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Actor's legacy brings stage dream downtown

This rendering by Architect Scott Georgeson shows the planned renovation of old Dunbar's Building.

A new organization has set its eyes on renovating the old Dunbar building in downtown Superior.

Twin Ports Stage plans to turn the space at 1413 Tower Ave. into a 250-seat theater, boosting the local economy in the process.

Organization director Victoria Main unveiled the plan to the Superior City Council on Tuesday. She has performed throughout the Twin Ports area.

It's frustrating, Main said, that all the professional spaces are in Duluth.

Smaller towns like Washburn, Spooner and Hayward have great theaters, said Lori Kempton, a member of Twin Ports Stage board.

"We need to catch up," Kempton said.

The theater company, which has applied for nonprofit status, was founded in memory of University of Wisconsin-Superior theater professor emeritus John Munsell. A professor for 34 years, Munsell was known for his leadership, out-of-the-box thinking and compassion. He died in February.

The project was the right fit for the John D. Munsell Legacy Fund, said his wife Suzie Bednar-Munsell.

"That's what John would want, he'd want something here," she said.

The new company hopes to follow in the footsteps of Munsell's innovation, zest and playfulness.

"John had this attitude 'There's a reason they call it a play; you're supposed to have fun,'" Main said. "He did quality work; he was also dedicated to having a good time."

Twin Ports Stage is contacting local businesses, UWS alumni and friends to raise the $800,000 needed to buy and renovate the space and fund a full season of plays. A crowd-sourcing campaign is set to kick off within the next month to turn the 1917 building, which has been a car dealership, Elks club and restaurant supply store, into the John D. Munsell Theatre.

"They have my support," Bednar-Munsell said, and the group has been embraced by Munsell's former students and fellow teachers. "We called it the communicating arts love network, and it is as strong as ever."

When completed, the flexible space could accommodate touring productions, films, art openings, musical and community events, acting classes and a full season of plays.

"We dream big," Bednar-Munsell said.

Opening a theater in downtown Superior could also revitalize the area.

"The arts change the environment," said Main, who saw an influx of theater and art transform a New York City neighborhood while she was living there.

The average theater patron plans a night of entertainment, not just a show. On average, they spend about $24 on top of the ticket price during a night out, Main said. The theater could serve as a magnet for restaurants, gift shops and galleries in the area, Kempton said.

The economic impact of arts and culture sector is significant. A new report released Thursday by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis and the National Endowment for the Arts estimated that creative industries, from entertainment and advertising to books and architectural services, accounted for at least 3.2 percent of U.S. goods and services in 2011. By comparison, the travel and tourism industry was estimated at 2.8 percent.

Although they are dreaming big, Twin Ports Stage is starting small. The group has been producing a live radio soap opera, "Twin Ports," since June. The drama follows the lives, loves, triumphs and tragedies of some colorful characters. Installments three and four of the continuing saga will be performed beginning at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Belknap Lounge, 130 Belknap St. Follow the lutefisk investigation of Sheriff Nottingham, learn more about Gwen and her interest in "professional stud" Rock Murphy and keep tabs on the Siamese Swedish triplets, Prosperity, Curiosity and Jan. Audience members will also be treated to snippets of news from the No. 2 radio station, KRAP.

"It's it typical soap opera," Kempton said, with plenty of northern jokes thrown in. Writing and performing the show has been a lot of fun, she said, and the cast is amazing. Admission is free but donations of nonperishable food items will be accepted for the St. Vincent de Paul food shelf.

For more information on Twin Ports Stage, check its Facebook page, stop by Tuesday's performance or email twinportsstage@

yahoo.com.

Donations to the John D. Munsell Legacy Fund can be made to P.O. Box 1484, Superior, WI, 54880. The first two "Twin Ports" episodes can be heard on soundcloud.com under Twin Ports Stage.

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