Crane, Strike, North Garden, Gremlin: An update on 4 new venues' triumphs and struggles

Any earlier shot of Crane Theater's sunny space.

Any earlier shot of Crane Theater's sunny space.

It makes a big splash when a new local theater is announced, but it’s easy to lose track of what happens after that. We followed up on the progress of four local venues that have been announced within the last year. All four are moving forward — and two are already open for business — but the devil is always in the details.

Crane Theater
2303 Kennedy St. NE, Minneapolis

This ambitious new home for Nimbus Theatre opened last fall with a permanent proscenium stage. Co-directors Josh Cragun and Liz Neerland are now moving forward with plans to construct a second stage: a black-box space that can operate simultaneously with the proscenium stage in an arrangement they’ve likened to First Avenue’s Mainroom/Entry split.

“We are pretty much booked full for the next year at this point,” writes Cragun, “with Classical Actors Ensemble being the next show scheduled in the space. Our next show, Redemption, is in the scene work phase of development with a Eye Opener staged reading scheduled for March 1, and opening on April 29.”

For the past couple of months, the venue has been dark to allow for the installation of HVAC and other improvements. On February 8, the Crane is hosting a Sign the Crane party to thank their Kickstarter backers, show off the space, and launch the next phase of construction. The party will also mark the launch of a new website and logo for the venue.


Strike Theater
824 18th Ave. NE, Minneapolis

The three co-founders of this new Thorp Building space for spoken word and sketch comedy describe themselves as “open light.” Strike was open on a temporary basis in time to be a venue for the 2016 Fringe, but then it hit some hiccups.

“It's been a frustrating process concerning parking audits and involving meeting with multiple offices in City Hall multiple times,” they wrote on Facebook. “We're happy to tell you all about it, but it's totally unsexy to read about. Finally, we got the approval to move forward around Thanksgiving, but a bunch of paperwork is cycling through City Hall before we can officially finish our build-out and open for real real. In the meantime we are now able to start having a few shows as we wait.”

Construction including walls and an exterior door is still pending, but in the meantime, a thank-you party for Kickstarter backers is scheduled on February 12. That same day, the space will host an American Civic Forum event featuring “speeches, poems, debates, songs, court rulings, letters, and other texts from American history interpreted in bold new ways by performing artists.” Tickets for that show are now on sale.

North Garden Theater
929 W. Seventh St., St. Paul

Ryan and Tina North hoped to have this historic theater reopened by last fall, but they faced a steep climb: the space was severely dilapidated, and since it hadn’t been open for decades, there were a lot of neighborhood hurdles to jump. Still, the venue’s new owners are making progress.

“We are in full construction mode!” reports Ryan North in an email. “We're looking at mid- to late-spring for our opening. Our liquor license has been approved. Requests are rolling in to use the space. Our rental rates are being developed.”

The Norths have announced an opening Gala Cabaret, and even started selling tickets — but the exact date is still TBD. “We have our fingers crossed for February or March,” notes the theater’s website, “but it could be as late as April.”



Gremlin Theatre
550 Vandalia St., St. Paul

Just announced a couple of weeks ago, Gremlin Theatre is building a new venue in the Vandalia Building. The new Gremlin space will be located behind Lake Monster Brewing — not to be confused with the Savage Umbrella SPACE, which recently closed, elsewhere in the same complex.

The company has occupied multiple spaces over its 19-year history, most recently a theater they operated at 2400 University Avenue from 2008 to 2013. That was during the Green Line upheaval, but it wasn’t light rail construction per se that forced the company out: It was a bus stop that was relocated to a spot right in front of the stage door.

“People would stand there,” explained co-founder Peter Hansen. “You couldn’t get anything in and out, and a lot of times you’d have people who would take shelter in our stage door and yell. We couldn’t really continue to operate like that.”

The new space will be arranged in a thrust configuration, with seating on three sides. “We’ll seat about 120 in there,” says Hansen. “I hope to keep some of the flavor of the last Gremlin. We’re going to have the same steep, raked seating, so the sightlines are going to be terrific, but it’s only going to be four rows deep on a side. You’ll be up close and personal.”

Hansen is looking forward to synergy with Lake Monster, and plans to stay busy with full seasons of Gremlin productions as well as rentals for other local companies. “We want to have it up and running by the summer,” he says. “We’re deep in all the planning, fundraising, and logistical stuff we need to make that happen.”