Illustration by Jon Krause, special to the Star Tribune

Fall Arts Preview

Meeting the moment

Near-empty galleries. Darkened theaters. Hushed stages. And outside, the cries for change. For Minnesota’s arts community, this is a fall like none other, as the pandemic drags on, the political debate heats up and pressure for social justice grows ever more insistent. How are artists facing these challenges? Read our special report.

Renowned local artist Leslie Barlow and a crew painted a mural on the boarded up front of Fall Out Arts Initiative in the wake of the death of George
David Joles, Star Tribune

Minnesota artists rise to meet a daunting challenge

Facing the uncertainties of the pandemic and mounting demands for social justice, artists are finding novel ways to connect with audiences.

The theater postponed its shows, then postponed them again.

But Bethany Lacktorin wanted to keep the doors of the New London Little Theatre open. So, this summer, she began opening them for one person, then another. Art by appointment, she called it.

As a performer who’s crafted shows for small audiences, the format wasn’t new to Lacktorin, the theater’s program director. But in this central Minnesota city of 1,400, it was “very unfamiliar to a lot of people,” she said. Those “brave enough to come” to the Museum of Portable Sound heard snippets of audio from across the world, collected by a man across the world. Later this month, she’ll launch another, maybe more experimental work.

“I thought, let’s try it,” Lacktorin said.

Art by appointment, art by Zoom, art by any means. Across Minnesota, mega arts institutions and individual artists alike are trying new ways of connecting with audiences despite — and because of — the pandemic and the uprising following the death of George Floyd.

They’re staging shows on patios, on porches, on a baseball field. They’re filming and screening works that illuminate injustices online, outside darkened theaters, on a screen strung between grain elevators. They’re exhibiting new work in windows, on plywood, on fences.

At a time when many are struggling financially, artists and organizations are still making work, making sure that Minnesotans can process all that’s happening in their state and their world through paintings and song, radical posters and one-on-one experiments.

Buy an artist’s screen-printed T-shirt and you might be funding a Black-owned bookstore.

“There’s a lot of beautiful mutual aid happening — artists doing it by and for other artists,” said Anniessa Antar, activation specialist at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. “We don’t need these big institutions ... and I think that’s super-inspiring.”

With its Third Thursdays, which Antar plans, the museum is highlighting some of those projects, inviting folks to screen-print their own posters with the People’s Library.

Working for change

Little looks like it did a year ago. This fall, the Minnesota Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra will be playing to empty halls for virtual audiences. At the big museums, masked visitors touch no screens. Stages remain dark.

Behind the scenes, too, artists are making changes. A diverse, cross-discipline group led by artists of color is meeting weekly, brainstorming ways to make the scene more equitable. They’ve released a mission statement and a letter, calling for the Minnesota State Arts Board to rethink its grants, but much of their work will bear fruit in upcoming months.  Read more

Walker Art Center’s exhibit “Designs for Different Futures” opened on schedule this month.
Stephan Bogner, Philipp Schmitt and Jonas Voigt

'Desire to create' drives the gradual reopening of Twin Cities art scene

Twin Cities art aficionados are living in a pandemic upside-down world. Some museums and galleries are re-emerging, while others remain closed.

The Walker Art Center opened its scheduled fall exhibition “Designs for Different Futures,” but without touch screens or headphones. Minneapolis Institute of Art curator Pujan Gandhi got a few additional months to plan the reopening of the museum’s South Asian, Southeast Asian and Himalayan art galleries, now set for Oct. 15.

The Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery reopened Aug. 18 with artwork in response to the killing of George Floyd, including portraits by John Steitz of people at the protests and community events; photos by Jabari Holloman documenting the scene at 38th and Chicago, and a video compilation by 10 artists expressing their feelings about the movement. Outside the museum, 16 artists painted a Black Lives Matter mural on Plymouth Avenue.

The Minnesota Museum of American Art plans to remain closed through June, but is welcoming patrons for exhibitions in its front windows and neighboring skyways. Meanwhile, it’s searching for a new executive director after the firing of Kristin Makholm in July.

