Children’s Theatre Company Shares Stories With Heart

by | Jun 2023

Peter Brosius working with the cast on Buccaneers

Peter Brosius with the cast of Buccaneers on set. Photos: Dan Norman2

Peter Brosius on theater’s potential to inspire and empower.

There’s a heart to every story or, as Edina resident Peter Brosius says, “Anything good comes from a deep place.”

Brosius has spent his life seeking out beautiful truths, stories that need to be told and artists that need a new platform or audience. Over 26 years as artistic director of Children’s Theatre Company (CTC) in Minneapolis, Brosius has nurtured dozens of original and reimagined productions into the international canon for young people.

“It’s exciting to make work when you’re not only focused on articulating clever, comic bits and funny choreography but you’re also trying to deliver a very tender heart,” Brosius says.

Alice in Wonderland

When he moved to Minnesota 26 years ago with his wife, playwright and novelist Rosanna Staffa, and 4-year-old daughter, Daria, (son Gabriel would arrive the following year), it was another phase in a life defined by art.

The son of a community theater aficionado growing up in Riverside, California, Brosius spent much of his childhood on stage. “I remember never not being in a show. I was always, always, always in a show,” he says.

“I loved the challenges it posed—how to get to that place where you’re crying on stage. How to get to that place where you’re so terrified or so moved or so joyous. The physical challenges, the musical challenges, the emotional challenges—they were all just fun,” Brosius says. “I was very grateful to my mom that it was just part of our lives, that we were always in shows.”

Brosius took on fewer roles as a young adult coming up during the Vietnam War, instead leaning into politics, student government, social justice and the anti-war movement. He briefly enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, to pursue a career in law before leaving and heading to Europe.

It was a formative year. He worked at a kibbutz in Israel, lived in Norway, worked on a farm in Denmark and then lived in Greece for a while. He hopped freighters. Hitchhiked. And, along the way, met a few East Coast students who inspired him to enroll at Hampshire College, a small liberal arts college in Massachusetts, upon his return to the states.

“[Hampshire College] allowed me to look at a whole panoply of things, from puppetry to dance to theater to devising work to preperformance art, working with sculptures and painters,” Brosius says, as well as creating his own original pieces.

It was there that he met lifelong friend (and now fellow Minnesota resident) Jack Zipes. “He had translated a number of pieces from a German company [The Grips Theater] that made really interesting, socially engaged, quite political work for young people,” Brosius says. Upon graduation, Brosius left for Germany to track down this company and learn all he could.

“I showed up in Berlin and just hung out with them and saw all their shows and saw all the theater that [was] happening in Berlin at the time which was mind blowing,” Brosius says. “[The productions were] really researched and engaged and captured the zeitgeist and language of young people of the day.”

During Brosius’ time in Berlin, one such production resulted in the Berlin city government issuing a ruling that said any teacher who brought their students to see the production would be fired instantly. Instead, all the teachers “refused to bow to the censorship,” he says, and came to see the work; the government backed down.

“That’s sort of been a North Star for me—to make work that matters and to make work that starts good conversations, that’s about something,” Brosius says.

In the years that followed, Brosius went all in on performance art. He studied clowning, mime and dance. He joined a street theater company, making work in the South Bronx and East Harlem. He watched, he learned and realized he didn’t know enough, so he applied to New York University (NYU) and pursued a master in fine arts in directing. (It was while at NYU that he met his wife, who he describes as, “a brilliant, extraordinary woman, who is so ridiculously talented.”) Upon graduation, he did a fellowship in Europe, worked at theater companies in Los Angeles and Hawaii and directed productions across the nation. Then, he found his way to CTC, where he could focus on original and reimagined productions.

Some of Brosius’ favorite productions he’s been involved in through the years include: Seedfolks, an adaptation of Paul Fleishman’s book by the same name with one actress taking on all 22 roles; an original piece inspired by the work of Buster Keaton; a production for preschoolers called Animal Dance, featuring postmodern dancer Ann Carlson, improvising alongside untrained, live baby animals; and Locomotion, beautifully directed by Talvin Wilks, which tells a story about a young man in the foster care system who finds his voice through poetry.

Peter Brosius and Sonja Parks

When asked what connects his favorite pieces together, Brosius responds with one word: beauty.

“We’ve made a lot of work that I really love,” Brosius says. “For the work to be successful … it needs a generosity of spirit. You have to care about the audience … Any artist wants to make work that they love, but it’s an additional challenge that not only do you want to be satisfied with it, but you are inviting that audience to go on the journey with you.”

In life and in art, Brosius is the picture of joy and optimism. He’s a foodie, and he is quick to share his favorite local spots (Raag Progressive Indian Cuisine, Coconut Thai and Mr. Paul’s Supper Club are top of mind) and he speaks of Edina’s ice cream scene (coffee ice cream being a favorite) with unbridled enthusiasm. He says, “We have La Michoacana [Rose], Edina Creamery and Sweet Science [Ice Cream]. For me, that’s a trifecta of pure happiness!” He also enjoys walking his “goofy” golden retriever, Louie, at Arden Park and seeing independent films at the Edina Theatre.

In conversation, he seems fulfilled, focused, full of life—a man whose glass is not just half full but brimming over. And really, what would you expect from a man who has spent his life immersed in the artistic world of young people?

“Young people are so smart, they’re so funny, they’re so quick, they’re so open and they’re so optimistic. I think for many people who are adults, these are difficult times to live in … but young people see that we’ve made a mess of things and plan to make it better. You’re in this space with the people who are going to make it better. So, you’re usually optimistic,” Brosius says.

A passion for community-building and empowering young people are the driving forces behind his work, especially during his tenure at CTC where he has nurtured challenging, insightful and engaging works that speak to audiences of all ages. It’s a legacy that is sure to continue upon his departure from CTC in June 2024.

Though many would say the Twin Cities is lucky to have him, Brosius considers himself the lucky one.

“I’m very, very lucky to be able to work with all of the incredible artists and staff and board members and donors that I get to work with,” Brosius says. “I feel really lucky to have had this opportunity for this amount of time.”

Children’s Theatre Company
2400 Third Ave. S., Mpls.; 612.874.0400
Facebook: Children’s Theatre Company
Instagram: @childrenstheatrecompany


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