Theater: The Old Log changes hands

  • Article by: GRAYDON ROYCE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 21, 2013 - 9:36 AM

New owners Greg and Marissa Frankenfield have big plans for the storied theater.

There is a new storefront in downtown Excelsior with a familiar name: “Don Stolz Productions.” Yes, that Don Stolz, the man identified for seven decades with the Old Log Theater. Stolz still keeps his hand in show business, including a concert series on Mondays at the Old Log, where he regularly welcomes audiences.

“He keeps asking me, ‘When can I introduce you as the new owner?’ ” said Greg Frankenfield. “I told him that’s his night, the Monday night concerts.”

Soon though, most every night will be Frankenfield’s night as he prepares to launch the Old Log, the Twin Cities’ oldest theater and a west metro landmark, into a new era. He’s pumping $500,000 into technical systems, the restaurant, the 11 acres on which the theater sits near Lake Minnetonka and the auditorium. He’s upgraded the ticketing system and promises programming that, while familiar to Old Log audiences, offers new titles and such fresh faces as Stacia Rice, Ann Michels and James Denton.

Frankenfield, CEO and co-founder of Magenic Technologies, has hired longtime friend Kent Knutson as artistic director for the theater. They have seen more than 200 actors in the past three weeks as they prepare for a five-show season to open Sept. 5. During a recent interview, Knutson said he will direct all five, and Frankenfield wondered about that workload.

“I want to direct them all,” Knutson said.

In addition to his new duties at Old Log, Knutson will continue as a consultant at the Minnetonka Arts Center, where he has directed high school and community shows for more than a decade.

Frankenfield’s other primary partner in the enterprise is his wife, Marissa, who wants to transform the restaurant and grounds to attract banquets, weddings and casual dining. She has enlisted David Shea, perhaps the Twin Cities’ premier restaurant architect, to help freshen the interiors.

Eventually, the Frankenfields want to create a destination eatery that has its own identity. As Knutson grumbled under his breath about all these competing activities, Marissa Frankenfield smiled and reminded him, “The theater has to be primary.”

Old, new guard

Frankenfield consummated his long courtship of the Old Log by signing a purchase agreement in early May. He asked two of Don’s sons — set designer and builder John Stolz and stage manager Tim Stolz — to stay with the new company. Tim Stolz is serving as head of operations.

The Old Log, located in Greenwood, has struggled in the past several years, but there was no debt when Frankenfield paid cash for the property, he said. The mailing list had 5,000 corporate clients and 45,000 ticket buyers from the past 10 years. Frankenfield said records showed that ticket sales hit about $1.1 million in 2012. The theater indulges his passion for drama; he has no illusions about making lots of money at Old Log.

“Their goal is to create art,” said Knutson of the Frankenfields.

The vision is to broaden the repertoire, but make shows that appeal to Old Log’s bread and butter — groups that come in by bus. In addition, for the first time, Old Log will offer season subscriptions, made easier and possible by the new Vendini ticketing program.

Also key will be playing off the success Knutson has had with the school and community productions at Minnetonka, which sell about 30,000 tickets annually.

“There is a large audience in the west metro,” Knutson said.

The west metro is home to three of the four major for-profit theaters that operate in the Twin Cities (the Brave New Workshop is the fourth). The Old Log will compete with Chanhassen Dinner Theatres and the Plymouth Playhouse for roughly the same demographic group, right down to the bus business. Hence, Frankenfield and Knutson see the need to expand audience geographically and through individual sales.

“Success will depend on individual ticket buyers and subscribers” as opposed to bus groups, said Frankenfield.

First season ready

  • related content

  • Kent Knutson, left, has joined the Old Log Theater as artistic director under new owners Greg and Marissa Frankenfield. The three are making changes to the venerable theater, but programming will be similar to the template set by founder Don Stolz.

  • Back in 1958, Old Log performances were in the original theater, which is now a scene shop on the property.

  • old log season

    Cowgirls: Sept. 5-Oct. 26

    Rancho Mirage: Nov. 7-Dec. 7

    Frog and Toad: Nov. 18-Dec. 29

    Almost, Maine: Jan. 23-March 29

    Steel Magnolias: April 4-May 17

    Tickets: 952-474-5951 or oldlog.com

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