The Weisman Art Museum reopens Oct. 1 with “Harriet Bart: Abracadabra and Other Forms of Protection,” which shut down prematurely but is now extended through Nov. 29. “It was a personal art eclipse,” said Bart. The Weisman will carry on without executive director Lyndel King, who retired in June after a nearly 40-year run. “Access to art is always important — but especially now, when we may all crave some time and a space for reflection, solace, creativity and inspiration,” said interim director Karen Hanson.

The American Swedish Institute reopened with “We Who Believe in Freedom,” a 2016 touring exhibition of works by the Women of Color Quilters Network (WCQN), even more relevant in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Many galleries returned, such as Hair & Nails, Highpoint Center for Printmaking, and Weinstein Hammons. SooVAC reopens Sept. 26 with three exhibitions. Indigenous-focused gallery All My Relations Arts remains temporarily closed. The gallery at Juxtaposition Arts in north Minneapolis is also closed while it focuses on a $14 million capital campaign.

Artists are perhaps the most affected by the pandemic. Some enjoy the extra studio time; others yearn for the social life that gallery openings provide.

One of those regulars, Chris Harrison, said he is “cautiously optimistic” about the fall arts season. “The human desire to create, experience and accept creative pursuits will always overcome any calamity thrust upon us. Just be safe, be smart and we should be all right.”

Children’s Theatre students created the original musical“Covidtown” to perform via Zoom.
Children’s Theatre Company

Twin Cities theaters miss applause and audiences but want to reopen safely

Directors miss tussling over ideas and emotions in a rehearsal room. Actors crave the applause of live audiences. Theatergoers long for the communal magic that happens when a show moves, inspires and transports us.

The burning question in Twin Cities theater has been: When will we have shows again?

“Things can’t just go back to normal, because normal wasn’t good for so many of us,” said Penumbra Theatre artistic director Sarah Bellamy. “COVID-19 and the George Floyd uprising have laid bare the deep inequities that literally is life and death for Black folks and folks of color.”

Many theaters have plays planned for early 2021. The Guthrie’s mini-season is slated to kick off in March with Lynn Nottage’s “Sweat.” At the Children’s Theatre, “Seedfolks” leads the roster. But theaters have to remain flexible.

“I don’t feel the rush to get back to shows,” said Frank Theatre founder Wendy Knox. “This virus is so smart. We think it’s almost over but we’re only in the second inning.”

Theaters are using the downtime to connect in ways that are safe. They are also addressing issues that get swept under the rug, including the inequities in the field.

“The world is heavy these days but it’s also good to have the time and space to realign one’s priorities,” said Theater Latté Da artistic director Peter Rothstein.

Children’s Theatre Company had planned to do “Urinetown” this summer. Instead, its students composed their very first musical — “Covidtown,” coming soon to the Zoom app.

Penumbra, which is expanding its mission to include racial equity and healing, doesn’t have plans until next fall, although it might do something earlier if conditions permit.

“We’re staying nimble and really vigilant about how and when we reopen,” Bellamy said. “Our community is in triage right now and we’re taking care so that when we come back, it will be safe to tend to their hearts, spirits and nervous systems.”

Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, which halted “The Music Man,” is doing concerts and comedy, despite losing money at 25% capacity.

Said choreographer and co-owner Tamara Kangas Erickson, “It’s providing some activity and energy in the building while the set of ‘Music Man,’ lit so beautifully, waits for actors and singers and dancers to come back.”

After several delays, James Bond (Daniel Craig, left) is scheduled to return to theaters this fall.

With superheroes and Pixar, this fall movie season looks a lot like summer

After a summer virtually free of new releases, the movies will be a little more normal this fall, even if theaters look different.

Theater owners have been in talks with Minnesota officials about increasing capacity from 25 to 50%, depending on COVID-19 testing results. But at least there will be films to see.

One key sign of the hybrid nature of attendance this fall is the annual Twin Cities Film Fest, happening online and at its usual home of the Showplace Icon in St. Louis Park.

“We will host approximately 10 in-person, social-distancing-guidelines-applied screenings at the Icon theaters. The majority of those will be studio fare, the Oscar-contending films we’re known for previewing,” said festival director Jatin Setia, whose event offered early looks at “The Favourite” and “If Beale Street Could Talk.” Frances McDormand in “Nomadland” is a strong possibility for the festival this year.

