Minneapolis Theatre Garage reflects on the end of an era

Minneapolis Theatre Garage

Minneapolis Theatre Garage FB

After three decades of owning and operating the Minneapolis Theatre Garage, Hosmer Brown recently watched it being demolished. “There were some bricks that came down pretty quickly, pretty easily,” he says. “That just reinforced that it was time.”

Brown bought the former retail space in 1986, after a four-year search, and launched it as the Theatre Garage two years later. “There weren’t a whole lot of places for companies to spring up,” says Brown, who was then busy as a working actor.

Over the succeeding years, the Theatre Garage became a home for productions by established companies (Minnesota Opera, the Guthrie), companies becoming established (Walking Shadow, the Jungle), and companies that found the cozy brick rectangle at the corner of Franklin and Lyndale to be all the establishment they needed.

One of those companies was Stacia Rice’s Torch Theater. In 2004, Rice struck up a deal with Brown: She’d help manage the space, and Torch could use the stage at a reduced rate. Ultimately, Torch Theater mounted over 20 productions in the Theatre Garage.

“I’m a big fan of intimate theater, and I loved the proximity to the audience,” says Rice. “I also just loved the lobby. Something about that lobby just was begging for party time with the patrons and the actors. We took full advantage of that.”

Another company closely associated with the Theatre Garage was Girl Friday Productions, led by Kirby Bennett. Girl Friday’s biannual shows, with their big casts, were among the most ambitious productions ever staged in the space.

Torch Theatre company staged a few Mary Tyler Moore TV scripts in 2009.

Torch Theatre company staged a few Mary Tyler Moore TV scripts in 2009. Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

“You didn’t have a lot of height,” Bennett says, “but it was pretty wide for a smaller rental venue. It had this open feeling. We really made use of the space, and took up every square inch.”

Brown now works in real estate, and finally decided the time was right to sell. After the predictably contentious community debate, the century-old Theatre Garage and its surrounding buildings are yielding to a new residential development.

“It was a tired building,” says Rice. “I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way. I just think that it was really well-loved, and it needed so much work.”

Initially, there were talks about including a replacement theater in the new development. Brown was intrigued, but says that plan faced substantial hurdles in financing and organization. “I would have built it one more time and then turned it over and walked away,” he says, “but a confluence of ‘no’s came together.”

Brown is proud of “all the actors and technicians and artists and audiences who came through the space and were challenged and entertained,” he says. Still, he thinks the neighborhood is headed in a positive direction. “It is so much safer now. There is so much more critical mass. Things are better.”

“I really am grateful that I had the opportunity to call that place my home,” says Rice. “I had friends that got married there, many people got engaged there. All these wondrous events happened.”