stage turned serious following Hustoles’ hiring in July 1985. Faculty created a wish list for performance, rehearsal and dance space, a design lab, graduate student offices and dressing rooms. Ultimately, everything on the wish list was included.

The Andreases provided $30,000 to draw up real specs. When they were completed for less, Hustoles presented them a refund of $10,000. His plan: Return the $10,000 and ask for $2.4 million, half of the projected costs. Within a week the Andreases agreed to be lead sponsors.

As Lowell and Nadine recognized, the space had to serve the students first. It has done so—sometimes in unexpected ways.

Steve Deutsch (1990-97) and Adria Welle Deutsch (1992-96) shared their first kiss in Phoenix’s Shadow Box in 1995. They’ve now been together 20 years, married for 16.

“I loved that, in a smaller space, our acting style could be more natural and subtle,” said Welle Deutsch. “Plus, the black box setting really allowed the audience to be transported with us in a way that doesn’t often happen in a large proscenium [like the Ted Paul].”

Amanda Forman (2011-14) performed in 12 shows at Mankato, eight of them in the Andreas Theatre. She loved the transformability of the space: “The seating was constantly changing and, therefore, each production felt like it was in a brand new theatre.”  —Michael Lagerquist