The Oct. 22-31 fest also will feature 60 to 70 titles streaming on its website, with Setia planning for 90% of the offerings to be local premieres. The event will benefit from coming on the heels of the big film festivals in Venice (which happened in person this year) and Toronto (which was virtual), because those fests persuaded distributors to supply films.

While films continue to pop up on streaming services (including Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” coming to Netflix), theaters will have a summer feel, since some releases shifted to fall, including Pixar’s animated “Soul” (Nov. 20) and Scarlett Johansson in Marvel’s “Black Widow” (Nov. 6), which may be delayed even further. (The new 007, “No Time to Die,” moved from the spring, but Bond films usually open in fall, so its Nov. 20 date puts it back where it belongs.)

If you’re a movie fan who grits their teeth through summer, awaiting the serious, awards-friendly autumn titles, you’re also in luck. Some of the smartest-sounding fare includes Bill Murray re-teaming with “Lost in Translation” writer/director Sofia Coppola for “On the Rocks” (October), Aaron Sorkin’s fact-based “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Oct. 16) and Riz Ahmed as a rock drummer who is going deaf in “Sound of Metal” (November).

COVID survivor Nachito Herrera will livestream a performance at the Dakota later this month.
Brian Peterson •
Pop Music

No concerts? Even so, there's no lack of options for music fans

Just when music fans finally started getting out again, the weather is pulling them back in.

COVID-era options are naturally winding down as outdoor concerts come to an end, and indoor concerts are still largely deemed unsafe (except at the limited-capacity Chanhassen Dinner Theatres and Crooners, where New York cabaret great Marilyn Maye will perform Oct. 14-18). So instead of our usual rundown of big gigs to go see this fall, here are other fun options to keep you occupied at home.

Local livestreams: As Crooners and other active venues like Icehouse face the seasonal shuttering of their outdoor spaces, the Hook & Ladder and the Dakota in Minneapolis are heating up livestream series. Highlights in the HookStream include release parties by Munson-Hicks Party Supplies (Oct. 2) and Mary Bue (Oct. 23), and a Cornbread Harris “93½” birthday party (Oct. 22, The Dakota has lined up COVID survivor Nachito Herrera (Sept. 25), Davina & the Vagabonds (Oct. 15) and Suzanne Vega (Oct. 7,

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: HBO will broadcast the rescheduled induction ceremony Nov. 7, honoring Nine Inch Nails, Whitney Houston, Depeche Mode, the Doobie Brothers, Notorious B.I.G. and T-Rex. The hall just unveiled a great new Black Lives Matter-themed exhibit on its website, “It’s Been Said All Along,” with entries from Prince, Aretha Franklin and others.

Record Store Day(s), continued: After a safety-driven test run last month, the second and third installments of RSD’s three-part makeup plan are set for this Saturday and Oct. 24. Among the acts releasing special product to indie shops are locals Soul Asylum and the Replacements, plus Brandi Carlile, Nas and Miles Davis.

Fall favorites: Every fall brings new albums from big names (Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, 2 Chainz, Kylie Minogue, Chris Stapleton), beloved artists (Blackpink, Elvis Costello, Bob Mould, Sufjan Stevens) and even some singers gone solo (Slipknot’s Corey Taylor, the National’s Matt Berninger). A Drake album is also rumored because, well, he’s Drake.

“Austin City Limits” with limits: The longest-running live music series on U.S. television will premiere as planned Oct. 3 with a COVID twist. Among the artists taping audience-less shows in its 46th season are Rufus Wainwright and the Mavericks. A John Prine retrospective will kick things off.

Gabriel Anderson and Julie McBride in “Open Eyes,” part of Arena Dances’ Oct. 1 opener.
Erik Saulitis Photography

Twin Cities dance community puts its toe into uncharted territory this fall

In early August, an invited audience of four gathered in the dance studio at the Center for Performing Arts in south Minneapolis. There, dancers wore masks as they performed “Senescence,” a new piece by choreographer Kerry Parker. One of the performances took place on the night of a tornado drill. Blaring sirens added to the ominous feeling of attending a public event amid a pandemic.

Tiny audiences, outdoor performances, virtual dance — those are the trifecta of options for dance companies this fall, and in some cases, groups are trying more than one option at once. At Crooners earlier this month, Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theatre performed its “Aire Fresco” concert outdoors to an audience sitting on a patio and in their cars. Ragamala Dance Company, meanwhile, used cameras to film a live fundraising event at Paikka in St. Paul.

