Lakeshore Players Theatre

Play scene where man draws sword on another

Ushering in a new arts era

Lakeshore Players Theatre is a well-loved act in White Bear Lake. Since the mid-1950s the playhouse has been bringing neighbors together for community theater. Performances routinely draw 20,000 annually and their children’s theater classes have waiting lists.

A few years ago, Lakeshore's board of directors determined they needed to address structural and accessibility concerns to ensure the theater’s future vitality. There was also strong interest in expanding seating and the number and diversity of shows. Lakeshore hired a capital campaign consultant, Kathy Blegen-Huntley, who conducted a feasibility study, which asked if the community would support building a new theater. The answer was an overwhelming, "yes." "It's often unspoken but the arts are critical to Minnesotans - it’s part of our collective identity," said Blegen-Huntley.

Rendering of new Lakeshore Players Theater building
Rendering of new Lakeshore Players Theater.

A stage for new experiences

Rob Thomas, Lakeshore's managing director, agrees and added that theater goes well beyond a few hours of entertainment. He said that their youth programs in particular, can have a profound impact. "It can give kids a place to belong," said Thomas. He told the story of Dylan*, a high schooler who came to Lakeshore with a teacher's warning: He's a handful. He doesn't listen and instigates problems. The casting director saw the young man's raw talent and took a chance, casting Dylan in a lead role. "He excelled, even mentored other kids, and his performances were phenomenal," said Thomas. "Theater gave him a space to have a new experience."

Lakeshore has been busy dreaming, planning and fundraising for their new future. So far they've raised more than $8 million. Blegen-Huntley said an early grant from The Mardag Foundation provided a big boost. "It added credibility to our campaign and solidified for people that we were serious," she said.

Their new location will be next to a visual arts center, creating the beginning of an arts district. To make the arts presence even stronger, the building will house another nonprofit, Children’s Performing Arts Center. The 21,500 square-foot building will have ample parking and full accessibility. A nine-foot Steinway will be the centerpiece for a new classical music series. Other plans include inviting culturally diverse theater groups to perform. Lakeshore hopes to attract a more diverse audience to reflect White Bear Lake's changing demographics.

Construction begins this summer with the curtain opening for their first show in spring 2018.

*Named changed to protect privacy.

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