With less than a month until opening night, paintbrushes and canisters full of yellow paint were strewn on paint-speckled paper taped to the floor in the NorShor Theatre's offices Sunday.
The final touches of the renovated downtown Duluth theater, which first opened as the Orpheum Theater in 1910, are starting to come together. The electricity is on, the theater seats are installed, the skywalk connection is nearly complete, painting is wrapping up and rehearsals for the upcoming musical "Mamma Mia!" are set to begin on the stage next week.
"The seats went in, like, overnight. I was here one day and there were no seats and then today was my first time walking out on stage and seeing those seats. I almost cried, it was so incredible. It was just awesome," said Shad Olsen, an administrative staff member and resident actor with the Duluth Playhouse.
The Playhouse's production of "Mamma Mia!" will be the first to premiere at the renovated theater when it opens Feb. 1.
Eight paint parties have taken place, with volunteers painting the second-floor offices as well as the rehearsal spaces on the third floor. The final paint party was underway Sunday afternoon as about a dozen volunteers coated the office walls in yellow. The paint parties, which were open to anyone who wants to help, have attracted a mix of people involved with the Playhouse in addition to people who are just interested in seeing the space, Olsen said. There are still a few more opportunities for people to help — namely hanging lights and mirrors.
The remodel began more than a year ago and at the start of it, the building looked "creepy, dark and run down," Olsen said. "To walk in now and find it so elegant has been a treat."
Andi Voigt, a senior at Marshall School, was helping to paint on Sunday because she has been shadowing the musical's stage manager. She wanted to tour the remodeled theater and help out as much as possible, she said.
"It's cool to be like, 'I was a part of this,' " she said. "It's such a big thing so being able to say, 'I painted that wall,' 'I was here when it was still getting finished.' "
Sara Marie Sorenson, who has performed with the Playhouse since 2002, said rehearsals for "Mamma Mia!" have been "crazy" because of the change of venue. They've been rehearsing at the Duluth Depot without knowing how the spacing on NorShor's stage will work. They're going to be flexible and positive about working out the kinks once they begin rehearsing on the NorShor stage next week, she said.
She predicted for the first show, "We're going to hear those first notes and the entire cast is going to burst into tears. I don't know how we're going to do it. I'll be in back blubbering and crying."
The remodeled NorShor lends credibility to Duluth's arts scene, Sorenson said. Voigt explained that she wants to work in stage management and having the NorShor in the community makes her think that she could make a career of it in Duluth instead of going to a larger city.
"Before I was like, I'm getting out, I'm going to Chicago. Now I'm like, I could stay here. ... This could be my forever home," Voigt said.