Penumbra cancels season, cuts staff

The cast of The Amen Corner.
The cast of The Amen Corner.
Photo by Michael Brosilow

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Penumbra Theatre has cut its budget and staff, and will not produce any shows in the coming season.

It's a massive blow, both for the Lou Bellamy-led theater and the performing arts community in the Twin Cities. Penumbra has been a stalwart in the community since the 1970s, and is considered nationwide as a preeminent African-American theater. Throughout the decades, it has offered world premieres, fresh interpretations of classic work, and developed a cadre of actors for the local and national scene.

The news comes following an already truncated season. At the end of last year, Penumbra canceled its winter programming, returning in the spring for a production of The Amen Corner at the Guthrie Theater.

At the time, artistic director Lou Bellamy noted, "The old structure isn't working anymore. We are looking to find other ways to keep audiences engaged, and for us to champion social justice issues. What is the new normal? I don't know what it is, but it isn't the old model."

Along with canceling the upcoming season -- which had not been formally announced -- six of Penumbra's 16 staff positions were eliminated. In all, $800,000 was trimmed from the budget.  Add in the $500,000 that was cut from last season, and the current $1.9 million is only about 60 percent of where it was at the beginning of the 2011-12 season.

Among the staff cut is Dominic Taylor, the associate director of new play development, one of the key pieces of Penumbra's mission. Taylor has volunteered to continue to contribute to the theater, Bellamy says in the press release announcing the cuts. The theater's education programs, including the Penumbra Summer Institute, will continue.

The theater does offer a carrot for potential donors. If $340,000 can be raised by the end of the year, Penumbra will produce the show Spunk next year. The piece is an adaptation of three Zora Neale Hurston stories by George C.Wolfe.
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Penumbra Theatre

270 N. Kent St.
St. Paul, MN 55102


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