Serving community is center stage for theater director

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Faye Price pondered this question in her office on the third floor of the Pillsbury House Community Center in the Powderhorn neighborhood of Minneapolis: Exactly what qualities make up a community leader?

Price recently received an award from her alma mater, Macalester College. The Catharine Lealtad Service to Society Award, named after Macalester’s first African American graduate, is given to alumni of color who have used their education to distinguish themselves in service to community.

“I don’t think of myself as a community leader, but I sure want to have an effect on the community. And it feels really good to have some acknowledgement,” Price said.

Price has put her various degrees, including a B.A. in psychology and a master’s in theatre arts, to work as a dramaturge for the Guthrie Theater. She actively pursued acting roles on stages such as Mixed Blood Theatre, the Guthrie Theatre, and Penumbra Theatre to name a few.

Serving a broader community, however, truly came to the forefront when, six years ago, Price left the high-status Guthrie to work as the co-artistic producing director of Pillsbury House Theatre.

“I’m so pleased and humbled to be the servant of getting people into the theater that don’t usually go. And giving them a good, quality, theatrical experience. It’s important to me. Do I miss the prestige of the Guthrie? Oh, yes! People don’t take my calls now [who] always took my calls at the Guthrie,” Price wryly mused.

Pillsbury House Theater, opened in 1992 by Ralph Remington, Minneapolis City Council Member (Ward 10), co-exists with Pillsbury United Communities, a human services organization that sees art as one of the ways to tackle poverty and social justice issues. Teaming the theater with a human services center seemed like a good response in light of PUC’s stance toward the arts.

“I want to make sure that people that don’t usually go to theater have every opportunity to see theater that they can. I want to make theater assessable. I don’t want people to think of theater as elite.

I’m so much happier here because it suits my values,” Price enthused.

As co-artistic producing director, Price oversees all aspects of theater administration, including fundraising. She also produces and directs artistic projects such as the main-stage theater season and educational programming.

Pillsbury House Theater runs three programs that serve the underserved. On their main stage with 96 seats, they present three plays throughout the year. Children who are not quite teenagers participate in The Chicago Avenue Project, which puts out three productions yearly.

There also is the prolific program called Breaking Ice that produces nearly 50 shows each year. Breaking Ice’s mission to create challenging theater with a socially conscious message leaves the audience, Price hopes, with something to talk about when they leave their seats at the end of the show. “We do pretty provocative stuff on our main stage,” Price says.

Not only is the material produced confrontational, but the location of the theater is atypical. “We are offering quality art in an urban environment. It’s a neighborhood that not everybody’s willing to come to,” Price says.

However, theater needs to be everywhere. Ralph Remington, currently serving his first term on the Minneapolis City Council, details the beginnings of Pillsbury House Theater in an inner-city neighborhood center. When Remington first arrived at Pillsbury House Theater early in the 1990s, he was hired to teach theater. Fresh from New York City where his work included professional acting, he found an acting house with no dedicated venue, no mission, and no union. “It wasn’t a legitimate theater,” Remington recalled.

Once he had hired sufficient staff, they gathered together and brainstormed. The mission statement Remington and his staff developed read: “To provide a platform for marginalized people to have their muted voices heard so as to engender self-determination.”

Fourteen years later, that statement’s spirit still holds for the theater now under the tutelage of Faye Price.

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