The Jon Hassler Theater in Plainview.   Photo from theater's Facebook page.

The Jon Hassler Theater in Plainview, Minn., is closing. Named for the esteemed writer who grew up in the town of about 3,300 northeast of Rochester, this little drama house on the prairie founded 14 years ago drew critical praise for the quality of the more than 60 plays staged there. Its home, a former farm-plement dealership, also houses a bookstore and art gallery.

The rising costs of putting on shows factored into the decision to close,said Dean Harrington, CEO of the Rural America Arts Partnership, the umbrella orgnazation that runs the theater. But that was only one reason.

“Attendance plateaued after the first few years and after that we didn’t get the increases we needed,” Harrington said. “Also part of our mission was to produce challenging work, and there was some audience for that in this area, but not enough to make it a satisfying endeavor.”

The Hassler will continue to house productions on a rental basis through 2014, to honor prior commitments to high school and community groups who have planned shows and other events.

“We hope the school or someone else might buy it so it can continue being used as a theater, but if there’s no interest it will be redeveloped as a commercial space of some sort,” Harrington said. 

“It does take a bigger investment than just ticket sales to keep a theater going,” said Brett Olson, a supporter of the Hassler who runs a  rural-arts advocacy nonprofit called Renewing the Countryside. “The Guthrie couldn’t survive on that. The money that goes to the urban arts may be geographically proportional to the amount of taxes paid, but the rural areas can wind up being left out.”

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