The Grand Marais Playhouse started in 1971. As we prepare to celebrate our 50th Season in 2021, we are gathering our stories around us, sifting through pictures, letters, news articles, programs, and even costumes and props that have held so much emotional value over the years.

In October 2018, director Sue Hennessy gave a presentation about the Playhouse at a conference of the Minnesota Theater Alliance. We are posting it below with related videos to begin the conversation and to trigger some happy memories of the Playhouse past.

If you have a Grand Marais Playhouse story to share please send it along, either as a video or a letter. We would love to hear your tales!

Presentation: October 2018 at the Minnesota Theater Alliance Statewide Conference
Presenter: Sue Hennessy, Playhouse Director

“Hello, My name is Sue Hennessy and I am the artistic director for the Grand Marais Playhouse.
I am  a product of the Grand Marais Playhouse. I grew up in Grand Marais just three houses away. My love affair with theater began at age 11. My first role was that of an imp in the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, I soon found  my way backstage to help building sets and props and stage management. I got my degree in theater, then worked  in professional theater in New York City and the Twin Cities before moving back to my hometown, eventually becoming the Artistic Director. Going from professional theater back to community theater was not easy. I became frustrated a lot. I kept hitting walls trying to push people for more commitment, more time, more effort.

Its not that we didn’t do really good work.   We did. There are a lot of really talented people in the community! But I came in with the same expectations of working with career theater artists. My biggest aha! moment was when I began to see that I was working with Recreational theater artists.
These community members are people with full lives. Full time jobs or full time students, parents with kids, kids with friends. Lives full of sports, church, birthday parties, shopping trips, and all other very real life activities that might keep them from rehearsal, from memorizing their lines and even from remembering their shoes. These people choose to add theater to their lives. This is their chosen form of recreation! They want to do this and they make room in their life to come to rehearsal and bring plays to life and present to their family, friends and visitors.

 In production it’s always about the play but in doing the work, we also change the community! We create an ensemble with people we see in the grocery store, at the post office, from a different school, in another grade, a different church. And this ensemble outlives the production!  Let me repeat that so you can get a picture in your head. Every ensemble outlives every production. 48 years of doing four or more plays each year. Over 200 ensembles of varying sizes going back into the community and/ or schools changed! Trusting! Empathetic! Connected! Supported!

 And our audiences are gatherings of every church, political, economic, and ethnic group, sitting next to each other and laughing, crying  and applauding  each other’s loved ones and fellow community members. These performances also create starting points in conversation outside the theater.
“great show last night!”

“Oh, that’s where I’ve seen you!”

 The mentoring, self-esteem building, community building happens on every show!

 The Grand Marais Playhouse is a powerful thing!

 I’d like walk you through the life of this Playhouse beginning with one of it founding members talking about how the Playhouse came to be.



The Playhouse moved that first year to an new location. The old Lutheran church and ended up buying it  ten years later for $1 from the local school district.  This was the place that incubated the Playhouse for 25 years.  Summer plays, school plays, jazz concerts and art shows cemented this organization into the community. Eventually the building couldn’t keep up with the growth of the Playhouse.


Here is Mr. Dick Swanson to talk more about the transition from old church to the new facility.



In the 20 years of the ACA, The Grand Marais Playhouse uses the ACA for most if not all of its activites. The Art Colony has gone back to their original building, WTIP built its own  and the North Shore Music Association uses the auditorium around 8 times a year. The relationship with the school has had its highs and its lows. More on some of that later.
First I’d like to talk about the work we do.

The Playhouse began with three summer shows. Now the annual season includes a youth play with students in grade 3-8, a youth play focusing on high school age kids and a summer two show repertory with community actors that hits the tourism market to maximize ticket sales. Its also the busiest time for most locals.  

As resources and interest allows, readers theater, ten minute , one act and full productions may be added as well as workshops and special events.

 Our productions are supported by a team of local people who volunteer to build, paint, sew, gather and support the plays in a variety of ways. Low budgets and very limited resources often lead to creative solutions to bring the plays to fruition. Here is a story about a dress from one of our most talented and dedicated costumers, Emma Bradley.



I have witnessed a myriad of ways the Playhouse effects the community and the individuals who participate in the plays.

The current life of the Playhouse is full and alive! We have people returning year after year and new people joining each area of production and at every audition.

The Playhouse has begun the process of strategic planning and succession planning. We are looking at developing stronger educational program and more work inside the classroom.  We will be restructuring our administration and staffing  to be more equitable  and sustainable.

The Playhouse will turn 50 the summer of 2021. We hope to have a new invigorated plan in place ready to go by then to send this theater merrily into its second  half century!