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Palace 'hitting on all cylinders' after pandemic setbacks

Lead Summary
Lori Sorenson

“We were right back at it, as if nothing ever changed.”
That’s how Palace Theatre director Shawn Kinsinger described the past several months since the pandemic.
“This past fall into winter, I was curious as to how much we would rebound after being closed over the last holiday season, which is typically really busy,” he told Luverne City Council members during their Tuesday, Jan. 25, meeting.
“Everything’s firing on all cylinders again. Movies came back nicely after the holiday season. The numbers have been spectacular for all the shows we brought in.”
Mama Mia ‘blew the doors off’
Kinsinger said popular live events included the Dueling Pianos in October and the Shawn Johnson Holiday Show, but he said the locally produced “Mama Mia” in November was among the biggest hits.
“That absolutely blew the doors off the place,” Kinsinger said about the Green Earth Players production. “I believe it drew the biggest numbers the Green Earth Players have ever brought in. It was a great windfall for them after being shut down for the year.”
He said the success of “Mama Mia” represented an important turning point after the pandemic.
“It was great for the Palace, and it was great for the community,” Kinsinger said. “A lot of people who hadn’t participated in a while came back. We had some regulars and a lot of new folks that showed up, and that kind of grew the community theater there.”
Meanwhile, he said the production exposed more people to the Palace Theatre and its operation.
“It also had the added benefit of bolstering our volunteer base,” Kinsinger said. “We had a lot more people who knew about the Palace but didn’t realize we run off volunteers  who step up and start working movies and helping with shows.”
Homegrown children’s theater
Kinsinger said a pandemic casualty has been the popular Missoula Children’s Theater — the nation's largest touring children's theater and education group, which has been coming to Luverne for nearly 20 years.
“It’s been hit and miss for them being back on the road after the pandemic, and I don’t want the kids to miss out on an opportunity like that,” Kinsinger said.
“It’s a popular program in town, so we’re going to try to put something together to fill that need for the younger kids and get them excited about what’s going on at the Palace.”
To do that, he said he’s working on a “homegrown collaboration” between Green Earth Players and The Palace.
“We’re going to attempt a children’s theater camp, similar to Missoula,” he said.
The camp will be sometime in mid-July or early August and will be listed with Luverne Community Education.
Late-night TV talk with retired teachers
For this summer’s all-school reunion, Kinsinger said he has a plan to draw returning alumni to the Palace.
“I’ll try to explain it without sounding crazy,” he said.
“We’re going to interview retired teachers in a late-night TV talk-show-type setting at the Palace. We’ll use our camera system to livestream it and record it so people can watch it whenever they want, and we’ll focus on a live event during the all-school reunion.”
He said Betty Mann has agreed to be the first one.
“We’ll give her a chance to sort of spill the goods on what it was like to be a teacher … what she really thinks of things,” Kinsinger said.
“It will just be kind of a unique experience for people who maybe haven’t been back to Luverne to connect with their roots again and relive some old memories.”
Shuttered venue grants help with maintenance
Off stage, Kinsinger told City Council members about several maintenance projects at the Palace, including sign repair, a refresh of the downstairs dressing rooms, façade work and lighting in the balcony.
“We applied for the Shuttered Venue grant and received a nice sum of cash,” he said.
“It was nice to have the cushion there to make some improvements and to make sure that we can keep doing what we’re doing.”
Mayor Pat Baustian thanked him for his work at the Palace.
“It’s nice to see the passion that you have and the passion that your board has. It’s evident in the events and what you have going on there,” he said.
“Our community is so very fortunate to have you and your group and your volunteers ... You’re doing a great job.”
Baustian said Luverne is fortunate to have the Palace Theatre downtown.
Kinsinger replid, “We do love having those lights lighting up Main Street at night.”

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