It’s not like I live a great distance (60 miles) from Plainview, home of the Jon Hassler Theater and Rural America Arts Center. But I’d never been to this rural town 20 miles northeast of Rochester until recently. A wrong turn on a Sunday afternoon drive led my husband and me into this Wabasha County community of some 3,300.
And there we discovered the old farm implement dealership building turned arts center—complete with theater, art gallery, bookstore and writers’ retreat center.
We met Dean Harrington, local banker, arts center enthusiast and CEO of the Rural America Arts Partnership, who was manning the front desk during the afternoon production of Ole & Lena’s 50th Wedding Anniversary & Vow Renewal. I swear Harrington could have been noted Minnesota author and former Plainview resident Jon Hassler’s twin right down to his sweater vest.
I wished right then and there that I was seated in the theater, belly laughing at/with Ole and Lena. But it was near intermission, much too late to join the audience.
Instead, I settled for poking about the gallery and bookshop and snapping a few photos and thinking, how grand to have a place like this in Plainview that embraces the arts. A return trip for a more in-depth look at this community and theater is definitely needed. Maybe next time with play tickets in hand.
I’ve had the above ACT I in my draft posts for a few weeks. I never expected to be penning an ACT II. But in a story reported Thursday on Minnesota Public Radio (quoting the Rochester Post-Bulletin), I learned that the Jon Hassler Theater is closing at the end of 2014. I didn’t see that coming. Dean Harrington offered no hint of the theater’s tenuous situation when we spoke briefly a few weeks ago.
But apparently the audience just isn’t there to continue supporting a theater in Plainview. Plans are to keep the self-supporting bookstore, the art gallery and the writer’s retreat open.
Just two days ago I received an email from the Jon Hassler Theater inviting me to a reading and Q & A by Northfield writer Scott Dominic Carpenter, author of Theory of Remainders and This Jealous Earth. Carpenter will be the Third Wednesdays guest reader at 7 p.m. on November 20.
And now this, this news about the theater’s closing comes. Before I’ve even seen the curtain rise in the Jon Hassler Theater, I’ve seen it fall. Anytime a rural community loses local access to the arts, it’s not good.
I’m fortunate to live in a community with a strong theater presence (Paradise Community Theatre and The Merlin Players) at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault. I don’t have to, and don’t want to, drive to the Cities to see great theater. Yet, I know many local residents who’ve never set foot inside the Paradise, but who regularly travel to the Cities for their arts fix. It’s this type of ambivalence and lack of local support, in my opinion, that lead to an outstate theater’s demise.
Apparently the audience numbers weren’t there in Plainview and now this small town is losing its theater.
Here are a few more photos of that inviting bookstore inside the Rural America Arts Center and of downtown Plainview.
© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling