Special Report: Behind the Curtain at the NorShor Theatre

After Eight Years of Discussion and Renovations, New Life, New Legacy Takes Center Stage at Dultuh's NorShor Theatre

DULUTH, Minn. – After years of anticipation and countless hours of hard labor, the NorShor Theatre in downtown Duluth is now officially open.

On Thursday, February 1, the Duluth Playhouse along with the City of Duluth and Sherman Associates welcomed the community to the next chapter of life at the historic theatre along Superior Street.

“Here we are! Eight years in the making,” said Duluth Playhouse Executive & Artistic Director Christine Gradl Seitz.

Bright lights and heavy traffic along Superior Street now bringing new excitement to the HART District of Duluth.

“There’s nothing like this in our area,” said Gradl Seitz. “It’s so meaningful for downtown Duluth and for the arts scene.”

Gradl Seitz has spent the past eight years of her life pouring her passion into revitalization.

“I just think it’s going to be a magnificent connector,” said Gradl Seitz.

The connector, a colorful art deco theatre known as the NorShor.

“The NorShor was originally the Orpheum Theatre. The structure was created in 1910,” said Gradl Seitz.

Created by Duluth businessman Guilford Hartley, the Orpheum would be the city’s premier stage until 1925. Surviving through different acts, the
NorShor would eventually become a movie house in 1940, then years later, back to a theatrical venue.

“I think that in the 1940s the Nor Shor was a landmark and a source of community pride,” said Gradl Seitz. “In the past couple of decades it’s had a colorful past.”

On June 15, 2010, the Duluth Economic Development Authority (DEDA) took center stage, purchasing the NorShor Theatre and the Temple Opera Block.

“There were a lot of crime problems,” said Former Duluth Mayor Don Ness.

Former Mayor Ness, now reflects on the problem operation the NorShor had become.

“At the time there was a strip club operating out of the Nor Shor,” said Ness. “It was really a black eye to downtown Duluth.”

Since 2010, investors, local lawmakers and passionate HART District advocates have come together, working to restore the NorShor.

“There were no kinks in us moving forward with the financial plan; the City was committed as was Sherman Associates and the Playhouse,” said Gradl Seitz.

First, a financial structure for the project needed to be secured. Construction began in 2016; a dusty old space destined for a much brighter future.

“The Nor Shor has a special place in my heart,” said Ness. “In my 20s that was kind of where I found community.”

But others feel differently, expressing concern about this new chapter.

“We had a number of people that wanted to see this project fail, and yet we had more people that wanted to see it succeed,” said Ness.

With passion and perseverance, hundreds of hard working men and women have now cut, constructed and redeveloped a space many see so special in the Twin Ports.

“We created a stage that was big enough to support performance groups, an orchestra pit to tier the seating so that your sightlines were correct,” said Gradl Seitz.

From the brand new orchestra pit under the stage to your front row or balcony seat, theatre officials say the NorShor has the best view for live entertainment north of the Twin Cities Metro.

Two-by-fours and power tools have given volunteer Dave Beran a sneak peek behind the curtain at the NorShor.

“I was wowd. I don’t know how else to say it,” said Beran. “I have never been in here before and I was absolutely impressed with what it is.”

Beran moved to the Twin Ports as a St. Paul transplant and says he enjoys being active in his retirement.

He’s now on the stage helping bring life to the set of Mamma Mia!, a production never before produced on a stage in Minnesota.

“It’s kind of neat to see something you worked on up on the stage,” said Beran. “The amount of labor going into the set you will see here is hundreds and hundreds of hours.”

Countless hours of construction, now welcome over 600 people on any given night to the new NorShor experience.

“There’s something about coming into a historic downtown and to go into a historic theatre and to see the talent on the stage,” said Ness. “It’s a sort of experience that you can’t recreate in a new building.”

The price tag for the renovations is $30.5 million dollars. Most of the money was secured before the first screw was ever put in place. Supporters worked to secure funds locally, from the State of Minnesota and also fundraised.

“The next couple of years we think that the Nor Shor will be fully paid off, and that’s pretty incredible,” said Gradl Seitz.

As actors and actresses take the stage in February, they’ll perform to a sold out audience every time.

“We’ve proven that in our community today, it’s the people who want to make things happen that are prevailing and it’s good for our community and it’s good for our economy,” said Ness.

With connections to the theatre through the skywalk and catered food provided by Blackwoods, it’s hoped the new era of entertainment will provide the best experience for visitors, for years to come.

“Any given night, 600 people may gather here at the NorShor and they’re going to walk down our streets, and they’re going to eat in our restaurants and they’re going to visit our local retailers, and they’re going to drink our craft beer and it’s going to bring a new energy to our downtown,” said Gradl Seitz.

After the production of Mamma Mia! Wraps up on February 18, the Duluth Playhouse will begin a new adventure in March.

Throughout the month there will be a weekend of bands, and an Andrew Lloyd Webber concert.

The next production at the NorShor Theatre will be “Lend Me a Tenor,” premiering in April.

Click here for more information on upcoming events.

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