Arts leader Faye Price steps down after 21 years at Pillsbury House Theatre

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Rohan Preston, Star Tribune
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After the Twin Cities erupted in flames last June following the death of George Floyd, Pillsbury House Theatre, just two blocks from where Floyd's limp body was loaded into an ambulance, stepped into the breach. The company, housed in a community center in south Minneapolis, became a source of supplies for the reeling neighborhood. It joined other ad hoc responders in providing food for residents and portable toilets for visitors.

That response showed how Pillsbury House Theatre has become a community lifeblood, even as it produces compelling art. Now its self-effacing but effective leader, Faye Price, is stepping down at the end of June after 21 years at the helm.

"Faye has led with grace, smarts and talent — exhibiting the power of theater as a tool for social healing and artistic expression," said Mixed Blood Theatre founder Jack Reuler, who has known Price since they first worked together in the 1970s.

While Price's title — coproducing artistic director — makes it sound like she was only in charge of theater, that is not entirely true. Her job, working closely with coproducing managing director Noël Raymond, entailed overseeing all the activities and programs housed in the building at 36th Street and S. Chicago Avenue, including a child care center, educational programs and, once, even a clinic.

Like Penumbra Theatre, which also is housed in a community center, Pillsbury House has married engagement with hard-hitting art long before it became fashionable.

"Faye is a theater professional through and through on all sides of the art," said Penumbra founder Lou Bellamy, one of Price's teachers. "She's skilled in dramaturgy and history as well as being talented and beautiful."

Hyde Park to MacalesterA native of the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, Price first came to the Twin Cities to study at Macalester College, which awarded her its Catharine Lealtad Service to Society Award in 2006. She earned her graduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where she studied dramaturgy and criticism and was an August Wilson Fellow.

Price worked as a dramaturge at the Guthrie Theater on over a dozen shows, including "Crowns," "Summer and Smoke" and "Philadelphia, Here I Come," directed by Joe Dowling. She also has acted at the Guthrie, Penumbra, Mixed Blood and other theaters.

After she leaves office, co-leader Raymond will remain at Pillsbury House while Pillsbury Neighborhood Services, which oversees the center, tinkers with the leadership model.

"I'm excited to say I have no idea what I'll do next," Price said. "I'm going to take some time off and get back to really being an artist, doing whatever piques my interest. It's a giddy privilege to have this break."

Highlights of Price's career include productions of Tony Kushner's "Angels in America," Eisa Davis' "Bulrusher" and Tarell Alvin McCraney's Brother/Sister trilogy, done in collaboration with the Guthrie Theater and Mount Curve Productions and directed by Tony nominee Marion McClinton.

"When I decided that I wanted to produce the Brother/Sister Plays, and the Guthrie required a producing partner, Pillsbury House was the natural choice," said Frances Wilkinson, principal owner of Mount Curve. "Faye had a deep relationship with Marion. And I knew that they would be able to honor Tarell's lyrical voice and bring that kind of poetry to the stage."

Broad impactAs an actor, dramaturge, director and producer, Price often is known for her brilliance, lucidity and work ethic. And she has had an impact beyond Minneapolis. As the longtime board chair of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts (MCA), Price was key to state passage of the Legacy Amendment, which funds Minnesota's environment and arts.

"She recently won the Larry Award from MCA for being an unsung hero of the arts," said retired MCA executive director Sheila Smith. "Faye played a pivotal role with MCA as we conceived of and pushed forward the Legacy Amendment. She was someone I would call with a problem I couldn't figure out, and after a conversation with her, I always had better ideas than I did before."

Reuler, who has known Price since she was 17, described her as a "brilliant," "decisive leader" with impeccable taste. She also has been clear about how to manage personnel, and that involves hiring talented people and getting out of their way.

Price took over the shared leadership of Pillsbury House from theater founder Ralph Remington, who now is the arts leader for the city of San Francisco.

"The fact that Faye had Noël there basically was great because Noël had the institutional memory, so she knew the messaging and tone of the theater, and she and Faye built on that legacy," Remington said. "They developed new plays, had relationships with playwrights and pioneered other things."

One of the playwrights that Price encouraged was Christina Ham, now supervising producer for the Emmy-winning HBO series "Westworld."

"She's stable, grounded, visionary and practical," Ham said. "She was one of the first artists I met when I moved to the Twin Cities in '05 as she was working on my play, and we got along swimmingly."

Price later directed the world premiere of Ham's "Nina Simone: Four Women" in the Twin Cities before staging it at the Kennedy Center, and tapped Ham to become a Mellon-funded playwright-in-residence at Pillsbury House.

"We were able to bring some theater and other work to the stage that Twin Cities audiences were not seeing and were not able to get elsewhere," Price said. "We also showed how an arts institution embedded in community can hold those relationships in non-transactional ways. I really think that where we sit in the landscape, physically and psychically, is really healthy and a model for perhaps what other institutions want to be, especially in the wake of George Floyd."

Raymond became teary-eyed as she spoke about her departing colleague.

"There's a big piece of grief and loss that will go with her," Raymond said. "I'm super happy for Faye because it's a lot of work to drag an institution around for 21 years, on top of being an artist. Her imprint is all over this place. I miss her already and very much want to be in support of whatever comes next."

Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390

@rohanpreston