Diverse Minneapolis Theaters Setting the Stage for Inclusion

The Minneapolis theater scene is renowned nationwide, and locals will happily recite the stat that we’re second only to NYC in number of tickets sold per capita.*

If you’re a lover of the stage, you’ve likely participated in a few standing ovations at the Guthrie and taken in shows up and down Hennepin’s historic theatre district. Now it’s time to explore the cutting-edge, boundary pushing stages the Twin Cities have to offer. We’ve rounded up five theaters focusing on diversity, inclusion, and new voices for your next act—plus a few theater companies without a permanent home to keep on your radar.

*Pollstar 2017

1. Mixed Blood Theater

Founded in 1976, Mixed Blood “pays positive attention to difference” as is dedicated to creating opportunities for people who otherwise wouldn’t be involved in theatre to see and participate in great performance art. On the stage, Mixed Blood is guided by several advisory councils to showcase stories by, about, and for marginalized people, featuring disabled, trans, Somali, and Latinx directors, designers, actors, and box office and front of house staff. Off the stage, the theatre offers no-cost admission, prioritizes accessibility and provides free transportation for folks with disabilities, hosts drama classes for neighborhood youth and workshops for local teachers, facilitates meaningful connections between Minneapolis Police officers and young adult Somali men, and constantly searches for more ways to remove barriers to participation in the community. Now that’s a cause worth applauding.

2. Jungle Theater

Since taking the helm in 2015, artistic director Sarah Rasmussen has brought a strong voice for gender inclusivity and new works to the Lyn Lake neighborhood theatre, showcasing plays with strong roles for women both on and off the stage. All shows in the 2019-2020 season features female directors and/or female playwrights, most often both, including stagings of A Doll’s House, Part 2, which reveals what happens after the final scene of Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 play of the same name, and Mary Jane, which tells the story of a single mother in NYC caring for a chronically ill child with unconditional love. Beyond the writing and directing roles, Rasmussen also champions historically underrepresented talent with racially diverse casts and production teams.

3. HUGE Improv Theater

This artist-led, nonprofit long-form improv comedy space in Uptown believes the art of improv will only be preserved if everyone feels comfortable and represented. The full calendar of nightly shows are all-ages, affordable, and the majority are proposed by members of the Twin Cities improv community, creating a delightful diversity of themes and productions led by artistic director Rita Boersma and a diverse staff and board of directors. HUGE goes to great lengths to collaborate with neighborhood organizations (like Reviving Islamic Sisterhood, New Native Theater, Lyndale Neighborhood Association, and MU Collective) to offer scholarships, workshops, and programming for POC, LGBTQ folks, and other marginalized communities.

4. Penumbra Theatre 

Minnesota’s only Black-focused and Black-run professional theaters—and one of only three professional African American theaters with a full season in the country—Penumbra Theatre was founded in 1976 in the Selby/Dale neighborhood to put the spotlight on the African-American experience. In addition to a full season of shows on the Main Stage, Penumbra also serves as an educational hub offering leadership programs for young artists, and hosts equity trainings and public conversations around issues of social justice, equity, and the arts.

5. Pillsbury House Theatre

Sharing space with a full bevvy of services inside an urban community center situated at the intersection of four of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city, Pillsbury House Theatre offers far more than a conventional stage and rows of seats. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of female co-artistic directors Noél Raymond and Faye Price, who have shared leadership duties since 2000, Pillsbury House Theatre is renowned for prioritizing stories that inspire “enduring change towards a just society,” and works as a vital arm of Pillsbury United Communities, integrating the arts into all of the vital work of the respected human service agency. Watch out for productions from the Chicago Avenue Project, which pairs local youth with adult mentors (playwrights, actors, and directors from the Twin Cities) to perform in original plays written just for them, and write plays performed by adult actors.

Bonus: 4 diverse theater companies to keep on your radar!

  • Frank Theatre: Frank Theater says they're fed up with complacency, which they prove in their performances brought to life by artistic director Wendy Knox. These shows are for the bold, and can often be caught at St. Paul’s Gremlin Theatre. 
  • Black Ensemble Players: You can most likely catch The Black Ensemble Players at the East Side Freedom Library and the Playwrights’ Center with productions ranging from original work to Shakespeare, as founder Ashawnti Sakina Ford re-imagines what theater looks like in the modern world. 
  • Ten Thousand Things: Ten Thousand Things is theater with a mission, bringing theater to unlikely audiences, eschewing a stage and lighting for the simple floor inside a circle of chairs with all the lights on (so everyone is seen, even the audience). Buying a ticket for a show (at venues like Open Book and North Garden Theater) helps them bring free theater to underserved venues, like homeless shelters, correctional facilities, low-income senior centers, and after-school programs.
  • Gadfly Theatre: Gadfly affirms queerness and feminism at every level of their work, producing plays by trans, non-binary, queer POC, and queer female playwrights, brought to life by truly gender-diverse casts. In 2019, the troupe showcased post-apocalyptic, dystopian, and sci-fi plays at their fifth annual One-Act Geek Festival at Rosedale Center.