'A' Mill shop becomes theater ?? temporarily

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April 25, 2007
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

Shuttered industrial space becomes a public stage

The Frank Theatre Company is injecting new life into the Pillsbury "A" Mill's machine shop when it stages a piece by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan Lori-Parks this month.

The drafty, airy machine shop, 300 2nd St. SE, once housed manufacturing tools and other equipment for the old flour mill on the East Bank. The space will be transformed into a squatter's village for the theater company's adaptation of Lori-Parks' play, "F**king A."

Frank Theatre's Artistic Director Wendy Knox called the play a "hot, pointed political piece" -- a signature of the independent theater company's work.

"The play really is about the struggle of people who are sort of at the lower end of the scale. It's a riff on the 'Scarlet Letter,'" she said. "It's a piece we thought we should be doing now because it's really looking at people who don't have a lot of resources."

The dusty, drab machine shop serves as an appropriate backdrop. Crews have salvaged an old oven, tattered couch and a tin sign, among other odds-and-ends, for the makeshift set.

The play is about a woman named Hester who is branded with an "A" for her work as an abortionist. The woman desperately tries to save money to free her son who was imprisoned as a young boy for stealing food from a rich family.

"It's a gut-wrenching piece," Knox said.

Creating the austere environment in the machine shop for the contemporary tragedy has been a challenge for Knox and her crew despite experience working in an experimental settings, such as the massive Sears building on Lake Street in South Minneapolis that served as the backdrop for "The Cradle Will Rock" in 2003.

For one, the crews had to haul in a lighting grid and a heat source for the space. "You don't have all the trappings of an institutional art form -- literally. It makes everything four or five times harder, but there's a certain payoff," she said.

Knox admits that some people might be turned off by the unusual setting, but expects others will be drawn by the machine shop's gritty and off-beat quality.

The production company has rented out the space from local developer Schafer Richardson, which plans to renovate the limestone building for a coffee shop or restaurant.

The developer is undergoing environmental review for a massive redevelopment of the historic Pillsbury "A" Mill complex to make way for more than 1,000 new condos.

Frank Theatre's production in the machine shop begins Oct. 21 and runs through Nov. 14. Performances will be held at 8 p.m., Thursday-Saturday. Sunday shows will start at 2 p.m.

The Sunday performances will feature post-show panel discussions. Tickets are $14-20. The theater will seat 120 people.

For more information, or to reserve tickets call 724-3760 or go to www.franktheatre.org.