History and background

Illusion Theater was founded in 1974 by Executive Producing Director Michael Robins. In 1977, founding company member Bonnie Morris joined Michael as Co-Producing Director. Our commitment to the Twin Cities includes providing opportunities for over 100 artists each year; working in partnership with schools and service providers to develop healthy youth; and designing programs for corporations to help are employees examine issues that affect them in the workplace and their neighborhoods.

Since the beginning, Illusion Theater has commissioned or developed over 350 original Mainstage plays that have been seen by more than one million people. Plays developed at Illusion have been staged by more than 40 theaters across the United States, including major regional theaters such as the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, the Goodman Theater in Chicago, and the Manhattan Theater Club. Illusion productions have received an IVEY award; two plays have been made into motion picture; 10 have been published. One was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Two plays have been finalists for the American Critics Association Best New Play.

Illusion presents its seasons at the Hennepin Center for the Arts in downtown Minneapolis. Our programming includes a Mainstage Series of plays; the annual Fresh Ink Series, giving emerging and established artists the opportunity to experiment with new ideas in front of an audience; the annual Lights Up! Series, devoted to emerging Minnesota artists between the ages of 18 and 30; and a Reading Series, giving emerging and established writers opportunities to hear their works in development read by professional actors. Illusion also tours in the fall and spring, performing for schools, universities, art series, corporations, churches and communities.

In 1978, Illusion pioneered the concept of prevention/education plays. The Education Program has since reached beyond the main stage to touch a large national audience through performance, workshops, tours, peer education sites, broadcasts, and educational materials. Our Education Program has two components: Project TRUST¸ a national peer education program of a dozen plays and workshops for youth and adults to explore difficult issues they face in their lives; and Theatre Access for Youth, locally based program that provides primarily disadvantaged students and youth with extended artist residences, peer education, school touring, ad discounted or free student matinees of Illusion performances. The Education Program is renowned throughout the state and country for its effective combination of art and education in addressing of vital importance to communities.

Illusion Theater's work has received several awards and honors:

  • Twin Cities Mayor's Arts Award
  • Minnesota Educators Awards
  • Minnesota Family Council Awards of Excellence
  • 1997 National Endowment for the Arts and the U.S. Department of Juvenile Justice Award, which named Illusion as one of eight exemplary programs using arts as a way to conduct violence prevention
  • In 1999, Illusion was one of only a handful of U.S. organizations invited to present a workshop on our Peer Education model at the Regional European Conference of the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (ISPCAN) held in Israel.
  • 1999 Sally Ordway Irvine Award for Vision
  • 1999 Minneapolis Award presented to Michael Robins and Bonnie Morris for their "outstanding accomplishments and contributions to the city of Minneapolis"
  • 2000 Coming Up Taller Award in recognition of our work with youth, sponsored by the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Endowment for the Arts
  • 2002 Finalist for the Leadership for a Changing World Award, sponsored by the Advocacy Institute and the Ford Foundation
  • 2006 Ivey Award for the "emotional impact" of its production of Sez She
  • 2007The National Theater Critics Association chose our production of Autistic License by Stacey Dinner Levin as a finalist for the Best New Play of 2007 award
  • 2009 Ivey Advertising Award for Excellence.  Illusion received the first award in this category acknowledging the theater's innovative communication strategies.
  • 2010 Ivey Award presented to Katie Guentzel for her role as Antonia in Illusion's production of My Antonia.
  • 2010 Ivey Award presented to Allison Moore for her role as playwrite for My Antonia.