James Sewell Ballet is taking a dual approach for Sunday’s “Dancing Waters” event. A limited audience will “float in” by boat to see the performance, which also can be viewed online. Off-Leash Area, meanwhile, will have both indoor and outdoor stages for its Inbox@ArtBox festival the first week of October.

On Oct. 1, Arena Dances will launch a video of a new work choreographed by artistic director Mathew Janczewski. B’beri Desserts will deliver birthday cake to participating audiences.

Northrop is also going the “virtual performance” route, with a stream of choreographer Andrea Miller’s 2016 piece, “Gallim,” on Nov. 19. The film is prerecorded, but Northrop will host a live artist talk afterward.

Meanwhile, some companies are taking a gamble that the weather cooperates. Collide Theatrical will host “The Cafe” in the parking lot of Gremlin Theater on Sept. 25-26, and Ballet Co-Laboratory will take things outdoors for its “Drive-In Forward” fundraiser Oct. 24, with music streamed into vehicles.

Out in Lakeville, Twin Cities Ballet is going the in-person route, with audience members spaced out inside the Lakeville Area Arts Center, for performances of “Little Red Riding Hood” on Oct. 24-25.

Much of this feels like uncharted territory, with groups figuring things out as they go along, and trying to maintain safety while also using art to build connection and offer a bit of respite.

Osmo Vänskä conducted a livestreamed Minnesota Orchestra concert last weekend.
Courtney Perry
Classical Music

Internet may sustain classical fans, but not our musicians

An al fresco opera in Chisholm, Minn. Chamber recitals on Peavey Plaza in Minneapolis. Songs and arias outside a senior housing facility in Burnsville.

While small shoots of socially distanced recovery have sprouted locally in the past six months, the classical picture has been generally grim. No opera at the Ordway, no symphonies at Orchestra Hall, no vocal music swelling the rafters in choir-mad Minnesota.

Privately, musicians and administrators concede that it will probably take a vaccine before we get to anything like “normal” again. Publicly, they are doing what the rest of us have done — shifting activities to the internet.

Among the highlights this fall are digital concerts for the Schubert Club by American tenor Lawrence Brownlee (Oct. 4 and 6) and top violinist Midori (Nov. 10). Minnesota Opera’s 3-D stream of Richard Wagner’s “Das Rheingold” should be worth seeing (Nov. 14-28), and a scaled-down Minnesota Orchestra will perform a series of Friday-evening concerts on TPT MN, Minnesota Public Radio and its own website starting Oct. 2.

Beyond the mainstream, coronavirus has spawned fresh, innovative approaches, particularly among smaller companies. New music features in “How Many Breaths,” an audiovisual piece prompted by the death of George Floyd. Violinist Ariana Kim, composer Steve Heitzeg, and Penumbra Theatre’s Lou and Sarah Bellamy are the collaborators, and the Chamber Music Society of Minnesota hosts the online premiere (Sept. 27).

Virtual music making slakes the thirst of classical audiences, but makes little or no money for the organizations providing it. So how can classical companies find ways of continuing to pay their staff and performers?

One answer is to start charging — or charge more. Audiences may grasp the need to nurse performers through this severely cash-strapped period, and pay up happily.

Then again, they might not. A recent YouGov survey found that two-thirds of classical music fans had not watched a livestreamed event since COVID started, and more than half would be unwilling to pay for one.

It will take more than clicking a “Like” button on a Facebook stream or YouTube video to tide Minnesota’s rich ecosystem of classical musicians through to a better period.

Author Jonathan C. Slaght and one of the female fish owls he caught and tracked in Russia.

Everything keeps changing, but books remain a constant

Books are still books, in this age of COVID, which is a reassuring thing, and bookstores have not disappeared and are beginning to reopen. But COVID has had a huge impact on the industry.

Book events have changed, and publication dates for books have been shuttled around for all kinds of COVID-related reasons (bookstore closures, book tours canceled, printing plants cutting back, book distributors doing the same). Publicists seldom send out physical books for review, but digital versions.

