ST. PAUL, MINN.: Park Square Theatre and SteppingStone Theatre for Youth have announced that the two companies have entered into a “memorandum of understanding” where the companies will join forces as Theatre for Life, designed to provide regional theatre programming for audiences of all ages. The two organizations will adjust leadership to have joint management and mission, though each will operate as separate legal entities with separate boards and finances. The partnership kicked off informally on Aug. 1 with the SteppingStone production of Disney’s Little Mermaid Jr, which took place outdoors in front of Park Square.
“What excites me by joining forces is how together we truly become St. Paul’s theatre for life for artists and audiences,” said Park Square executive director Michael-jon Pease in a statement. “This innovative partnership is a natural outgrowth of the theatre-in-residence concept Richard Cook started with the addition of Park Square’s Any Boss Stage.”
The leadership adjustments at the top of this new joint venture follow Park Square’s March announcement that the collective efforts of Rick Shiomi, Ellen Fenster, and Kim Vasquez—in addition to a fourth theatremaker who is expected to be announced in the coming weeks—would shape the company’s programming in 2022 after artistic director Flordelino Lagundino was dismissed and the artistic director position eliminated.
As part of this merger, SteppingStone artistic executive director Mark Ferraro-Hauck will join the Park Square leaders as the interim executive director of Park Square. Pease, who is to begin as executive director of the Saint Paul Parks Conservancy in September, will remain with Park Square as a part-time consultant through the transition. Additionally, Vasquez will serve as the producing director of the Park Square Mainstage.
“As we have discussed the challenges of the current economic moment and the complexity of bringing together two organizations,” said Ferraro-Hauck in a statement, “we have also been inspired by the necessity of reimagining artistic leadership in ways that join and celebrate the many gifts and lived experiences found in our artistic community.”
In terms of programming, Park Square’s mainstage subscription programming will continue, with SteppingStone’s annual productions moving to the Park Square stages during the school year. SteppingStone summer productions will then be held elsewhere to accommodate growing audiences. The companies state that this merger will see the companies serving an audience of 125,000, with more than 70,000 young people attending performances and educational programming. The theatres will continue to offer classes and camps for young people and workshops for adults and intergenerational groups.
“With the planned sale of our building near Summit Avenue and Victoria Street in St. Paul,” said Ferraro-Hauck in a statement, “SteppingStone will return to its downtown roots for performance while maintaining easy accessibility for our hundreds of camp and class families through neighborhood-based programs and facilities. Greater geographical flexibility and the strength of our combined resources are essential to meet the evolving needs of young artists, families, and schools.”
Added Park Square board chair Paul Mattessich in a statement, “This step not only protects both Park Square and SteppingStone during the continued pandemic and forced theatre ‘intermission’ by bringing together their assets and skillsets, but re-establishes the Hamm Building—which also houses the former SPCO recital hall and the former Vieux Carré jazz club—as a thriving, diverse performance center that can help rebuild downtown’s economy once the pandemic is over.”
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