When sixth-grader Gabby Rosen heads to rehearsal or a performance at Northern Starz Theatre Company, it’s not unusual for her parents to tag along. Her dad, Rob, is on the board of the nonprofit theater company, while mom Samantha fills in as needed, from ushering to selling concessions.
“When I first came here, they were really welcoming and it made me feel like part of the Northern Starz family,” Gabby said.
That family atmosphere has helped the growing company achieve its latest milestone: moving into a permanent home in Ramsey. The new location not only gives Northern Starz a home base, it allows expansion of the volunteer-run children’s theater into a full-blown performing arts center that will offer theater classes, voice and dance lessons and a glee club.
Since cast members previously rehearsed in an old fire station and performed in a church, having a long-term home long has been Northern Starz’s biggest goal, said executive director Rachel Bohnsack.
Northern Starz is part of a burgeoning theater scene in the northwest metro that didn’t exist a decade ago, Bohnsack said. The ranks include Lyric Arts Main Street Stage in Anoka, North Star Family Theatre in Elk River, Front Porch Musical Theatre in Dayton and Anoka Children’s Theatre, a community education program in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, all filling niches for aspiring performers.
Once a community education program under a different name, Northern Starz began as a nonprofit run by 17 families in 2012. Now more than 250 families are involved, and parents of participating children must volunteer three hours of their time.
For the first time in May, the theater will present two age-specific shows: kindergartners through fifth-graders will put on “The Magical Land of Oz,” while middle-and high-school students will stage “Night at the Wax Museum.”
“It’s just going to be exciting for everyone who came to see our old shows to see how much we’ve grown, from renting out a church to having our own studio and stage,” said seventh-grader Carter Johnson.
Meggie Greivell, director of “Night at the Wax Museum,” also directs other shows each year, mostly with adults. But she loves working with kids, she said. “I think they have this boldness and dedication to the arts just naturally, more so than adults,” she said. “They’re uninhibited.”
For teens, theater becomes a form of therapy, a way to work through what is often an awkward time in life, she said.
Acting also builds skills that kids can use throughout life, said Bohnsack, like empathy and self-motivation. That’s why everyone who tries out for a show gets to take part. Kids help with technical elements, build sets or manage props if they don’t want to act, she said.
The new digs in Ramsey feature a stage, workshop and costume spaces, and small studios for lessons. There’s also a lobby and concessions area.
Organizers said leasing and remodeling the space was made possible through thousands of volunteer hours spent fundraising, planning and building. “That’s the neat thing about it — it’s a theater where even though there’s people with titles, everybody’s responsible,” said artistic director Kyle Frederickson. “They can feel like they’re a part of it.”