DULUTH – Christine Gradl Seitz is stepping down from her position as executive and artistic director of Duluth Playhouse after 20 years helming the community theater that saw the local arts scene transform.
As leader of the nonprofit, which is more than a century old, Seitz oversaw the restoration of the historic NorShor Theatre downtown. After eight years and $30 million, the revamped 630-seat venue opened in February 2018.
“I’ll never forget the marquee lights turning on for the first time,” said Seitz, who called the NorShor’s revival Duluth Playhouse’s “greatest achievement” during her tenure. Visions to restore the old theatre to its former glory were brought to life only because the city and a private developer from the Twin Cities partnered up to invest in it, she added.
“Knowing that we had a patron base that appreciates the arts” is what Seitz said allowed Duluth Playhouse to grow from a single-stage community theater with a $200,000 budget in 2000 to a three-venue organization, which includes a children’s theater program and manages $2.7 million today.
Duluth has simultaneously grown its music scene in the last two decades to complement the existing local ballet, symphony and opera.
“That speaks, quite honestly, very highly of our community, especially given our size,” Seitz said. “When I came to Duluth, it was very clear to me that this community appreciates art and likes it to be part of their quality of life.”
Seitz, now 59, started her career performing in New York before transitioning into directing and choreographing roles that involved a lot of travel. Her husband was born and raised in Duluth, and a job opportunity at Playhouse seemed like an opportunity for the pair to settle down.
But soon Seitz was busier than ever. Her new role required her handle the business side of the theater, which was different from the production-side work she’d done in the past. And when some shuffling around happened, Seitz took over as artistic director, too.
Duluth Playhouse recently hired a new artistic director to start in May and plans to start searching for an executive director to replace Seitz, who told her staff Tuesday that she will step down at the end of September.
Seitz doesn’t know what she’ll do next yet, but she’s sure she won’t sit still for long. She’s thought about trying to consult for other small community theaters in the country that are trying to expand.
“There aren’t any words to express the deep gratitude that I have had to work for the Playhouse, for the chance to be a part of this progress and growth,” Seitz said. “I am in awe of the creativity that’s happening here in this community.”