But there is Zoom. And as long as there is Zoom, there will be book festivals and author events. Book launches held online can attract bigger and more far-flung audiences than in-person events. An example: Minneapolis writer Jonathan C. Slaght launched his book, “Owls of the Eastern Ice” in August (after publication was delayed from April) with a Zoom event hosted by the Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis. The event drew more than 400 people from all over the country and abroad.

This fall, the literary events you looked forward to all summer — Talking Volumes, PenPals, Talk of the Stacks, the University of Minnesota’s Visiting Writers Series — will all take place by Zoom, at least through the end of the year. (PenPals holds out hope that events in early 2021 might be in person.)

So Julia Alvarez, whose Talk of the Stacks appearance for her novel “Afterlife” was postponed in April, will appear via Zoom on Oct. 8.

And St. Paul writer Kao Kalia Yang, whose essay collection “Somewhere in the Unknown World” was postponed from March to August to September to October and now to November, will speak via Zoom at 7 p.m. Sept. 23 as part of the University of Minnesota English Department’s Visiting Writers Series.

Bookstores and libraries, meanwhile, are reopening. Some allow the public inside for browsing, with masks and limited numbers. Some are keeping their doors shut but allowing for curbside pickup and delivery. All take orders online or by phone.

The Twin Cities Book Festival, hosted by Rain Taxi, will hold its 20th anniversary festival Oct. 15-17 — virtually.

Bit by bit, through the magic of the internet and with a lot of patience, you can still hear your favorite writers, still get the books and the literary fixes that you crave.

Gina Carano, Pedro Pascal and Carl Weathers star in Season 2 of “The Mandalorian.”

'The Crown,' Baby Yoda and plenty of stars return for the fall TV season

You try telling “The Mandalorian” that he can’t go back to work. The Disney+ hero’s bromance with Baby Yoda picks up Oct. 30, as will the uncontrollable sobbing when NBC’s “This Is Us” gets back to its crying game Nov. 10.

A new season of “Fargo” (Sept. 27, FX) shows off Chris Rock’s acting chops, while new episodes of “The Crown” (Nov. 15, Netflix) welcome Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher.

Familiar faces will dominate projects that were well into production before the pandemic struck. The all-star list includes Jeff Daniels channeling former FBI Director James Comey for “The Comey Rule” (Sept. 27, Showtime), “Big Bang” veteran Jim Parsons in a new adaptation of “The Boys in the Band” (Sept. 30, Netflix), Ethan Hawke as abolitionist John Brown in “The Good Lord Bird” (Oct. 4, Showtime) and Nicole Kidman, whose therapist in “The Undoing” (Oct. 25, HBO) must deal with a whole new array of big little lies.

The miniseries version of “The Right Stuff” (Oct. 9, Disney+) doesn’t have big names climbing into spacesuits, but Leonardo DiCaprio is among the executive producers.

Steven Spielberg is overseeing a reboot of his 1990s cartoon series “The Animaniacs” (Nov. 20, Hulu), while fellow Oscar-winner Spike Lee directs the screen version of “David Byrne’s American Utopia” (Oct. 17, HBO).

That concert film could be the musical highlight of fall TV everywhere but Minnesota. That honor will likely go to “Clouds” (Oct. 16, Disney+), about Lakeland teen Zach Sobiech, whose inspirational song became a viral sensation before he succumbed to cancer in 2013.

As for nonscripted programming, get ready for “The Comedy Store” (Oct. 4, Showtime), a four-part series about the club that birthed the careers of Richard Pryor and Robin Williams; “Wild Card: The Downfall of a Radio Loudmouth” (Oct. 7, HBO), about New York sports talker Craig Carton; and “The Reagans” (Nov. 15, Showtime), a four-part profile.

Networks are filling several holes in the schedule by picking up shows that premiered on limited platforms. That means a bigger audience can check out Jessica Alba and Gabrielle Union in “L.A.’s Finest” (Monday, Fox), “Star Trek: Discovery” (Sept. 24, CBS) and “One Day at a Time” (Oct. 12, CBS).

If after all that, you still feel like the Force isn’t with you, circle Nov. 17 on your calendar. That’s when Disney+ drops “The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special.”

Disney / Pixar
Top Ten

Ten must-see arts and entertainment events in Minnesota this fall