History Theatre

September 8, 2022

Amount Requested$10,000.00


30 E 10th st
Saint Paul, Minnesota 55101

Doug Tiede

Development Director

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  • Broaden Perspectives Through Art, Culture, Literature or Extracurricular Experiences
Proposal Information

Funds are Being Requested for:

General Operating

Mission Statement

History Theatre entertains, educates, and engages through creating, developing, and producing new and existing works that explore Minnesota's past and the diverse American experience. Its work provides a unique lens which links our past to the present, explores our common heritage, and illuminates our understanding of what it means to be American.

Amount Requested


Program Budget


Organizational Budget


Relationship to the Olseth Family Foundation


Summarize Your Request

In a world increasingly divided by the COVID-19 crisis, civil unrest, politics, war, and a changing climate, one place to turn is history. Placing tumultuous modern challenges in the context of history educates and empowers us to make choices, have conversations, and to do what we can to steer the direction of our world. According to a 2020 article in Education Week magazine, 78% of teachers identify “preparing students for citizenship” as the main reason to teach history, saying “we study and share history in part to give us the foundation for action.”

But at the same time, American students’ proficiency in history continues to backslide. In 2020, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reported that scores in history and geography have declined from five years ago and those in civics remain flat. Which means that only 15% of 8th-graders scored proficient or above in U.S. history along with about 25% in civics and geography.

History Theatre’s mission, vision, and 40+ year track record is an antidote. We commission, develop and produce virtuosic theatrical performances that preserve and share the often unheard stories of our common past and catalyze dialogue about history and current events in communities across the state. Our broad menu of educational and engagement offerings ensures access to dazzling depictions of history for individuals of all ages and backgrounds to better understand their place and role in the great Minnesotan story. Our work truly brings history to life.

For History Theatre, like so many performing arts institutions, the COVID-19 crisis presented daunting financial challenges. However, History Theatre carefully managed resources throughout the pandemic, which allowed us to return to the stage fully funded for our first three performances. Patrons and philanthropic institutions rallied around us with increased contributed support to see us through this difficult time, and we planned our 2022-23 season from a place of cautious stability, having spent the past three years investing in artistic process and product, with a slate of powerful new plays in the pipeline.

All this positions us well to undergo our next transition: Artist Director Ron Peluso announced that he plans to retire at the end of December 2022. Per the Board of Director’s succession plan, we have formed a succession committee and begun a national search for his replacement. The search will take place over Summer 2022, with the goal of identifying finalists by Fall 2022. The new Artistic Director will receive a proposed 2023-24 season and work closely with Managing Director Karen Mueller.

Continued philanthropic support ensures our stability as we respond to the changing needs of the Theatre, our artistic community, and our patrons. In the coming years, our unique mission will be more crucial than ever as we continue to make sense of the devastation of this time, employ 200+ artists each year, and boldly advance our mandate to tell a diverse, complex, inclusive history of our region.

Overview of the Grant Request

Population Served

Anticipated around 35,000 patrons a year. Adults and students through education and outreach.

Geographic Area Served

Twin Cities metro and surrounding area.

List Three Measurable Goals That This Funding Will Help You Achieve.

History Theatre is charting a course for continued excellence in the years ahead. Over­arching goals encompass:
● Transforming our organization into one that is anti-racist and embodies diversity, equity, and inclusiveness in programming, management, engagement, audience development and marketing.
● A commitment to productions of the highest possible artistic quality while producing work that explores familiar and untold stories reflecting the true diversity of our region and its people.
● Keeping our audiences engaged and attracting new audiences through wide reaching virtual events and programming.
● Expanding educational opportunities for adults and youth through virtual platforms.
● Increasing the visibility of the Theatre and the artists who work here.
● Sustaining financial stability through this difficult time, keeping our artists and staff supported.

Activities include…
Theatrical Season: Six high quality plays and musicals produced on the Theatre’s stage. Programming that supports and extends the Season includes Raw Stages New Works Festival of readings to vet promising new scripts; and History Theatre on Tour that takes acclaimed productions ‘on the road’ to communities across Minnesota.

Community Engagement Programs: Programs that broaden and deepen experiences with the Theatre through short, engaging activities. Virtual Afterthoughts accompany productions and readings, and have historically featured artists and local experts ranging from the late Vice President Walter Mondale (All The Way) to Judge John DeSanto, lead prosecutor for the Congdon murder trials (for our recent smash hit Glensheen). History Here and Now (HHN) establishes and grows mutually beneficial partnerships with community and service organizations to present play excerpts and workshops for members of underrepresented communities at cultural hubs.

