Street theater company comes to New Ulm

NEW ULM – A unique theater company working with Minnesota communities to celebrate their history and stories, with street plays involving local performers, described their program to more than a dozen community leaders Friday at The Grand Center for Arts and Culture.

Funded by a Minnesota Historical and Cultural Legacy Grant secured by The Grand Center, Ashley Hanson and Andrew Gaylord of St. Paul-based PlaceBase Productions will hold story-swap workshops and one-on-one interviews with local residents in the coming weeks, to create site-specific productions about New Ulm.

PlaceBase produced three plays in Granite Falls in 2012 and 2013. It is working on a similar project in Fergus Falls.

“They may recreate Polka Days (in a play),” said historical preservation consultant and Grand Center founding board member Dan Hoisington. “Historical preservation in the arts like this is a great way to market what New Ulm is. We’ve got lots of roots and authenticity here that I am very proud to be a part of.”

“We’re here to reflect on the past and talk of the future to drive the city,” Gaylord said. “We’re at a crossroads between theater and community development. We were invited here to collect stories, do research and create a new community theater group with local people of all ages.”

The couple asked the group to provide their contact information and list what they’d like to see be part of the program.

George Glotzbach offered to take them on a tour of New Ulm. “Make it about New Ulm in its downtown heyday, right after World War II,” he said.

Terry Sveine suggested focusing on a new, lesser-known aspect of history.

A woman suggested a visit to Domeier’s German Store and Polka Days with lots of dancing and music.

Another person suggested all the downtown retailers of the 1950s.

“We’ll follow the rabbit trail until we connect with all the storytellers,” Hanson said.

PlaceBase directly involved more than 100 Granite Falls residents in its productions. The list included local politicians, journalists, members of the historical society and arts council, scientists, ecologists, teachers, social workers, retirees, parents, children, artists and musicians.

A “paddling theater” featured the audience in canoes and actors on the Minnesota River bank in and around Granite Falls.

The productions brought local, state and national attention to the town that included The Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, Minnesota Monthly, CBS News, Minnesota Public Radio, CNN, the Charlotte Observer and Miami Herald, according to PlaceBase.

For more information, visit www.placebaseproductions.com.

Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at fbusch@nujournal.com.

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