Local landmark theater cherishes history, celebrates future

Submitted photo

The Capri Theater, a Twin Cities cultural hallmark straight out of North Minneapolis, closed shop on May 12 after a week of events that both reflected on the history of the theater and looked forward to its reopening after renovations.

Among the offerings was Reflections/New Visions, produced by CAST (Capri After School Theater), which showcased the institution’s stated commitment to “enrich the skills, prospects, and spirit of North Minneapolis area youth and adults.”

It also honored the vast legacy of African American authors, staging, among other works, An Evening with August, selected from the iconic bard’s canon, as well as excerpts from Lorraine Hansberry’s classic To Be Young, Gifted and Black.

The night was directed by Kevin D. West who, in his 12th year at Plymouth Christian Youth Center Arts & Technology (PCYC) and the Capri Theater, takes young talent through their paces in learning their craft.

Youth focus remains pivotal to theater’s focus

West, a noted actor (Radio Golf/Penumbra Theatre, Bud Not Buddy/Children’s Theater Company) and accomplished director (A Soldier’s Play, Fences/Minneapolis Community and Technical College), as well as a respected educator, told the MSR, “What I tell a lot of these young people is, ‘I used to be you.’ I’m from a community like this, a product of an after-school theatre program in junior high school.” He added, “I bring an open mind. They might teach me something.”

There’s a lot to be said for meeting these youngsters on common ground, reaching them in ways mainstream education fails, intrinsically recognizing, respecting, and appreciating who they are. “When I do that,” said West, “we go high. We go to higher heights.”

He continued, “They come in with so much. Lots of times they just need a safe environment to express themselves, [a space that] is by, for, and about them.”

West is well-pleased with 18-year old senior Shakirra Dansby. “She’s the strongest one in the class who rises to the occasion.” She performed in Reflections/New Visions in scenes from August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson and George C. Wolfe’s The Colored Museum.

The staging of Reflections acknowledges what’s been accomplished and looks forward to the future. Including, West noted, “How youth enhance what we’re doing here. Along with The Tempest by William Shakespeare [and] August Wilson’s plays, we’ve done original work students have written.”

Submitted photo Shairra Dansby

Dansby, in turn, finds West a supportive instructor who helps her cultivate her abilities — a marked improvement from the school from which she transferred. “Theatre here is different. We receive a lot of knowledge. It’s not only about the work.”

Her previous teacher demanded results, period. No questions asked, no excuses accepted. West, she said, adopts a nurturing attitude, both instructing and enlightening.

When she has difficulty executing a character, he explains things. “I’m able to learn,” said Dansby. “If I have trouble, don’t understand something, I can go to him. He doesn’t see me as someone who’s not trying hard enough.” Importantly, in her graduating year, she embarks on her profession with confidence. “I may not be ready to tackle Broadway, but I can take on something in theatre,” she said.

Reflecting on the importance of connecting a seasoned veteran like West with budding talent, PCYC and Capri director Scott James commented, “It’s one of the incredible things we offer, here. One of the many benefits. These kids have an incredible opportunity to work with some of the premiere artists in this town on a day to day basis.

“And when these [seasoned performers] are in a show, we make a point to take students out to see them so they can understand what their craft is.” Students are availed a comprehensive curriculum that prepares them to, along with acting, directing and writing, seek careers behind the scenes.

After all, there are those who love theatre without aspiring to the limelight. How could stage stars shine without technicians, costumers and staff? “We also have an apprentice program,” continued James. “We hire our students to work in this space, whether it’s the scene shop, concessions, different areas of opportunity to build necessary job skills while they study.” In short, they cultivate well-rounded theatre professionals in the making.

Celebration of past and what’s to come

 Reflections/New Visions was part of week-long programming, six days in all, composed of, along with focusing on youth, such offerings as performances by Moore By Four and Craig Lawrence Rice’s “First Thursday Films” screening of James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk.

Another event highlight was the Capri Glee!, the adult community choir directed by JD Steele. “The Capri Glee! is a wonderful collaboration of hundreds of singers from all walks of life that come together for 12 weeks of the year to sing and share in the joy of music. All singers are welcome regardless of skill level,” said Steele.

“It creates a wonderful sense of community that reminds us that, although we are all different, we have more in common when we come together to uplift and inspire, not only each other but the audiences that we perform for. Truly some of the most gratifying occurrences of my career.”

Ramping up to its 20,000 square foot expansion, the Capri aims to reopen in a year. “July 2020 is our goal, said James. “This space stays — that’s the important thing. I hear people say we’re tearing down the Capri Theater. We’re not!”

Regular Capri programming, including the CAST curriculum, will continue at off-site locations, much to the delight of Dansby who expressed her gratitude, summing up, “Parents should send their kids to PCYC!”

Keep up with Capri Theater developments at thecapritheater.org.