Austin native helps to bring Guthrie to Riverland

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 8, 2003

When Beth Burns was growing up in Austin, her parents took her to Matchbox Theatre productions and any other arts-related show in the area.

Her family was musically-inclined and she played French horn in high school band and orchestra.

"I had a lot of exposure to the arts growing up," Burns said.

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Now, as the Guthrie Theater's director of education and community partnerships, she is helping to bring a second Guthrie touring production to Austin.

"The Stuff of Dreams," this year's Guthrie regional touring show, will open in Austin Feb. 18 at Riverland Community College. The show will then travel to 38 cities in nine states through May.

"A Mid-summer Night's Dream" came to Austin in 2000, an event that was more emotionally-charged for Burns than she had expected. The production was performed in Austin High School's Knowlton Auditorium.

"I thought, my gosh, this was the stage I had played every single orchestra concert on. I was a cheerleader and we had pep fests in there. I graduated on that stage," Burns said. "And to see a full Guthrie production on that stage…. ."

Burns thinks seeing this year's show at Riverland will be exciting as well.

"I don't go to all the shows, but it's fun to go to the show with my mom and dad and see my teachers," she said. "It's more personal than any of the other communities."

Burns has been working with Jerry Girton, Riverland's Theatre department director, to arrange the show and the workshops with area students.

Burns has worked at the Guthrie since 1998, at first with the touring program and now also works with education and community programs. She graduated from St. Olaf College in 1991 with a theater and creative writing degree.

Working in the arts is not always easy, she said, but her parents Judith and Ralph Pesonen, have always been supportive.

"I have never doubted their support," she said. "They're just fantastic."

Judith Pesonen said she is proud of her daughter and thinks it's good the Guthrie is bringing a show to Austin.

"I think that the arts are a very valuable part of our lives," she said.

Burns hopes the show will inspire local boys and girls to pursue theater or the arts, just as she was growing up.

"That's what's most exciting to me," Burns said.

Cari Quam can be reached at 434-2235 or by e-mail at