Wander Minnesota: A Good Excuse For A Drive South

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Amy Rea Amy Rea
Amy Rea is a freelance writer and author of Minnesota, Land of 10,000...
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But first, I have some exciting news: my latest book, Backroads & Byways of Minnesota, is now available for sale at any fine bookstore near you!

bnb cover Wander Minnesota: A Good Excuse For A Drive South

(credit: Amy C. Rea)

One of the many backroads and byways described in the book is a trip to one of my favorite places — Lanesboro. Among the many gems in that southeastern town, located along the Root River and tucked against river bluffs, is the Commonweal Theatre.

lanesboro commonweal Wander Minnesota: A Good Excuse For A Drive South

(credit: Amy Rea)

The Twin Cities is very proud — and justifiably so — of its lively theatrical scene, but it’s not the only stage in the state. The Commonweal opened in 1989 and, given its location in a community with a great deal of Norwegian ancestry, made a firm commitment to the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen by performing at least one of his works every year. That commitment helped Commonweal earn a grant from the country of Norway.

But there are several other unique things about the Commonweal. Its organizational model is unusual in that the actors who appear on the stage are also the ones fielding the calls during the day, overseeing the operations of the theater in all its different aspects. Actors come from all over the U.S. and take up residence in Lanesboro as an extended commitment to their art and to the work behind it.

In 2007, the Commonweal moved into a new building on the main street in Lanesboro, a building that provides larger audience space and more staging flexibility.

lanesboro commonweal stage Wander Minnesota: A Good Excuse For A Drive South

(credit: Amy Rea)

In a fun twist, some of the seating in the new theater was recycled from the old Guthrie Theater, leading one visitor to the Commonweal to note that he had the same seat in Lanesboro as he used to have in Minneapolis.

Besides improving the theater experience, the Commonweal also worked with a local artist who created a combination art gallery/historical museum in the lobby.

lanesboro commonweal ceilin Wander Minnesota: A Good Excuse For A Drive South

(credit: Amy Rea)

Historic artifacts, especially farm implements, are put to whimsical use, not just on the walls, but on the ceilings and even in the bathrooms, where you might find an old hammer head serving as a door handle.

Even donors were involved.

lanesboro commonweal donor Wander Minnesota: A Good Excuse For A Drive South

(credit: Amy Rea)

In some places, donors get their name on a wall. At the Commonweal, donors get a place in the “Donor Pantry” — they’re given a jar and they can fill it as they please with artistic objects or sentimental items or more historical artifacts, whatever suits them. What a cool way to recognize donor involvement!

The Commonweal’s season runs from mid-April through December. This year’s calendar includes not only Ibsen, but “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Little Shop of Horrors”. The full schedule and ticket information is here.

Lanesboro is so worth a day trip or weekend visit — there’s plenty of outdoor recreation, shopping, dining, and great bed and breakfasts. Add to that a night at the Commonweal Theatre and it’s pretty much perfect.

What else is happening in our state? Be sure to check out the 10 p.m. Sunday night WCCO newscasts, where you can learn more in the weekly segment, Finding Minnesota.

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