Jay GablerCity Pages
September 1, 2016
Theater Latté Da has purchased the Ritz Theater. It's a move that stabilizes the future of the northeast Minneapolis landmark while demonstrating Latté Da's growing clout. The 18-year-old company's new home includes a performance space, administrative offices, and rehearsal space all under the same roof.
The move doesn't come out of the blue: Theater Latté Da has been using the Ritz's administrative offices for two years, and the company's used the theater to stage successful shows including Sweeney Todd and Into the Woods. Most of the Ritz's 2016-17 season is planned for the space, starting with a new production of Ragtimethat opens September 24.
"During our time at the Ritz Theater, our patrons have expressed how much they love the intimacy of the space and the vibrancy of the neighborhood," says Latté Da's artistic director Peter Rothstein in a press release. "The Ritz Theater is a fantastic building in a dynamic neighborhood with a rich history of diverse ethnic identity and cultural exchange. Theater Latté Da is thrilled to be a part of its next chapter."
In the same press release, David Warner says, "It’s been a long and challenging road for the Ritz Theater Foundation but all’s well that ends well." Warner spoke as a representative of the foundation, the entity that previously owned the theater. His weary remarks were an understatement.
The Ritz was built in 1928, but its recent history dates from 2006, when it was renovated and reopened under the expectation that Myron Johnson's Ballet of the Dolls would be its primary tenant and manager. The building was owned by the newly-established Ritz Theater Foundation, but there was a close relationship between that group and the Dolls.
In the Dolls era, the Ritz — a former movie theater that was converted to a live performance space in 1971, later falling into disrepair — quickly became integral to the cultural life of the neighborhood and the city, adding to the growing buzz along its stretch of 13th Avenue NE.
However, the theater struggled with debt from its $2.2 million renovation, and Ballet of the Dolls had its own struggles; both the venue and the company were hit by the financial crash, and venues like the shiny new Cowles Center attracted some programming that might otherwise have gone to the Ritz.
The stresses took their toll on Johnson, who had a breakdown and checked into the Hennepin County Medical Center. "The anxiety and the stress just really hit me," he told Vita.mn at the time.
In 2014, the venue rebooted: the Dolls were out, and Latté Da was in, with renewed efforts to increase and diversify the space's outside bookings. As a Minnesota Fringe Festival venue, the Ritz has showcased both its 245-seat main stage and its smaller studio space around back.
Will the Latté Da purchase provide long-term stability for the Ritz? There aren't many sure bets in the arts economy, but over the past several years the rise of Latté Da as a local powerhouse with a growing national reputation has been unmistakable. Last year was widely seen as a watershed year for the company, confirming Rothstein's conviction that Latté Da's — now permanent — home is a good fit.