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The Ordway finds strength in numbers

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The Ordway is joining Five Cent Productions, a consortium of five nonprofit art centers in comparable theater markets. Five Cent's goal is to produce new, original musical theater. (Image courtesy of the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts)
The Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul has decided not to go it alone anymore. The Ordway has announced it will team up with several other performing arts groups around the country to produce original musical theater productions for regional and Broadway stages.

St. Paul, Minn. — Ordway President David Galligan believes there's not only strength, but creativity, in numbers.

The Ordway is joining four other comparable nonprofit performing arts centers in Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Hartford, Connecticut, to form Five Cent Productions.

Galligan says Five Cent Productions' mission is to develop new works of musical theater and breathe new life into the art form.

"The industry has come to rely on the retread, on the revival," Galligan says. "People are tired now of seeing the revivals. I mean, these are great classic works of Americana. But people need to see new things."

In addition to the formation of Five Cent Productions, Galligan also announced a partnership between Five Cent and the newly created production company, Elephant Eye Theatrical in Chicago.

While Five Cent members will collaborate to produce shows designed primarily for regional theaters, Elephant Eye will specialize in "event scale" musicals destined for Broadway.

Five Cent members will have shared ownership of every production that's developed. Galligan says what's best is the Ordway won't be flying solo when it comes to creating new shows.

St. Paul Pioneer Press theater critic Dominic Papatola says partnership is the new reality in theater today.

"Nobody's going to able to do anything by themselves anymore," Papatola says. "Everybody's going to need to find collaborators, and the challenge is just to find the collaborators that are as congruent with what you're doing as possible."

The partnership between Five Cent Productions and Elephant Eye Theatrical provides benefits for both sides. For the Ordway and the other Five Cent partners, the arrangement offers not only new product, but flexibility.

It will make it easier for the Ordway to integrate its shows with the schedules of its resident arts organizations -- the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Minnesota Opera, and the Shubert Club.

For Elephant Eye, says president Michael Leavitt, there's an assurance its productions will have an audience after their Broadway run, regardless of how successful they are.

"It guarantees that as we launch shows, we know that there are markets that are going to want the shows and we know they're going to play in those markets," Leavitt says.

Elephant Eye shows already in the works range from "1968," a musical set in the tumult of the late '60s, to a production based in part on the life of martial arts hero Bruce Lee.

"Obviously, if Clear Channel didn't have so much of the market tied up, there wouldn't be a need, or as much of a need, to produce new material," says Dominic Papatola.

Clear Channel Entertainment has been a dominant force in the national Broadway-style touring show market for the last five years.

In Minneapolis, Clear Channel, with its partner the Historic Theater Group, is taking over operation of the State, Orpheum and Pantages theaters. Papatola says the Ordway is responding to its competition.

David Galligan denies it. He predicts Clear Channel may even end up being a customer of Five Cent Productions. He says Five Cent is also interested in collaborating with the crown jewels of Minnesota's theater scene, including the Guthrie, Theatre de la Jeune Leune, and the Childrens Theatre Company.

"There are geniuses at work in our communities all across the country," Galligan says. "It's our job to find those artists and bring them forward."

Theatergoers won't be seeing Five Cent or Elephant Eye productions on the Ordway stage any time soon. While Five Cent shows might be mounted more quickly, Elephant Eye shows won't be ready for at least another two years. Elephant Eye's goal is the create five new musicals over the next decade.

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