The Gazette, May 10, 2019
Calyssa Hall was a theatre director looking for a stage she could call her own. She had been directing plays in Minneapolis theatre houses with acclaim. But she was keeping an eye out for a spot in the St. Croix Valley, her home, where she could put down theatre roots. She came across the empty Zephyr Depot in Stillwater and jumped off her search train, with a vision to rename this platform The Zephyr Theatre.
This May The Zephyr Theatre is celebrating the first anniversary in its permanent home at the former depot, 601 Main St. N. Hall and her team raised funds to purchase the $2.5 million building in May 2018. This spring The Zephyr Theatre is kicking off its next fund-raising goal of $4 million to expand the building by adding a 330-seat auditorium and renovating the existing site.
The renovation will feature a bakery in the existing south end of the building with house-made desserts open to the public, and served to audience members during intermissions. The bakery will connect with the existing bar. Also planned is the conversion of a former Zephyr train car into an outdoor snack shop for pedestrians and cyclists on Brown’s Creek State Trail that runs along the east side of the building, next to the St. Croix River.
The Zephyr’s one-year birthday party May 3 and 4 was a theatrical production itself. Hundreds of donors, friends and curiosity seekers were ushered in the doors, and treated to a cabaret of Broadway hit songs, starring Broadway actress and singer Jen Burleigh-Bentz. Guests also enjoyed dance numbers and solo songs by local girls, under the direction of Robin Holien, a Zephyr theatre arts teacher and manager of the The Zephyr Studio classes downtown Stillwater.
Gourmet hors d’oeuvres were served, compliments of Stillwater’s Dock Cafe and Marx Fusion Bistro, flower arrangements were provided by Stillwater’s Rose Floral, and prizes were donated by Wahoo! Adventures and Stillwater photographer James Beck.
Donations to The Zephyr Theatre have ranged from a few dollars to $150,000 by generous financial supporters, plus many in-kind donations. The fund-raising campaign now offers donors the opportunity to commemorate their contributions with custom-engraved bricks, pavers and tiles to be installed in the theatre renovation.
Once the new auditorium is built, its entrance will be marked by a “grand vestibule wall” of red bricks that recognize individual, business or organization donors. Donors contributing at least $1,000 may choose a brick, 4 by 8 inches, to be engraved with a name and/or custom message of three lines, approximately 20 characters per line.
Commemorative pavers may be purchased by donors for the walkways leading to the theatre entrance, and for the porte-cochere entryway to the bakery and bar. The entryway pavers of 5 by 8 inches each come with a $350 donation, and allow engraving of three lines with approximately 11 characters per line. For the walkways, border pavers of 7 by 7 inches are $500, and center pavers of 7 by 11 inches are $750, also with custom engraving.
Commemorative tiles for the bar and bakery floor, 7 by 7 inches each, come with a $500 donation, and tiles of 7 by 11 inches each come with a $1,500 donation, with custom engraved messages.
The bricks, pavers and tiles are designed to become conversation starters and memory makers as people gather before and after Zephyr performances. Donors also will receive two mini bricks, pavers, or tiles as paper weights, or two holiday ornaments, as a thank you for their contribution. For more information on donating this way, visit stillwaterzephyrtheatre.org/bricks.
“The performing arts are a critical component of a thriving community,” says Zephyr Theatre Interim Chair Gary Solomonson. “I hear great stories about how much the professional theatre productions have been appreciated, how great the musical performances have been, and how much the parents feel their children have gained in life lessons because of their participation with The Zephyr at their school. I believe The Zephyr Theatre will become a strong economic engine for supporting the wider community and its businesses and other nonprofits.”
Zephyr Volunteer Coordinator Rachel Allgor says she is inspired by “just how many passionate individuals there are in our community willing to help out between performances, concerts, cleaning, building sets, and more! It’s heart-warming to see so many people come together under a single mission, the continued success of The Zephyr Theatre!” To join the theatre’s volunteer team, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jessica Thienes, the Zephyr’s new director of development, says she is planning “to partner with the local businesses of the valley so that our presence will be beneficial to them as well as to the community as a whole. My goal is that everyone in the valley feels as though this is their theatre—that they have some connection and belonging to it. I am motivated by my love for theatre and the arts, inspired by the vision of our Artistic Director Calyssa Hall, the passion that staff and volunteers bring to this company, and the positive impact on the valley community this company has.”
Upcoming Zephyr events; unless noted, visit stillwaterzephyrtheatre.org for times and tickets.
When Writing Meets Art, a literary reading of area writers of poetry, memoir and fiction, will be held Sunday, May 19 at 2 p.m. The event is free with complimentary appetizers and a cash bar. Donations are appreciated to benefit The Zephyr Theatre.
Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors” will be staged at Bayport Marina June 20-23 and June 27-30.
Tennessee Williams’ classic drama, “A Streetcar Named Desire, ” will be performed at The Zephyr Theatre, July 19-Aug. 4.
Tonic Sol-fa, an a cappella ensemble, will perform Saturday, July 13, at 3 and 7 p.m.
International guitarist Claude Bourbon returns to The Zephyr performing medieval & Spanish blues Wednesday, Oct. 16, at 7 p.m.
The Zephyr Theatre offers theatre and arts classes at the Brick Alley Building, 421 S. Main St., Suite 421D, in Stillwater. Visit stillwaterzephyrtheatre.org for fees and schedules. For scholarship information, call 651-342-1542.
Upcoming classes include Painting with Dan Peterson, Oil and Acrylic, for adults; Creative Playmaking—Robin Hood, for ages 4-7; Mental Floss Improv, for grades 6-8; Classical Drawing and Pastels, for ages 9-18; Musical Theatre Tap, for ages 12 to adult; Cue, Reaction, Action, for grades 6-12; Stage Combat, for grades 6-12; Oh, The Thinks You Can Think! Acting Camp, grades 2-5; and Shake It Up Shakespeare Camp, for grades 8-12.