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The stage is set for another production at the Grand Opera House in Pierre. Photo by Matthew Hicks.
The stage is set for another production at the Grand Opera House in Pierre. Photo by Matthew Hicks.

The Theater of Communities

Jan 27, 2012

Reaching an authentic source for what drives community theater was as easy as speed-dialing our friend, Michael Pangburn, executive director of the South Dakota Arts Council. His great passion for community theater has not diminished since his days as high school theater teacher in Belle Fourche, or probably since grade school.

He is currently directing Pierre Players’ production of All My Sons (Arthur Miller, 1947), rehearsing four nights a week (until that isn’t enough) for its opening performance, February 24th. I caught him this morning rested after yesterday’s stint, a full day of judging high school regional one-act plays and last night’s rehearsal of Sons.

There are well over a dozen active community theater groups in South Dakota, many are very active this time of year. (Check your local listings on the table tent at the café). Many more activate once in a while, when it suits the community in question.

Each production requires the selection of the play, acquiring the rights to produce it, a heated, safe venue, a director, auditions and casting, set design and building, costumes, rehearsals, acting lessons and coaching, rehearsals, lighting, sound, rehearsals, fund raising, publicity, rehearsals, ticket sales, dress rehearsal, opening night and a few more performances.

There is more, but you get the idea. Lots of otherwise sane and sober people devote countless precious hours to the pursuit of performing with others on local stages before friendly audiences — for no money and not nearly enough credit for their courage and stamina, much less their artistic endeavors. Thank goodness South Dakotans are prone to standing ovations, because the bows are well deserved. 

I couldn’t even get the question fully asked, What makes people do this?, before the answer came from Michael. “We all have an inherent need to be a part of a community, and theater brings people together with a sense of community. For some, it may be their best experience.” He added that no one understood that dynamic better than our dearly departed Donna Fjelstad, who took Fiddler on the Roof to community production across the state, offering many citizens their stage debuts, and lifetime avocations.

Support your local thespians — Get your tickets now in a theater near you. Hats off, hats in the air, to all citizens of the theater persuasion! Bravo, actors! Bravo, audiences! Stand and ovate! Bravo!


Pat Boyd is Executive Director of South Dakotans for the Arts, a statewide nonprofit membership organization dedicated to advancing the arts through service, education and advocacy. Pat and her husband, artist George Prisbe, live at Hanna Creek in the northern Black Hills.


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