Education Programs for Students and Lifelong Learners: Programs that bring history to life for K-12 students and adult learners. Each year we reach approximately 5,400 students, the majority of whom are BIPOC, through activities held at the theatre, virtually, or in community and school venues. We offer Morning Matinees for K-12 students, teachers, and community partners that offer subsidized tickets to main stage productions, and free, downloadable study guides that link play content to academic standards in history, arts education, and literature. Seats to Stage residencies teach high school students elements of playwriting, and guide them to collaboratively create a play based on their life experiences.

How Will You Accomplish These Goals?

History Theatre continues to implement its responsive and adaptable plan for live in-person programming with safety guidelines in place. The 2022-23 Mainstage Season includes:

“Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story,” by Alan James, directed by Ron Peluso - Part bio-musical, part rock 'n roll concert and part toe-tappin' & hand-clappin' celebration of the music of Buddy Holly, this musical depicts the meteoric rise to fame of a young talent from Lubbock, Texas. Buddy crossed racial barriers and rose to the top of the charts in just four short years

“A Servants' Christmas: The Musical,” book by John Fenn, music & lyrics by Drew Jansen, directed by Ron Peluso. - A Servants’ Christmas was Ron’s first production as Artistic Director in 1994; to commemorate his 28 year tenure, this remount will be his final one. It's December on Summit Avenue in St. Paul when Monica, a young immigrant, is hired by the Warner family to serve as a 'Second Girl." Monica, who is Jewish, fears that if she revealed her Jewish heritage, "her secret, and true self," that she might be dismissed from this job that she desperately needs.

Raw Stages: New Works Festival - Our Raw Stages: New Works Festival will feature four readings in January 2023. Enlisting the best local and national writers, History Theatre is a leader in the development of new works for the stage. It is an opportunity for these stories to take their first brave steps from the page to the stage.

“The Root Beer Lady,” written and performed by Kim Schultz, directed by Addie Gorlin-Han - This solo performance tells the story of Dorothy Molter, the last legal non-indigenous resident of the Boundary Waters. Spanning 1934 through 1986, The Root Beer Lady explores Molter’s independence, fortitude, and love of nature while pushing back against the premise that her time in the North Woods made her the “Loneliest Woman in America,” as the Saturday Evening Post claimed in 1952.

“Diesel Heart,” by Brian Grandison in collaboration with Melvin Carter Jr., directed by Warren C. Bowles - Based on the autobiography by Melvin Carter Jr., the father of St. Paul's current mayor, this play follows Melvin's journey from his struggles as a young man during the racially tense 1950s and 60s to joining the Navy during the Vietnam War, to returning home to start a family, and then becoming one of the first Black Police Officers in St. Paul's 1970’s class of recruits.

“The Defeat of Jesse James,” book by Jeffrey Hatcher, music and lyrics by Chan Polling - Every year, the town of Northfield reenacts the events that took place on September 7, 1876, when The James Gang attempted to rob the First National Bank. It’s a story of heroic sacrifice and small-town grit, performed by volunteers on horseback firing blanks.

Should updated AEA guidelines allow, Each live production of our 2022-23 season will be captured through high quality videography, and edited to stream for patrons who would prefer not to attend live events. We have developed and are continually revising an extensive safety plan that follows Actors Equity Association, CDC and local guidelines for spacing, cleaning, capacity, etc. Our safety plan includes limited entry, required masks, proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test for artists, audience and staff members.

EDUCATION PROGRAMS FOR STUDENTS AND LIFELONG LEARNERS: Since 2008, History Theatre has partnered with metro area schools and community groups to provide creative arts residencies that bring participants’ lived histories to life. Under the leadership of Education Manager Paul de Cordova, a team of 17 teaching artists lead 140 participants in 9 creative residencies each year. Each residency has 3 phases: writing from prompts, script development/rehearsal, and performance. In each class, participants gain and practice writing and performance skills. Participants also develop crucial skills in teamwork and collaboration as they work together to weave their individual stories into a larger cohesive piece. History Theatre is working with partners to offer the following residencies:
● Seats to Stage (S2S): School-based residencies teach writing, collaboration, and performance to Twin Cities area high schoolers. Aligning with MN high school theater arts learning standards, S2S leads students to create plays based on their life experiences.
● Telling Our Stories (TOS): Residencies for adults adapt strategies from S2S to create short plays with lifelong learners. Participants apply writing and performance tools to create and perform short plays based on their life stories.
● Living Through History: A virtual eight-session writing class designed to help artists and non artists alike find tools to process the state of the world today. With the help of a teaching artist, participants use the space to reflect on the lives they’ve lived through meaningful events, write pieces based on these experiences (both inside and outside of class), and share them in a supportive atmosphere.
● Cabaret for Seniors: Residencies at senior facilities that use personal history and music to create cabaret performances. Participants are taught the history of the form as well as techniques for storytelling, song selection, and performance.

