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Hassler Theater to close for good in 2014

PLAINVIEW —The Jon Hassler Theater in Plainview will close at the end of 2014, although its associated art gallery, writers' programs and bookstore will continue to operate.

Hassler Theater in Plainview
Although the Hassler Theater in Plainview is slated to close in a year, Dean Harrington sits in the lobby ready to sell a ticket or a cup of coffee as he has for many years serving the Plainview arts community.
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PLAINVIEW —The Jon Hassler Theater in Plainview will close at the end of 2014, although its associated art gallery, writers' programs and bookstore will continue to operate.

"The decision was less financial, although that has always been a struggle, than audience development," said Dean Harrington, CEO of the Rural America Arts Partnership (RAAP), which operates the theater. "The kind of theater that our arts mission calls us to produce certainly has a following in our area but not enough to make the program worthwhile."

The Hassler has hosted alternative and emerging theater companies from the Twin Cities in recent years, as well as the popular "Don't Hug Me" series of musical comedies. The Hassler, under the the management of Harrington and his wife, Sally, developed a reputation as one of the more daring playhouses outside the Twin Cities metro area. Aside from the "Don't Hug Me" shows, however, attendance has been spotty.

"The board of directors took a realistic look at today's cost of producing professional plays and of owning a nearly 10,000-square-foot art center building and concluded that the critical mass of attendance needed to maintain an artistic professional theater program is unlikely to develop," Harrington said.

The theater is housed in a former implement dealership that has been converted to house not only the stage and seating, but also an art gallery and bookstore. The lobby regularly hosts discussion and book groups, poetry readings and related events.

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The building is for sale, and there has been some interest, Harrington said. Depending on what transpires, he said, "We'll keep the front end (the bookstore and gallery) as it is and redevelop the back end." The bookstore "covers its share of the costs" and the art gallery "has been gaining momentum," Harrington said.

For the time being, the RAAP will retain ownership of the Jon Hassler boyhood home, which is located on the same block as the theater.

When the Hassler opened, the hope on the part of boosters was that it would spur development of tourism in Plainview. That never happened, Harrington said. "It wasn't so much the eating places, we have those," he said. "We were hoping a motel would develop. That would have been helpful."

In the 14 years since it was founded, the Hassler produced or presented 62 plays and drew a total attendance of 96,000. The 2014 schedule will include another installment of the "Don't Hug Me" series, school and community plays, and assorted rentals.

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