History Comes to Life: St. Paul’s History Theater Appoints New Artistic Director


It’s only the beginning of the new year, but the Twin Cities theater scene is already going in and out of 2023.

Theater Latte da will move its founding artistic director, Peter Rothstein, to Florida’s Asolo Repertory Theater in June, and the Hennepin Theater Trust has announced that President and CEO Mark Nellenhausen will step down in the fall.

While two Minneapolis theater companies are looking for a new leader, St. Paul’s Historical Theater has found a torchbearer to carry on its legacy.

Richard D. Thompson was appointed artistic director in early January. His role may be new, but his history with the theater company dates back to his 1996.

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“Ron Perso, who has been the artistic director here for nearly 30 years, saw a production I did at the Penumbra Theatre, and asked if I was interested in directing the show,” Thompson says.

people speak on stage

Richard D. Thompson, aka “Rick”, at History Theater’s 2023 Raw Stages Festival.

Courtesy of History Theater

Since that first directing gig, Thompson has returned to the historical theater repeatedly in a variety of roles.

History Theater’s mission is to captivate audiences through plays that tell the many stories of Minnesota and American history. Peluso says he is confident Thompson will lead the theater well.

“He loves the theatrical history mission and plans to expand it and bring his own insights,” Peruso says. “I think we all feel really good [that] Mr. Thompson sits in a hot seat, so to speak. ”

Thompson’s agenda is that he’s interested in telling the story of the “untold” community.

“I’m also interested in not excluding other stories,” adds Thompson. “We’re not trying to take stories out of the historical repertoire, but we’re just adding more.”

He attributes his interest in different stories to his love of school and education. Not only from his own experience as an African-American, but also from the experiences of his friends and neighbors from multicultural backgrounds.

“My mom’s friends were very diverse, ethnically and religiously,” says Thompson.

He also said he had the opportunity to live in Germany when he was younger, which shaped his worldview.

“All of that infused me with great curiosity about who we are as human beings.”

Thompson will work with Karen Mueller, the theater’s longtime managing director. She has worked with Thompson before.

“We know each other, we understand how each other works, and it’s been a good start on how we’re going to work together,” Mueller said. increase.

Mueller also said theaters are navigating uncertainty as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, and discussions are beginning to take place about next steps and who to partner with in the community.

“It’s a complicated conversation, but an exciting one, and I’m looking forward to getting it started,” Muller says.

For Thompson, current events play an important role in how he chooses his inaugural season. But nothing new in history.

“That was about 100 years ago. There was a pandemic… When it comes to the concept of fraud, it’s not new, as it was with George Floyd. [W. E. B.] Du Bois and others have written about it all along,” says Thompson.

“My choices don’t necessarily look at what people are more aware of. They always look at the problems we’ve faced.”

The first season, curated by Thompson, begins this fall. Thompson will also direct History Theater’s final show of the season, The Defeat of Jesse James.

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