The production of "Jesus Christ Superstar" is something of a landmark for Chanhassen Dinner Theatres. For the first time in its 43-year history, the theater sought a corporate sponsor. For its investment, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans demanded more from Chanhassen than simple advertising.
"It had to be more than putting our logo on a Playbill," said Stacy Hanley, Thrivent's director of community relations. "We wanted to build a program with them that allowed us to give back to the community."
Thus was born the "Community Superstar." The dinner theater raised more than $18,000 during a food drive with Minnesota FoodShare, and now is honoring 13 individuals selected for their volunteer work. Thrivent has also sold more than 3,000 discounted tickets to employees and members through the partnership. On June 14, actors Ben Bakken (Jesus), Jared Oxborough (Judas) and Michelle Carter (Mary Magdalene) will bring songs from the show to Thrivent's downtown auditorium for an employee event.
Thrivent is not a big player in the arts community. It tends to aim its philanthropy at broad-based civic reinvestment -- giving back to the community. For example, the fraternal organization has a significant sponsorship with Project for Pride in Living, the Minneapolis nonprofit that assists clients with housing, jobs and youth issues. Thrivent has, however, sponsored artistic endeavors that have a religious basis, such as a current exhibit at its Minneapolis headquarters on 500 years of art centered on "The Passion of Christ."
The dinner theater put together the Community Superstars program, which solicited nominations for people distinguished by their volunteerism. The winners are treated to the show and recognized from the Chanhassen stage -- each week until the show ends July 30. They include Dorothy Ferrian, a Minneapolis woman who has sewn more than 1,400 quilts that she donates to patients at Fairview Southdale Hospital. Heather Weller of New York Mills, Minn., is a 12-year-old who writes thank-you notes to members of the armed services. She's heard back from more than 2,000 veterans in 41 states.
"We were looking for individuals who have the same ideals that are expressed in the show," said Katie Knutson, Chanhassen's director of marketing. "This program has to have legs for both of our organizations."
Hanley agreed, saying "Superstar's" six-month run gives Thrivent longevity and visibility through an iconic institution.
"A lot of organizations would struggle with religious art," she said. "We got into this because we think this is an important show that fits our mission."
Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299