Northern Star stage

Northern Star Theatre Company’s new stage is a black box theater with seating on two sides. Volunteers and crews are wrapping up the first phase of an extensive renovation of 12 W. Marshall St. 

Wednesday, June 12, is a day of deadlines for Northern Star Theatre Company. 

For one, it’s opening night of NSTC’s production of “Newsies,” a musical about New York City paper boys of 1899. 

But not only are NSTC volunteers preparing a performance for the stage, volunteers and contractors are quite literally completing construction of the stage and everything around it at NSTC’s new building in downtown Rice Lake. 

Renovations have been ongoing for more than a year at 12 W. Marshall St. in a building that is approximately 100 years old. Commonly known as Marshall Twelve, the building was a hardware and home goods store for many years before being converted for office use. 

“We’re completing this on time and on budget,” said Tamara Sharp, NSTC co-director along with Corey Dorrance. 

The once-empty center of Marshall Twelve is now an enclosed black box theater with seating on two sides and a flat floor in the middle, plus brand new light and sound equipment. Office spaces have been renovated, and long-vacant rooms have been converted for use as rehearsal space or costume storage for the theater. 

But not everything has gone according to plan. The theater has stayed on-budget by pushing some projects to “Phase 2,” in favor of making some unexpected repairs to the property. Things like outdoor signage and aesthetics, as well as some interior space improvements will have to wait. 

“There are a lot of things to be updated in a 100-year-old building,” said Sharp. 

The theater assumed ownership of a decrepit parking lot, where rules weren’t enforced in the past. Paving was completed in the past week. 

The building also had HVAC, electrical and plumbing issues, plus unsecured walls and other unpleasant surprises. 

Despite the extra efforts and expenses, Sharp said she is pleased that NSTC was able to stay downtown. 

“There weren’t a lot of options,” she said. 

The former theater at the corner of Main and Water streets was razed last year to make way for a new Main Street Bridge section. 

“This gives us more of a legacy,” said Sharp, adding that she is looking forward to partnering with downtown business in what some are now calling “The Theatre District.”

One way that will happen is with downtown bars and restaurants, because NSTC no longer has a beer and wine serving license.  

Food at shows remains an option, as Cookin’ Up A Storm catering will have offerings for all 10 “Newsies” shows. 

Renovations at Marshall Twelve have also brought rewards to the tenants who stayed through the construction. 

“They put up with noise and dust and inconvenience, and we’re happy they’re still here,” said Sharp.

She added that the character of small town living shown through in the most stressful moments of the renovation. 

“The most gratifying thing was meeting a whole new group of people in Rice Lake that I hadn’t interacted with before, mentioning contractors, downtown business owners and residents. 

“It’s the beauty of small town living that you have a chance to forge these relationships,” said Sharp. “People are honest, they’re friendly, they’re generous with their time.”

Case in point is NSTC’s many donors and volunteers, which number more than 200 in any given year.   

A few small shows in NSTC’s new upstairs rehearsal space helped provide some funding to tide the theater over, but the return of regular shows will be of much more financial help for the organization, which is 100% volunteer.

“We’re looking forward to having a normal season, where we can get back into a rhythm with shows,” said Sharp.  

It all starts with “Newsies,” which is staged from June 12-16 and 19-23. Shows are at 7 p.m., except Sunday, which features 2 p.m. matinees. Tickets are $18 for adults and $12 for children, available at www.northernstartheatre-co.org. See more information on page C2. 

“We’ve got 60 energetic cast members ages 6 to 66,” said Sharp. “People will recognize the music. It’s just a fun show.”

The first of many at the new downtown stage to be sure. 

(Copyright © 2019 APG Media)

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