TOURING EDUCATIONAL SHOWS: History Theatre works with playwrights, artists and individual schools to bring made-for-student shows directly into classrooms. As History Theatre and local schools build back capacity from staffing shortages due to the pandemic, we hope to reignite and expand this program.
● “Neighbors” Written by acclaimed playwright Benjamin Benne (Playwrights’ Center McKnight Fellow), Neighbors is an original play with music that reflects the diverse American experience, created from interviews with elementary, middle, and high schoolers about their families’ immigration history.
● “Josie Johnson Show” Playwright Kim Hines is working with the "First Lady of Minnesota Civil Rights," Josie Johnson, to create a play for youth about the community organizer and civil rights leaders’ life and legacy.

HISTORY HERE AND NOW: Our outreach program History Here and Now (HHN) provides activities, excerpts and access services including transportation, free tickets, translation, etc. to make History Theatre productions more accessible to diverse groups, including New Americans and their families. We build and sustain deep relationships with community partners around plays that explore race, cultural identity and immigration. Past and future partner organizations include Gordon Parks High School; Soul Touch Productions; Rondo and Roseville Libraries; Just Arts; Save our Sons; Central High School; and local colleges.

Many of History Theatre’s education and engagement programs rely on significant support from Minnesota State Arts Board (MSAB) funding programs. In response to COVID-19, the MSAB has redirected their support for relief programs and will not be offering support for Arts Learning and Arts Access that have helped to maintain and expand these programs. History Theatre is committed to finding alternate sources of funding from the private sector to continue to provide this mission-critical work.

LONG TERM FUNDING STRATEGIES: From the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, History Theatre has remained flexible, creative, and fiscally conservative. We know that the challenges posed by this pandemic will not recede quickly, and even when they do, theatre may look differently in the future. To adapt, we are continuing to budget conservatively, investing in new work and the artists in our community and strategically planning ahead. Despite the financial challenges of this time, we have steadily increased commissioning fees to playwrights and salaries to actors, directors, and designers over the past five budget cycles.

Still, the high-caliber, provocative explorations of a diverse American history that we produce means 40% of our budget must come from contributed income. As a nonprofit, we balance a desire to reach audiences, particularly underserved audiences locally and in Greater Minnesota, at a price point that is affordable yet supports productions of quality and merit. Philanthropic support subsidizes aesthetic risk-taking, stories from non-dominant communities, and creative work that facilitates timely, difficult conversations. We receive public and private sector grants from local, regional, state and national granting bodies. We continue to diversify sources of funding to mitigate the impact of shifting institutional funders. Our Storyteller’s Circle of Individual donors has grown, and our Board has catalyzed to pursue additional individual gifts. Now, more than ever before, this philanthropic support is critical to History Theatre’s work. As we continue to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our institution, and plan for an exciting next phase with a new Artistic Director, we need the support of individual, corporate, and foundation funders to help us balance our budget and continue to serve our mission.

Looking Forward, How Will You Measure These Goals?

We evaluate success through quantitative feedback - such as ticket sales, audience demographics, virtual engagement and social media traffic - and qualitative data through conversations and surveys:
● Feedback from artists on experience, HT's support, successes and areas for improvement.
● Feedback from community partners regarding the collaborative process, how collaboration helped achieve organizational goals and their interest in future partnership.
● Audience feedback about what they learned about MN history, feelings toward History Theatre, reasons they attend History Theatre productions, and what they want to see more of in the future.

History Theatre’s evaluation plan incorporates techniques recommended at evaluation workshops (focus groups/interviews, surveys, and voting), and tools developed in 2016 by evaluation consultant Christie Treichel. To measure success and areas for improvement, History Theatre tracks metrics against the following goals:
● Manage resources by strategically spending to produce a full season and navigate uncertainty due to COVID-19, while retaining at least 50% of cash reserves.
● Communicate and operationalize strategic objectives and goals gleaned from the 16-person antiracism committee’s previous year of work, and fold into annual work plans.
● Retain increased individual donor levels from COVID-19 and increase donor base by 10%.
● 85% of artists express that they have felt supported and cared for during the pandemic, and that HT is a welcoming place for their creative expression.
● 75% of audience members report that they have learned something new from participating in History Theatre programming.
● Continue to find mutually beneficial partnerships with 60% of our previous community partners, and partners at senior living facilities and schools.

