Redefining and refining community theatre
Minnesota has a thriving theater community and Woodbury has contributed to that, boasting an impressive local scene that all began with the Woodbury Community Theatre.
Like many of the flourishing community organizations, the Woodbury Community Theatre was created by a small group of likeminded people with a little idea and a lot of passion.
In 1975 three women decided to put on a one-night production of ”Heavens to Betsy.” Lenore Weir, director, recalls this event became more than anyone at the time had ever envisioned. It was such an incredible success that the show was sold out that first night.
“The next year they said, ‘That was fun … let’s do a big show this time and include all of the community.’” Weir recalled.
So, in 1976 that same group of women put on a production of “Sing out Sweet Land” at the newly opened Woodbury High School. Because of the past year’s success, the Woodbury community was eager to participate.” Sing out Sweet Land” was a booming success with more than 120 community participants as actors, stagehands and helpers.
That was the year that Weir joined the Woodbury Community Theatre.
“A friend in my neighborhood said that they needed help,” she said. “I worked backstage that year and then Margerie asked if I would consider being her assistant.”
Margerie Wex served as the leading director of Woodbury Community Theatre from its inception until her death in 1990. Wex’s vision was not only fostered by the mere idea to put on a play in 1975, but it stemmed from a personal passion of her own.
“She had a theater background and adored it,” Weir said.
It was also part of her dream to have a permanent facility for all of the activities and productions put on by the Woodbury Community Theatre. Many others shared this sentiment and because of this, in 1995 community efforts were launched to make the dream a reality.
Many groups banded together, including a group called Arts Connection led by Dan Matthews, and also District 883. These groups continued to work together with enthusiastic community support, but in 2009 something very special happened.
“In 2009 Merrill donated just over $2 million,” Weir said. Dorothy K. Merrill had been a Woodbury resident for 40 years and she too had a passion for arts in her community. With the donation of $2.3 million, Woodbury developed the Merrill Community Arts Center that became the official home to Woodbury Community Theatre.
Merrill Community Arts Center continues to show tremendous musicals and stage plays for all ages.
“A full season is six or seven shows,” said Weir, who directs a majority of the shows in any season. Weir is currently excited about the next big production, “Legally Blonde.”
“It’s much more fun than the movie,” she said.
Supporting both the Woodbury community as well as the Easy Metro Symphony Orchestra, the Merrill Community Arts Center continues to make a lasting impact through theater arts and beyond.
- 1975: Woodbury Community Theater puts on its first production
- 1976: “Woodbury Community Theatre puts on their second production intentionally involving the Woodbury Community.
- 1995: First efforts to secure an Art Center in Woodbury begins.
- 2005: Arts Connection and School District 833 agree to partner in creating a Center for the Arts as part of a new high school to be built in the district.
- 2006: Arts Connection provides leadership to help pass the East Ridge High School construction bond referendum.
- 2007: Arts Connection serves on Architect Selection and Design Committees for ERHS.
- 2007: District 833 School Board approves the design by Arts Connection of an adjoining arts’ facility, to be added to the ERHS mainstage theater, and Arts Connection fundraising to include the sponsorship of ERHS mainstage theater seats.
- 2008: Arts Connection Design Team, which includes District 833 representatives, completes first design for new Center for the Arts.
- 2009: District 833 School Board approves first year Center for the Arts Use Agreement and confirms schedule for initial affiliate arts’ groups, Woodbury Community Theatre and East Metro Symphony Orchestra.
- 2009: Dorothy K. Merrill, 40 year Woodbury resident, makes $2.3 million gift to help support the development of the art center.
- 2010: Final building design and budget are prepared and Arts Connection and District 833 develop a go-forward budget and 99-year use agreement plan for the new Merrill Community Arts Center.
- 2011: Arts Connection purchased an additional off-site building at 380 Rivertown Drive for “backstage” and visual arts work.
- 2012: Arts Connection name changed to the Merrill Community Arts Center, and two campuses are established — one on Rivertown Drive in Woodbury and one at East Ridge High School.
- 2013: Black Box Theater opens, providing theater space for smaller performances.
Source: Merrill Community Arts Center