Grand Marais Playhouse

Grand Marais Playhouse moving back to office as lease negotiations continue

The Grand Marais Playhouse is moving its operations back into the front office of the Arrowhead Center for the Arts–for now, at least.

The lease agreement between the Grand Marais Playhouse and School District 166 for use of the Arrowhead Center for the Arts has been up in the air for some time. In mid-June, negotiations became contentious, leading to the Playhouse hiring an attorney to attempt to halt what it deemed a violation of its lease.

Current lease negotiations were started in the midst of reconstruction and roof repair at the ACA in 2018. In mid-June, ISD 166 sent the Playhouse a letter telling the organization that it must move out of the large office space to a smaller space at the back of the Arts Center.
At that time, Grand Marais Playhouse Director Sue Hennessy described this action as a “death sentence looming over our head,” noting that the space in question was much more than office space for the Playhouse.

Hennessy said as access to other areas of the ACA has been reduced–the elementary art room, the Jane Mianowski Conference Center, and storage space due to mechanical equipment for an air exchanger–the front office has accommodated those needs. It is used currently used for storage of Playhouse archives, for meeting,s and sometimes for rehearsals. The space also serves as the box office for ticket sales and pick up during productions.

Many supporters—students, and parents of School District 166, actors and stage workers, theatergoers and other supporters spoke up, distressed to see the possible end of the community theater that is celebrating its 49th year of service in 2020.

In the face of those mounting concerns, School District 166 School Board Chair Dan Shirley and Superintendent Bill Crandall each issued statements of reassurance that the school district wanted to continue its partnership with the Grand Marais Playhouse, noting that “The Playhouse is an asset to our community and our students.”

Board Chair Shirley explained that the discussions of the Playhouse lease were overdue, as a lease update had not been done for over a decade. He noted that the consideration of the request for the Playhouse to move was routine. In a statement he wrote, “Due to the changing demands on the school, the District has been working with the Playhouse to move office spaces, down the hall, and still within the facility. The shuffling of rooms and offices is a regular occurrence at the school in order to best accommodate the needs of our students as they change over time.”

Since WTIP’s last report, School District 166 rescinded the letter asking the Grand Marais Playhouse to vacate the front office of the ACA. The Playhouse is in the process of moving its office materials, library, and storage back into the office.

A lease, however, is still pending. Hennessy said she is “hopeful” that an agreement can be reached.

In the meantime, Hennessy is proceeding with an ambitious summer program, which includes more theater summer camps, a social studies project in collaboration with Sawtooth Mountain Elementary, and a community one-act play, Remarkable Susan, based on the life of famed women’s voting rights advocate Susan B. Anthony. Plans are in the works to live-stream the play.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence spoke with Director Hennessy about the status of the Grand Marais Playhouse lease and about those upcoming programs in this interview.