Open Window Theatre aims to resume mission of bringing Catholic values to the stage

| Susan Klemond | March 1, 2019 | 0 Comments
Sarah Stanbary and Jeremy Stanbary in a scene from Open Window Theatre’s production of Graham Greene’s “The Potting Shed” in 2015. The theatre company, which produces plays imbued with Catholic values, moved out of its space in Minneapolis’ North Loop in 2016 due to a dispute with the building owners. It is aiming to raise $250,000 to relaunch in a new space as soon as this fall.

Sarah Stanbary and Jeremy Stanbary in a scene from Open Window Theatre’s production of Graham Greene’s “The Potting Shed” in 2015. The theatre company, which produces plays imbued with Catholic values, moved out of its space in Minneapolis’ North Loop in 2016 due to a dispute with the building owners. It is aiming to raise $250,000 to relaunch in a new space as soon as this fall. COURTESY OPEN WINDOW THEATRE

Like the plays they want to start producing again soon, Open Window Theatre co-founders Jeremy and Sarah Stanbary’s experience — both professionally and personally — with the theatre’s two-and-a-half year closure has elements of hope and redemption.

After conflict over their previous space in Minneapolis’ North Loop forced the couple and their colleagues to close the theatre, a legal settlement last year has brought hope for a new beginning. As a fundraising campaign to reopen the theatre in a new location gains momentum, the Stanbarys, who are married and parishioners of St. Joseph in West St. Paul, talked about lessons learned during the closure and their ongoing vision for theatre which brings together art and a Catholic worldview. 

“So many people have stuck with us, and there’s so much excitement and energy and enthusiasm in the Twin Cities for the return of Open Window Theatre,” said Jeremy, 40, executive artistic director. “It just fills us with such encouragement, joy and motivation to do all we can to bring it back. And we have a real vision for how to bring it back even better and stronger than it was before.”

Open Window Theatre infuses Catholic values into productions that may or may not be explicitly  Catholic, such as “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and Pope St. John Paul II’s “The Jeweler’s Shop.” As it draws diverse crowds of all backgrounds, the theatre seeks to be leaven, Jeremy said.

“We have such a unique mission,” he said. “The shows we do are often underproduced or not produced at all by other theatres.”

When a dispute arose over Open Window Theatre’s use of its theatre space in 2015, the theatre’s leaders closed it and moved it off the property. As The Catholic Spirit reported at the time, theatre leaders and the property’s owners engaged in litigation which was eventually resolved on mutually agreeable terms.

During the closure the couple, who have five children, struggled financially, re-evaluated their work and life, and deepened their trust in God. The crisis strengthened their marriage and vision for the theatre.

“Our work, our vision for our future, our home, our stability, our income was all just stripping away,” said Sarah, 34.  “As painful as that was, I see God in that because it was once again a complete dependence on whatever his plan was.”

Jeremy added: “Our Lord plucked us out of a bad situation in multiple different ways, and we have a real sense now that he’s going to replant us in a much better situation, not only for the theatre but for our family as well.” 

Now that the legal issue has been resolved, the Stanbarys hope for a new season for the theatre — and a new season of plays — possibly launching as early as this fall if their “Redemption” fundraising campaign is successful. They have raised more than $200,000 in Kickstarter.com and other donations toward a minimum goal of $250,000 to get the theatre back on its feet. Kickstarter donations can continue through March 11, and the Stanbarys are striving to raise as much as $500,000 to establish a firm foundation for the theatre.

The Stanbarys will look for another “black box” theatre space like their previous one with seating for up to 150 and flexibility to configure staging for each production, Jeremy said. Also, the theatre’s faith-based educational theatre program for third to 12th-grade youth will resume.

Joy Donely, 52, of Maplewood, has appreciated the theatre staff in her seven years as a director, publicist and stage manager there. She said she is thrilled that the theatre may reopen because a lot happened while it was closed and there are now new stories to tell.

Theatre patron and supporter Luke Cahill, 35, of St. John the Baptist in Savage said Open Window Theatre influences the culture.

“I think it’s almost slightly subversive — and I mean that in a positive way,” he said.  “It’s not banging you over the head with theology but it’s promoting Catholic values in a way that anyone could get behind.”

St. Mark parishioner Bridget Busacker, 26, supports Open Window Theatre because it seeks to explore topics of faith in its productions while creating dialogue within the broader community.

 “I think with the arts there is a way that it can engage you and bring about conversion in its own way,” she said.

The hope the Stanbarys and their supporters have for Open Window Theatre is mirrored in their mission to bring this idea of redemption to a world that lacks hope, Jeremy said.

“It doesn’t mean that we have all the answers,” he said, “but we’re focused on producing and telling powerful stories that have a redemptive message of hope — ultimately in the end, hope for humanity’s and society’s capability for positive change.”

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