Back to top

Mixed Blood Theatre

Creator: 
  • Cite
  • Share
  • Correct
  • Print
Mixed Blood Theatre

The former firehouse in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis that has served as a headquarters for Mixed Blood Theatre since 1976. Photograph by Wikimedia Commons user theopie, May 1, 2009. CC BY-SA 2.0.

Mixed Blood Theatre, Minnesota’s first multi-racial theater company, was founded in 1976 to produce shows that pay positive attention to difference, break down racial barriers, and make theater accessible to anyone and everyone. Originally meant to be a summer project that would last for only one season, the company has presented over forty seasons as of spring 2019.

Following the arrival of the Guthrie Theatre in 1963, the theatre scene in the Twin Cities quickly began to germinate. There remained, however, a clear lack of diversity on the stage, especially when it came to race. The exclusion of actors, directors, and other artists of color led to the creation of Mixed Blood Theatre, Minnesota’s first multi-racial theater company.

The company was started in 1976 by a man named Jack Reuler. Reuler, a twenty-two-year-old who had recently graduated from Macalester College, was working at an organization called the Center for Community Action (CCA). While there, he witnessed a racially charged casting crisis related to Theatre in the Round’s production of The Great White Hope. Although the show centered on an African American boxer and his family, it did not cast African American actors in all of those roles. The debate that followed exposed the double standard that allowed white actors to play African American roles but not vice versa.

“The Theatre in the Round incident provoked me to go to the Center for Community Action,” said Reuler, “to set up [a] theater to try to have a particular voice for the successful coexistence of people with difference.” He chose a performance space and office in the same building as the CCA’s offices: an old firehouse in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis. The company’s first season consisted of six plays with a total combined budget of $30,000.

Reuler intended for Mixed Blood to be a summer project that would last for only one season. When the company’s debut was a success, however, he decided to produce more seasons. Under Reuler’s direction, Mixed Blood grew into a professional theater company and a pillar of the Twin Cities’ arts community.

Grants were an important part of Mixed Blood’s finances from the beginning. It received support from the Hudson Dayton Foundation soon after its founding and from the McKnight Foundation in 1979 Corporations like 3M and Medtronic have also supported Mixed Blood throughout the years.

Capitalizing on this increase in funds, Mixed Blood built a reputation for engaging and innovative theater. The company extended its mission outside of the firehouse in 1980, when it began touring across the country. As part of educational programs, cast members performed plays about people of color and other minority groups, such as Dr. King’s Dream and Minnecanos, at schools all over the US. In 1989, the company also started providing training programs for businesses and corporations. These programs, known as “EnterTraining,” raised awareness of difference both in and outside the workplace while also encouraging the respectful acceptance of that difference.

One of the biggest changes for Mixed Blood came alongside the demographic evolution of its neighborhood. In the 1990s and 2000s, the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood became the home of thousands of Somali refugees fleeing war in their homeland. In response, Jack Reuler said, “We had to make a decision, whether to become an island in our community or an anchor in our community, and we chose the latter.” As a result, Mixed Blood began to focus less on touring and more on supporting the Cedar Riverside community.

Regardless of the programs Mixed Blood added and the shows it produced, the company remained committed to its mission to “pay positive attention to difference.” In the twenty-first century, it has expanded that mission to address differences of gender, sexuality, and disability. In 2010, it started a program of “Radical Hospitality” intended to make Mixed Blood available to new audiences. It offered free admission on a first-come, first-served basis and arranged free parking and free transportation to the theater for guests with disabilities.

  • Cite
  • Share
  • Correct
  • Print
© Minnesota Historical Society
  • Bibliography
  • Related Resources

“Mixed Blood Theatre - 2015 Mission Awards: Anti-Racism Initiative Winner.” YouTube video, 3:27. Posted by “minnesotanonprofits,” October 5, 2015.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4t74kWDDNIw

Mixed Blood Theatre.
https://mixedblood.com/

PA136
Mixed Blood Theatre records, 1970‒2016
Performing Arts Archives, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
Description: Production materials, administrative records, and marketing files of Mixed Blood Theatre.
https://archives.lib.umn.edu/repositories/9/resources/7077

Reuler, Jack (artistic director, Mixed Blood Theatre). Interview with the author, February 11, 2019.

Royce, Graydon. “Jack Reuler: Mixed Blood’s Complicated Artistic Director.” Minneapolis Star Tribune, September 12, 2014.
http://www.startribune.com/jack-reuler-mixed-blood-s-complicated-artistic-director/274821761/

Related Images

Mixed Blood Theatre
Mixed Blood Theatre
Handbill for “The True Story of Coca Cola in Mexico”
Handbill for “The True Story of Coca Cola in Mexico”
Program for “Black Belts, Too”
Program for “Black Belts, Too”
Ticket for “Black Belts, Too”
Ticket for “Black Belts, Too”
Program for Play at Mixed Blood Theatre
Program for Play at Mixed Blood Theatre
Photograph of Riverside Plaza apartment complex, Minneapolis.
Photograph of Riverside Plaza apartment complex, Minneapolis.

Turning Point

After the unexpected success and popularity of Mixed Blood’s first season in the summer of 1976, the company evolves beyond its original status as a temporary project to become a more permanent and professional organization.

Chronology

1976

The company is founded by Jack Reuler, who has recently graduated from Macalester College with a degree in zoology.

1978

Mixed Blood starts hiring Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) actors.

1979

Mixed Blood receives its first major grant from the McKnight Foundation.

1980

The company starts touring across the US, performing educational plays in schools and at other theatres.`

1984

The Center for Community Action vacates its space in the former firehouse at 1501 South Fourth Street, Minneapolis, allowing Mixed Blood to move downstairs from its place on the second floor. It restores the building to keep it up to code.

1984

Jack Reuler makes Esquire’s list of “men and women under 40 who are changing America.”

1989

Mixed Blood launches the EnterTraining Program, an initiative dedicated to teaching professionals how to respect and celebrate diversity in the workplace.

1989

Mixed Blood begins to produce annual productions with Latinx content written, directed, and performed by Latinx people.

1990

Mixed Blood is the first theater to win the Actors’ Equities Association’s Rosetta LaNoire Award. The award recognizes AEA members who help to increase diversity in the theater.

1999

Mixed Blood presents its first play focusing on people with disabilities.

2000

The company shifts its focus from touring to engaging with members of the Cedar Riverside neighborhood.

2006

Jack Reuler receives the Ivey Lifetime Achievement Award.

2008

Minnesota voters pass the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, helping to preserve art programs like Mixed Blood.

2010

Mixed Blood starts its Radical Hospitality initiative to guarantee access to all audiences, including disabled people.

2016

Mixed Blood commits to including transgender directors, actors, and designers in its productions and forms a trans advisory council.