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Tom West: Guthrie Theater has been state landmark

I see where the Tyrone Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis is scheduled for the wrecking ball. A new Guthrie is being constructed on the riverfront, so the 38-year-old structure was deemed expendable.

I see where the Tyrone Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis is scheduled for the wrecking ball. A new Guthrie is being constructed on the riverfront, so the 38-year-old structure was deemed expendable.
The Guthrie brings back a few memories. First, I happened to attend the second ever performance there of "Hamlet" in 1963. My long-suffering mother, trying to cram a bit of culture under my low-brow brain, got tickets to the show. It starred George Grizzard as Hamlet and also featured Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. Alas, I fell asleep during the second act and didn't awake until the cast fired off a cannon.
Second, one of the more memorable dates my wife and I had before we were married was in 1977 when we attended the Gopher-Michigan football game at Memorial Stadium in the afternoon, then went to a fancy restaurant for dinner and followed up by attending a Guthrie production of Henrik Ibsen's "Enemy of the People."
The day was memorable, of course, because the Gophers upset Michigan, 17-7. That happens about as often as presidents are assassinated, so Minnesotans can remember where they were when they heard the news. I was actually in the stadium.
The "Enemy of the People" was interesting because it is about a newspaper publisher who gets in trouble with the townsfolk because he decides to publish the news that the local hot springs, a big tourist attraction, are a health hazard. The business types were upset because the news ruined the tourist industry. (It wasn't like Duluth where periodically people like to announce that the water is bad just to prove that they care about it.)
However, perhaps my best memory of the Guthrie occurred 1,400 miles away. I went to school on the East Coast. People on the East Coast think Midwesterners are provincial only because they don't realize how provincial they themselves are. One year, I had a roommate from New Jersey, and, in all seriousness, he asked me how we got around in the winter time. "Do you use dogsleds?" he asked.
I replied, "Only if the car and the snowmobile won't start."
To many Easterners, the frontier is still Cleveland.
In any case, I took a drama class my sophomore year. One day, the professor got to talking about great Shakespearean theater off-Broadway. He mentioned a theater in Pittsburgh, which was noted for its productions, and then a festival in Stratford, Conn., and another theater in Stratford, Ontario.
The only other Minnesotan in the class, a woman from Minneapolis, then raised her hand and said that in Minneapolis we had the Tyrone Guthrie Theater.
He said, "Well, yes, I hear it's good, but I don't suppose there's much call for that sort of thing out there."
Not much call?
The theater opened in 1963 with 22,000 season ticket holders and advance sales of $300,000 for its summer season of four plays.
Last year, the Minnesota Legislature granted $3 million for the theater, which is exactly $3 million more than the Twins or the Vikings have been able to raise for their new facilities. The lawmakers found the money because they were feeling pressure from theater-goers from all over the state.
More than 100,000 acting students have attended workshops at the Guthrie.
Not much call? I think not.
Speaking of the Twins, Major League Baseball is undergoing "contraction" pains. Everywhere else in the world, contraction leads to birth, but in baseball it leads to evaporation.
Major League Baseball has threatened to make the Twins and perhaps the Montreal Expos disappear because it can't make enough money in their communities.
This has created considerable consternation among Twins' fans. Some of us wring our hands, and the rest of us get angry over what Major League Baseball is planning.
Frankly, baseball has Minnesota over a barrel. It has an anti-trust exemption that allows it to divide up revenue anyway it wishes, and if a community does not pony up the revenues in a sufficient amount, Major League Baseball can move a franchise at will.
As all Minnesotans know, the Twins and Vikings have been trying to gorge at the public trough for a number of years, hoping that the taxpayers will build them new stadiums.
Here's how I see it: Any stadium deal is a bad deal if the taxpayers have to finance it. There is no way it can be justified economically.
However, civic vanity and pride are also involved. Given the anti-trust exemption, Minnesotans can either hold their noses and pay the bill, or they can forget about having Major League Baseball in the Twin Cities. Don't be sad. Don't be angry. Make a decision.
The question is, how important is it not only to have a ballpark to which you can take your children or grandchildren once or twice a year, but also to be able to listen to Herb Carneal and John Gordon while sitting on the porch on a summer evening? For many Minnesotans, particularly senior citizens, the Twins provide a beacon of enjoyment all summer long.
Senator Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., has introduced legislation in Congress to repeal baseball's anti-trust exemption. Don't hold your breath. In 11 years in the Senate, Wellstone has never been able to enact something that major into law.
I have always thought that putting slot machines at Canterbury Downs would be a fair way to finance a stadium or two because it would create a voluntary tax.
Certainly a ticket tax and a tax on those entities immediately around the stadium that would benefit from its existence would also be appropriate. There are plenty of ways to skin the stadium tax cat.
Unfortunately, it is a pole cat, and no matter how you cut it, you'd better be holding your nose when you do.
Tom West is the editor and publisher of the Budgeteer News. He may be reached at 723-1207 or by e-mail at tom.west@duluth.com .

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