It’s like putting your hand over rising bread dough. Try as you might, you can’t stop it from growing.
It’s a comparison Artistic and Executive Director Laura Tahja Johnson uses to describe Lyric Arts. Still steeped in a strong community feel, the Anoka theater has developed into one of the most respected locations throughout the Twin Cities metro since its beginning.
Once a small spot on Johnson Street, it has become an area staple with the Main Street Stage, celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2020.
“It’s been a really amazing thing to watch this theater grow,” Johnson said. “That wouldn’t be possible without the amazing support of the community, the substantial number of volunteers and artists. Artists want to work at Lyric Arts because of the way they are treated. It’s humbling.
“The important thing about Lyric Arts is that it’s an organization that everybody has a stake in. When we set a new season, we ask audiences and artists what they want to see. This is not just one person’s venture. This is for and by the community.”
While in-person shows are currently on hold, Lyric Arts will be transitioning its annual Cabaret Fundraiser online for the first time ever, holding a virtual party and benefit concert Saturday, May 16.
The 21st annual event will take on a different look due to COVID-19. Still, Lyric Arts is doing everything it can to make sure the community can remain connected, putting together a silent auction and a night of games and live virtual entertainment hosted by actors and staff.
“Our entire auction is online,” Johnson said. “We’re putting together a show that will be a live-streaming event. We’ve reached out to a bunch of artists; we’ll have some little moments with supporters who have done prerecorded ‘Why they love Lyric Arts’ moments. In between that we’ll do some giveaways. There will be a prerecorded performance. We’re having a dress code ‘Quarantine Chic’ where we’re asking people to dress up and post their photos for a best-dressed contest. Everything we can to keep it fun and engaging and make sure it still feels like a Lyric Arts Cabaret, even though we aren’t together.”
The pre-show VIP party begins at 5:15 p.m., with the cabaret performance beginning at 6 p.m. In addition to the festivities, the 2020-21 season lineup will be announced.
It’s a night of hope and looking to the future amidst a period of uncertainty with the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused a sudden halt to the season. When Lyric Arts had to shut its doors on March 13, it did so with a full stage and dressing room set up for the opening night of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” which remain in place still.
“We had already invested $52,000 in this show,” Johnson said. “It’s usually $15,000-$20,000 just to have the rights to do a show. With that, people, materials, it gets expensive really quickly. That’s $52,000 that is … postponed? We don’t know. It’s really difficult to plan because every time we think we might know what’s going to happen next, we hear something new.”
Lyric Arts is hoping to navigate the current situation by holding onto what has helped it thrive for a quarter century: building a blend of community feel and professionalism that founder Lin Schmidt envisioned at its 1995 beginning.
“Her vision in founding this theater was for it to be a hybrid of a very community-based theater and a very professional theater. While we have grown in professionalism and the artistic quality of the shows we do, it’s never lost that feeling of being a place where everyone is welcome, a place that feels like home. That’s one of the things that makes it so special. That warmth and the welcoming is really important. Every trip to Lyric Arts should feel like, even if you’re around people you haven’t met, you’re in the company of friends.
“It really has become a community institution. We have people that volunteer every weekend, we have couples that have met at Lyric Arts and gotten married, had children. We’ve had weddings and funerals. It’s awe-inspiring really.”
While Lyric Arts is unsure when it will be able to return, and what that return might look like, its hope is that the support from things such as the Cabaret Fundraiser and the community will enable it to spring into action as soon as it’s possible to come back.
“We’re hopeful that we’ll be able to get back as soon as possible,” Johnson said. “It all just depends. When it’s safe for us to do so, even then it might be with social distancing that we might only be able to sell a third of our seats. It’s just so unknown. We have nothing to look at. The last thing we want to do is put anybody in our community in danger. It’s difficult to plan when we don’t know one week to the next what’s going to happen.
“We have utilities, insurance, all those expenses even if we’re not running. The biggest thing we need to do is beef up those reserves and get furloughed staff back to having jobs and to make sure we’re strong enough to hit the ground running as soon as we can. We don’t plan on going anywhere. We just have to keep working to raise money to make sure we can hit the ground running as soon as it’s possible.”