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Until in-person productions start up again at the Guthrie, the theater's iconic building is itself the show.

The three-stage edifice on the Minneapolis riverfront reopened to the public July 8, nearly 16 months after being shuttered because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, the lobbies and other public spaces have been drawing a steady stream of visitors from across the state, country and world.

Some are architecture buffs keen to see the inky blue nine-story complex that opened in 2006 and tipped designer Jean Nouvel into rarefied architectural air. He won the Pritzker Prize, the field's Nobel-esque honor, two years after completing the Guthrie.

His design for the theater includes the cantilevered Endless Bridge that juts 178 feet from the building toward the Mississippi and hovers 55 feet above West River Parkway. Nouvel, a Frenchman, liked to point out that the Endless Bridge has more steel than the Eiffel Tower. Today, it's a magnet for everyone from selfie-posing youngsters to proud Minnesotans showing off a flagship cultural amenity.

"We always bring people here," said Hollis Kim, a pastor, as he sat recently on the Endless Bridge with his wife, Susan Kim, a teacher at Fridley High School, and their 28-year-old son, Jonathan, visiting from New York. "The high perch gives a nice perspective of the Stone Arch Bridge, the city and the water."

The Kims live just three blocks from the theater.

"I like the pace and the peace here," said Jonathan, a University of Minnesota graduate. "I like that I get to appreciate the small moments."

Also on the Endless Bridge were Twin Citians Malinee Lamont and Krista Morhauser, friends and college students having a last jaunt before going their separate ways to, respectively, Marquette University in Milwaukee and North Dakota State in Fargo.

"This is my first time ever coming here, and it's nice," Lamont said.

"There's nothing like this in Fargo," Morhauser mused, adding that she'd visited the theater before and intends to do so again.

Plenty of foot traffic flows around the theater on Saturday mornings when the Mill City Farmers Market is ongoing.
Plenty of foot traffic flows around the theater on Saturday mornings when the Mill City Farmers Market is ongoing.

Shari L. Gross

Up on the ninth floor, Lion Tseng and friend Nicole Chen lounged in the Amber Box, so named for yellow-tinted windows that architect Nouvel said were inspired by ski goggles.

The 20-somethings, who hail from Taiwan and Singapore respectively, are graduate students at the University of Minnesota and were exploring the Guthrie for the first time.

Tseng said that he appreciated that he gets to see Minneapolis in three directions — to the south, the view stretches from US Bank stadium to the planes homing into Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport; to the west, the skyline jigs to Capella Tower and its tiara and jags to the stolid, monklike IDS building; and to the north, remnants of the mills that fed the world still stand.

But the views weren't all. Tseng had a distinct, youthful observation about the space.

"This is like being in a real-life TikTok filter," he said. "It's cool."

Chen wanted to see the inside of the company's three stages — the 1,100-seat Wurtele Thrust, the 700-seat McGuire Proscenium and the flexible Dowling Studio. But those are not yet open to the public.

The theater plans to present Heidi Schreck's Tony-nominated play, "What the Constitution Means to Me," starting Sept. 30, in the McGuire Proscenium. That would launch the show's national tour and also be the theater's first in-person post-pandemic production.

The Guthrie also is doing an all-new, up-from-the-ground rebuilding of "A Christmas Carol," the holiday classic and Twin Cities tradition. Previews will begin in early November in the Wurtele Thrust.

In the meantime, there are other spaces inside the building to explore. The Guthrie has added a deluxe version of a little free library on its eighth floor, a contemplative nook.

On a recent Saturday, a couple who relocated from Chicago chilled in the quiet of the space, absorbed in books. The man, who gave his name only as Tom, grabbed a John Grisham title.

The Guthrie has added illustrations and lettering to the outside of its building to playfully welcome visitors.
The Guthrie has added illustrations and lettering to the outside of its building to playfully welcome visitors.

Shari L. Gross, Star Tribune

The theater has always been a magnet for photographers with subjects that include prom-giddy teens, newlyweds and models. The ghost images of past productions, the light and angles all drew the eye of Lisa-Ashley Smith, a photographer from Madison, Wis.

"I come up once a month and this place has such great shadows," Smith said. "It's theatrical, dramatic."

The Guthrie has added illustrations and lettering to the outside of its building to playfully welcome visitors. One graphic includes an open fire hydrant and the words "Woof-da!" over a water bowl filled for pooches.

"We have a lot of dogs in the neighborhood," said Guthrie associate marketing director Elizabeth Deacon, adding that the selfie-ready graphics are meant to "activate joy" and "ignite the imagination."

The Kims, who often share takeout on the mound of nearby Gold Medal Park before ambling over to the theater, were already ignited. They are looking forward to the resumption of live, in-person plays.

"We're part of the rush ticket club," Susan Kim said. "We can't wait to just walk on over."

"We're grateful to be so close to a world-class theater like the Guthrie," Hollis Kim added. "It's a gem of a resource to have in our community."