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NEA Spotlight: Theater Latte Da in Minneapolis, MN

NEA Spotlight: Theater Latte Da in Minneapolis, MN

Last week, the National Endowment for the Arts announced over $84 million for 1,144 new awards to arts and culture organizations in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and each of the five U.S. territories. Among the 13 artistic disciplines recognized by the NEA this year were seventeen regional and community musical theatre organizations across the United States.

This month, BroadwayWorld will profile arts organizations selected for NEA funding to let them express, in their own words, what the award means to their organization and how the funding will not only enable them to plan and execute new productions and community programs, but help them recover from financial losses sustained in the Covid-19 pandemic.

Today's profile spotlights Theater Latte Da in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

What was your application process like?

Applications are due almost a year before the project period starts (the proposal for the NEA Art Works award we just received, for example, was submitted in July of 2019), so it feels like ages ago!

The technology and government web portals required to submit proposals to the NEA can be difficult to navigate, especially if you are not used to doing so or need to update or change your organizational information, but the content of the proposal itself was not complex. The NEA also gives you the opportunity to propose changes to your project after they award you funds, which is really helpful. In the COVID era where so much of our work in theater is radically different than it was a year ago, this is especially important. The NEA was very proactive in helping our organization retool our project, and we're grateful for their flexibility and responsiveness.

Why do you feel the NEA is so important, particularly at this moment in history?

The NEA is a vital component of the arts landscape in the United States. The sheer diversity of what they fund - arts organizations of all sizes and disciplines, rural and urban organizations, new and legacy programs - is astounding and critical to making this country a place where the arts can thrive, and where all people can access its transformative power.

I was especially impressed and pleased with the NEA's rapid deployment of funding through the CARES Act. They acted quickly and offered many resources (webinars, FAQs, guidelines) to help organizations apply for funding in a time of emergency.

How do you intend to use this grant in your theatrical programming?

Theater Latté Da (TLD) received funding from the NEA in support of our new play development activities beginning in June 2020 and to support our 2021 NEXT Festival of new musical work, scheduled for July 2021.

Specifically, funding will be used to support the development of a new English language musical adaptation of Giacomo Puccini's comic opera GIANNI SCHICCHI by Twin Cities artists Steve Epp and Bradley Greenwald. GIANNI SCHICCHI is a one-act opera, the third and final part of Puccini's Il Trittico, based on an incident mentioned in Dante's DIVINE COMEDY. The original Italian libretto by Giovacchino Forzano is a farce about greed and hypocrisy set in Florence in 1299. Greenwald and Epp are resetting the opera in modern day Miami.

TLD's NEXT Festival is an integral part of our new play development work, and provides three new musical projects each year with up to 50 hours of rehearsal with a team of professional directors, artists, actors, and musicians to help move their piece forward. Each new work receives two public performances with minimal production elements at Theater Latté Da's home in the historic Ritz Theater in Northeast Minneapolis; audiences get the opportunity to see first-hand the generative process of creating new work, and to provide their feedback. This feedback then informs future iterations of the piece. While cancelled due to COVID-19 in 2020, we look forward to safely bringing back the NEXT Festival in 2021.

How will this grant benefit your community? What non-theatrical initiatives (education, community outreach, etc.) will you fund using the award?

At a time when so many artists have seen income and opportunities evaporate, funding from the NEA ensures that TLD can continue to put money in the hands of artists who are helping us navigate, articulate, and find meaning in a world that is rapidly changing.

Through workshops and readings, this grant will enable us to employ actors, musicians, stage managers, directors, music directors, and choreographers - many of whom had their work come to a complete stop in mid-March. It will also help us explore opportunities to safely include audiences in the process of new work development.

What was the effect of Covid-19 on your operations and how will this award enable your organization to recover? How can our government better aid arts organizations that have been affected by the pandemic?

As a theater, COVID-19 had a swift and severe impact on our operations. Beginning on March 14, all scheduled public performances were cancelled for the remainder of our 2019-20 season - including our run of LA BOHÈME, our world premiere production of TWELVE ANGRY MEN, and our 2020 NEXT Festival of new work.

In the absence of knowing when live theater can return to "normal," TLD recently announced NEXT UP, an intensive laboratory investing in the future of new musical theater. GIANNI SCHICCHI is a part of NEXT UP, and this award is a vital part of making this new initiative thrive.

It could be months or years before theater returns to what it was before the COVID-19 pandemic. With CARES Act funding, the government has begun to show us it will be here to weather the storm, but we are going to need sustained, multi-year, unrestricted funding in order to continue innovating for what lies ahead.

Theater Latté Da is the only nonprofit professional theater in the Twin Cities that exclusively produces musical theater. Since its inception, TLD has presented 76 Mainstage productions, including 12 world premieres, and 12 area premieres. Each has garnered critical acclaim and earned its artists and TLD a host of awards, including: seven IVEY Awards for overall excellence, National Endowment for the Arts, the Gabriel Award for Broadcast Excellence, and the American Theater Wing National Theater Company Award. In addition to our Twin Cities presence, TLD's original production All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914 celebrated its 12th anniversary with a national tour and an Off-Broadway debut at the Sheen Center in New York City this past November and December, which won the 2019 Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience. TLD's provocative staging of Ragtime was remounted at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, Washington in October 2017, and Asolo Repertory Theater in Florida in May 2018. TLD's production of Sweeney Todd was remounted at Asolo Repertory in Spring 2019.

Since 1998, TLD has performed in venues throughout the Twin Cities, ranging from the intimate 120-seat Loring Playhouse to the Pantages Theater in downtown Minneapolis. To deepen its relationship with Twin Cities audiences and to better reach the communities they serve, Latté Da decided to make a permanent home in northeast Minneapolis. In 2016, TLD became the proud owner of the historic Ritz Theater, a 234-seat theater with administrative offices, rehearsal space, dressing rooms, and box office.

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