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Musicals make theatre department a financial hit

When it comes to the arts in Mankato, you’d be hard pressed to find a bigger or more successful player than Minnesota State University, Mankato’s Theatre and Dance Department.

Rob Murray, Mankato Free Press, 3-25-2013

MANKATO — When it comes to the arts in Mankato, you’d be hard pressed to find a bigger or more successful player than Minnesota State University, Mankato’s Theatre and Dance Department.

Some figures to digest:

  • Minnesota State Mankato does more produc­tions than any other college program in the country.
  • In 2011-2012, the department had revenues of more than $500,000. Revenue of merely $150,000 would put them in top five in the nation.
  • The department’s rev­enue makes up 70 percent of all arts revenue in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system schools.

How do they do it?

“We do more musicals than any other college,” said Paul Hustoles, chair of the department.

In this community, musi­cals sell. In that banner year, the department performed three: “Rent,” “The Phantom of the Opera” and “ The Sound of Music.”

Musicals are usually big productions. They’re also costly, require elaborate sets and loads of production time. They are a drain on the resources. But the com­munity loves it. And by doing musicals — which pack the house and pay the bills — it allows the student actors and faculty to do some riskier theater between the big musicals.

“We can do whatever we want in the middle,” Hustoles joked.

Mankato’s arts communi­ty is a vibrant one.

In addition to Minnesota State Mankato’s Department of Theatre and Dance, the university has a vibrant visual arts depart­ment. Bethany Lutheran College’s theater produc­tions are well attended, as are their gallery exhibits. Up the road a bit in St. Peter, Gustavus Adolphus College offers a variety of perform­ing and fine arts events.

On the community front, Mankato Mosaic, a small but up-and- coming theater group, offers plays in unusu­al settings such as coffee shops, taverns and wineries. The Emy Frentz Arts Guild supports artists of all kinds. The Merely Players commu­nity theater has been run­ning for years. The 410 Project art gallery offers edgier fare. The Mankato Ballet Company and the Fine Arts School of Ballet cater to dance. The Mankato Symphony Orchestra has a large and loyal following.

And with this list not being anywhere near com­prehensive, it’s clear that the greater Mankato area is awash in the arts.

Still, the quality of work consistently produced by the Minnesota State Mankato theater depart­ment and the number of years it has been drawing big crowds makes it per­haps the premier arts attraction.

It operates somewhat independently. While facul­ty salaries are paid by Minnesota State Mankato (and, hence, tax dollars) each production is paid for by the revenues the produc­tions bring in. “We very much depend on that audience revenue,” Hustoles said.

The play selection is a strategic one. They inten­tionally choose productions they know will be a hit with audiences because they know they need the money to continue operat­ing the way they are.

Next year, for example, they’re doing “Les Miserables,” which is not a happy show.

“Not sure what we’ll bal­ance it with, but it’ll be bright and cheery,” Hustoles said.

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at

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