Shelter and Minnesota Opera prepare to usher Lab Theater into its next act

We’ve got cause for applause! Last month, Minnesota Opera selected Shelter to provide architecture and design services for renovation of the Lab Theater in Minneapolis.

Situated next door to the Opera’s North Loop neighborhood headquarters, the Lab debuted in 1988, used by the Guthrie Theater to develop new work and present smaller productions until 2006. Since then, the space has housed theater, music, dance, cabaret, fashion and burlesque performances by a variety of emerging and established artists. That’s a role that Minnesota Opera, which bought the venue last year, wants to see continue.

“We believe it is important that we maintain this space as an artistic home for local companies in the Twin Cities,” said Ryan Taylor, Minnesota Opera president and general director, in a written statement. At the same time, the Lab will help Minnesota Opera expand its own education and engagement programming and its development of new work. “It represents an opportunity to take a major step forward in the growth of this company,” Taylor said.

Shelter’s involvement in the Lab renovation is particularly appealing to founding partner Kurt Gough, who brings to the project not only a background in theater production, but firsthand familiarity with the room itself. Before earning his Master of Architecture degree at the University of Minnesota, Kurt taught stage design at Iowa’s Luther College and ran the prop department at Baltimore Center Stage. Earlier in his career, he worked for the Guthrie and logged some of his hours in the Lab..

“I am so excited. This is literally coming home for me,” Kurt says. “I think the biggest thing my theater experience brings to the project is possessing the sort of shorthand anyone develops when they work in a specific industry for a decent amount of time. Theater has a jargon, and I speak the language.”

Shelter’s Lab work will also draw from our firm’s experience renovating older properties to better meet modern needs. The 6,000-square-foot theater, which accommodates 350 people, is essentially a stone box with 30-foot-high ceilings, carved out of the foundation of a decades-old warehouse facility. Ensuring the room continues to serve today’s performers and theatergoers presents challenges. Our team is eager to seek creative solutions.

“Since the Lab opened, there have been significant improvements in lighting and sound equipment, for example,” Kurt says. “There has also been a significant social change in the way people value accessibility and inclusion for all. That will certainly be a consideration as we start to rethink the space.”

We’re now in the early stages of the Lab renovation. As our collaboration with Minnesota Opera continues, we’ll share updates about our progress.