We always work to improve our evaluation practices; development staff have participated in evaluation training through the Minnesota Council on Nonprofits and the Minnesota State Arts Board. We have hired Anna Zeisel, a freelance evaluation consultant, to design evaluation plans and analyze data to share with the board and staff. Anna has a cultural anthropology degree, human-centered design research training from ACUMEN and non-profit evaluation training from the Minnesota Council on Nonprofits. Anna leads artist surveys and feedback protocols to provide a neutral, independent avenue for artists to provide honest feedback while remaining anonymous. Staff doesn’t have access to raw survey data. Artist feedback informs future artistic processes and DEI planning.

In summer of 2021 we sent a wide scale survey to all artists employed by History Theatre over the past five years seeking feedback and suggestions for improvement. Results from that survey led to changes in staffing, understudies and tech hours, as well as additional longer term projects. In February 2022, we sent out a large-scale survey to audience members, asking patrons to self-identify race, income, gender, age, their feelings toward History Theatre, ways they engage with our theatre and what they hope to see more of. We are in the process of analyzing the results of that survey, and will use results to inform DEI planning, communication processes for audiences and donors, and programming decisions, with the ultimate goal of expanding and diversifying patrons and donors.

Managing Director Karen Mueller is responsible for evaluation oversight. We solicit feedback from artistic associates, Board members, volunteers and staff. We facilitate ongoing check-ins with artists to ensure History Theatre remains responsive to artists’ needs. After every production, we facilitate postmortems with artists and staff to continue to refine development processes. We disseminate an electronic survey to all audience members after every production to collect data on what they learned from the production and how safe they felt regarding COVID protocols. We use this information to shape future programming, as well as accessibility needs and COVID safety protocols. Evaluation results are shared with stakeholders and funders as requested.

Evaluation processes help us refine and evolve programming to best serve participants. Regular check-ins with artists, audience members, and participants feed back into program delivery. Planning outlines and timelines have built-in benchmarks that help us meet objectives. Post program evaluations help us improve programming and processes for the future. We share results with the Board and staff for annual and strategic planning. We also share with philanthropic partners as requested.

Implementation Plan

Start Date


End Date


Describe Most Significant Collaborations With Other Organizations And Efforts.

History Theatre partners with local education and non-profit organizations to mutually extend reach and impact, develop and cross-pollinate audiences, and build and deepen relationships between artists and audiences. Regular artistic partners include the Minnesota Historical Society, The Playwrights Center, and The Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Arts. Community partners include many metro schools, school systems and youth-serving organizations (Project Success, Neighborhood House) that participate in Seats to Stage residencies and the subsidized school matinee program (which provides transportation, reduced or free tickets and comprehensive study guides). Several partnerships support History Theatre's education work with older adults, such as Episcopal Homes in St. Paul. Additionally, we continue our successful partnership with Vail Place, Minnesota Mental Health Clubhouses located in Hopkins and Minneapolis, and Minnesota Independence College & Community (MICC). We are affiliated with Actors Equity Association, and belong to the National New Play Network, which helps secure second productions for new plays.

What Is The Projected Timeline For The Proposed Activities?

OCTOBER 1-30, 2022 Buddy Holly by Alan James, directed by Ron Peluso
NOVEMBER 19-DECEMBER 18, 2022 A Servants’ Christmas book by John Fenn, music & lyrics by Drew Jansen, directed by Ron Peluso
JANUARY 2023: RAW STAGES Featuring four readings from works in the HT pipeline
JANUARY 28-FEBRUARY 19, 2023 The Root Beer Lady written and performed by Kim Schultz, directed by Addie Gorlin-Han
MARCH 11- APRIL 2, 2023 Diesel Heart by Brian Grandison in collaboration with Melvin Carter Jr., directed by Warren C. Bowles
APRIL 29 - MAY 28, 2023 The Defeat of Jesse James book by Jeffrey Hatcher, music and lyrics by Chan Polling

ONGOING: Education and outreach programs

Supplemental Information

Current Year Organizational Budget


Program Budget For Proposed Funding Period
Audited Financials (if applicable)


Other Entries
Approval Status