Dreamland Arts building for sale in St. Paul includes underground tunnel

The Dreamland Arts theater in St. Paul. (Image provided)

A beloved community theater space in St. Paul has been put up for sale — along with the home it's connected to via an underground tunnel. 

Dreamland Arts, a theater that seats 40 people, has been a haven for small companies, emerging artists, and anyone seeking to make theater in an intimate, community space for the last 17 years of Hamline Avenue in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood, not far from the Hamline University campus. On Monday, co-owners Zaraawar Mistry and Leslye Orr recently announced via a Facebook post that they have put the theater as well as the home up for sale, so they can downsize and move into a nearby apartment.

They hope to find a buyer who will maintain it as a theater space.

"Thank you for having been on this journey with us. We feel truly fortunate to have been able to welcome so many incredible artists and audiences over the years to our little corner of St. Paul," they wrote in a Facebook post announcing the sale. 

The asking price for the theater and the 1382 square foot, two bedroom, two bathroom home, which was built in 1922, is $600,000.   

A magical space with a critical role 

The news of the sale reverberated across the Twin Cities art scene and on social media after it was announced Monday. Laura Zabel, executive director at Springboard for the Arts, a St. Paul-based nonprofit dedicated to helping artists make a living, said the theater has played an important role in the Twin Cities arts scene. 

"Dreamland is kind of a magical space. It has this really warm community feeling, and it's a home for a lot of artists to take big risks, to do things they might not be able to do in a bigger space, and to tell stories that might not have a platform for otherwise. So I think Dreamland plays a really important role in the kind of ecosystem of theater and theater-making in the Twin Cities," she said. 

Local arts reporter Sheila Regan, who has contributed to Star Tribune, Minn Post, and other national publications, says the theater scene is still recovering from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and many small venues have closed, making the role of Dreamland all the more critical. 

"To be an ecosystem, you need the big and small. We definitely need those bigger venues that draw people from all across the metro area that have hundreds of seats, but we also need these smaller places because that's where experimentation can happen. That's where new voices can develop their art and connect to audiences," she said. 

About that tunnel 

There is no doubt about which detail in the listing has drawn the most attention on social media: the tunnel. 

Zabel confirmed that she had indeed used the passageway, and said its importance lies in what it represents.

 "Zaraawar and Leslye (the owners) used their artistic sensibility and their creativity to imagine that that space could be this really magical space that connects a space to live and a space to work and a space for creativity and a space for the community all in one place," she said. 

The stage as home

Rhiana Yazzie is a Navajo playwright and filmmaker who is the artistic director of New Native Theatre, which currently has a production running at Dreamland through May 7. 

She says the small size of the theater facilitates the connection between the performers and the audience and that it has been a welcoming place for theatergoers from diverse backgrounds. 

"For the constituents that I'm curating and programming for as a native community, it's really important that the spaces that we produce plays in feel very inviting and feel very safe. And I've always felt that about Dreamland. It's a really beautiful place to perform a play in because you have you can be so creative because it's a really tiny space," she said. 

For her, the ideal scenario would be that Dreamland remains a community theater space and the home becomes housing for artists. 

"It's sort of part of the mythology of Dreamland is that it's also the artists' homes who run the venue. And there's just something so incredible about it. In a way, that’s the dream — I think when you first start off in the theater, you imagine having a space where your front door is literally the stage. It's a very romantic idea."

Yazzie continued:

"And, you know, and I think that's why it always just feels like a home. When I step into Dreamland, it feels like it's somebody's home and that they've invited you in. I think that's kind of one of the most beautiful things about Dreamland. And I'd love it to stay like that," she said. 

New Native Theatre presents This How We Got Here, an award-winning Canadian play, at Dreamland Arts through May 7 — Wednesday through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. For more info, click here.