MUSIC PREVIEW | Capri Theater enlists local vocal stars to benefit North Minneapolis arts programming


The Plymouth Christian Youth Center celebrates a five-year milestone of the Capri Theater renovations on Saturday, June 30 with a benefit concert featuring Rick Carlson, Debbie Duncan, Charmin Michelle, Thomasina Petrus, Dennis W. Spears, Regina Marie Williams, and the Wolverines Jazz Trio.

According to Carl Griffin, the communications and volunteer services manager of PCYC and the Capri Theater, the concert aims to raise money to support the organization’s arts programming, as well as being a celebration of the five years of work since the “Capri Renaissance” began in 2007.

“We started out with an auditorium that was poorly equipped,” Griffin said. “It needed a lot of attention, but we’ve brought it up to a first class performance space.” The celebration isn’t just about the Capri, according to Griffin, but the revitalization of North Minneapolis, which he said couldn’t have happened without the wonderful artists that have performed in the Capri’s Legend Series, have booked the theater for performances, and have contributed to the arts education programming aimed at youth in North Minneapolis.

PCYC has owned the Capri since the 1980s, when they purchased the building for very little money from the Whitney Foundation, according to Griffin. Built in 1927, when it was known as the Paradise House, a movie theater, the building was renamed The Capri Theater in the 1960s, around the time that Jack Lienenberg (architect of the Suburban World Theater in Uptown) designed a sheet metal marquee on West Broadway that included 101 light bulbs, according to the Capri Theater website.

At the time PCYC acquired the building, “it wasn’t quite clear what they were going to use it for, but they needed space for their high school programming,” Griffin said. PCYC rented the downstairs space to the American Variety Theater, according to Griffin. The second floor was used for PCYC’s alternative high school. 

In 1993, the Capri was renovated when Plymouth Christian Youth Center renamed the building Capri Arts & Learning Center. Griffin joined PCYC in 1999, when they were finishing the completion of their first five-year strategic plan which called for building a new space for the high school and after school program, with an eye on future plans for arts programming at the Capri Theater, according to Griffin.

As plans began for the second strategic plan, which began in 2007, it became clear how influential a role the arts and theater could play in terms of economic revitalization on the North side, Griffin said. 

Five years ago, PCYC launched a $700,000 project called “Capri Theater Renaissance,” which included new theatrical lighting installed in 2009, and a new sound system, according to the Capri website.

The arts have always been a part of PCYC’s programming, although in the last two strategic plans, that has been formalized more, according to Griffin, especially in regard to youth afterschool and summer programs and the PYC Arts and Tech High School, which takes a “very focused approach to integrating arts in the entire curriculum,” Griffin said. The arts integration curriculum includes all subject areas, even science and math. For example, students created sculpture installations to demonstrate DNA strands, made out of copper wire, wood, paper and other materials. 

There also have been numerous collaborations between the high school and the Children’s Theater. For example, last year they presented an urban version of Romeo and Juliet, which they presented to other high schools. 

Teaching artists that work at the high school and with PCYC’s other youth programs includes a roster of some of the Twin Cities’ best talent, including Ivey Award winner Greta Oglesby as well as several who will be performing at the benefit: Rick Carlson and the Wolverines, Debbie Duncan, and Dennis Spears. 

“All the artists have been with us from the beginning,” said Griffin. “They’ve been extremely supportive in terms of helping wherever they can to make the Capri a first-class venue.” The very first show was in 2007, starring Dennis Spears, Debbie Duncan and Charmin Michelle, doing a Billy Holiday, Sarah Vaughan and Nat King Cole tribute, with Rick Carlson and the Wolverines backing them.

“That show really put us on the map,” Griffin said. “It was quite a lineup of folks. It got people to come into the Capri to hear these wonderful performers.”  All the artists are paid, but Griffin said they are giving “an incredible bargain- they’ve been very generous with their time.”

At the benefit concert, you’ll be greeted by youth from North Minneapolis, who serve as ushers, concession stand workers, and announce the program. Youth also work in other aspects of the theater behind the scenes—including marketing, sound and lighting technology, as part of an apprenticeship program PCYC started four years ago with the support of the Carlson Family Foundation.