The whole point of free speech is not to make ideas exempt from criticism but to expose them to it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The buzz on the Black Hills Playhouse.

We heard yesterday from a fairly reliable source that the Black Hills Playhouse is going to be doing its next summer season on the road because their current facility in Custer State Park has been condemned. This truly is the end of an era. Could it also be the beginning of a new one? I'd love to hear what people are thinking about this. Especially my good friend, Mr. Gilbert.


Wayne Gilbert said...

The Playhouse mess is so very complicated. Sixty five years as a cultural institution in the Black Hills. For many of those years the Playhouse did provide high quality productions. For reasons that have not been made clear at all, State Government seems to have developed a real antipathy toward it. This is a significant cultural and artistic loss for the area. I think that government support of arts is critical to a society that expects to remain vital both culturally and economically. I wish that was different but it’s not. Realistically, it may spell the doom of the Playhouse not only at its location but as an institution. I say this for three reasons:

(1) There doesn’t seem to be any point in trying to save the lease or the location because (a) most if not all of the buildings apart from the theatre itself cannot be safely occupied and used. (b) Everyone seems to agree that the sewer system has to be replaced. I admittedly don’t know all of the facts but I am skeptical of the Playhouse’s argument that the area water, both above and below ground, can be adequately protected with a system that is less than what the State is using for nearby campgrounds. (c) Rightly or wrongly, the landlord wants the tenant gone.

(2) A season of touring productions is an unfortunate, albeit unavoidable, prospect. In my opinion, one aspect of Playhouse productions that has maintained consistently high quality in the past several years has been set design and construction. That aspect of production will be very difficult to achieve with a touring season. I accept the idea of a touring season as a way of “treading water” while real long-term solutions are being considered. I feel compelled to add, however, that shuttering the company has to be on the table, because of the difficulties of a touring company and because of the third reason:

(3) Finding and acquiring land, and building a new facility, would be enormously if not prohibitively expensive.

Meanwhile, live entertainment in the area flourishes. This weekend three theatre productions are going on—Black Hills Community Theatre opens its production of “Doubt: A Parable.” The Journey Museum is staging an original script of “The Children’s Blizzard.” The Firehouse Dinner Theatre opens “The Oldest Profession,” Central and Stevens just finished local performances of their one-act productions. The Beanery has its dinner theatre. In the summer Flying T and Circle B offer live performances. As things go, I have to say that the passing of the Playhouse will be of greater moment to its loyal alumni than to theatre patrons.

I do see one possible solution, but have no idea if it is considered feasible or could be negotiated. The Homestake Opera House in Lead has the potential to be a fantastic live performance venue. I would love to see it have a resident theatre company. It wouldn’t be cheap, but I think it would be considerably less expensive than buying land and building a new complex. The Northern Hills has great economic and cultural potential in the foreseeable and immediate future.

larry kurtz said...

Mr. Gilbert, while I agree that the Lead Opera House has tremendous potential (I was part of the remodel in 2005), my 25 years in the Northern Hills taught me that Rapid Citians won't drive up there.

Although he keeps trying, French Bryan at the Bay Leaf Cafe in Spearfish will confirm that if you ask him.

The theatre at Dakota Jr. High is a great venue, too.

larry kurtz said...

BTW, the former Passion Play could work if troupes are willing to look askance of the current ownership.

Wayne Gilbert said...

Larry--please call me Wayne. You may be right--driving to Lead is kind of a problem. But in fact it's not as big of a problem as driving to the Playhouse. The "short cut" is dusty and curvy and dangerous. The other way is...well it's not the "short cut." Black Hills Community Theatre has been working hard toward a goal of making the Dakota Middle School auditorium a home for Rapid City Community Theatre--the Playhouse has not been involved in that and it would be complicate to say the least if the Playhouse injected itself into that situation now. Disclosure: I am a member of the Black Hills Community Theatre Board but I am stating my own thoughts here and do not speak for the Board or the Black Hills Community Theatre on this issue.

Anonymous said...

Wayne has good ideas and add this one. Montana has a tremendous summer traveling theater (actually two) called Shakespeare in the Parks. It travels throughout Montana and adjacent states EXCEPT South Dakota - wake up Belle Fourche, Buffalo, Spearfish.

It's a matter of time until a progressive Black Hills community grabs hosting the BH Playhouse. And of course Rapid Citians won't drive beyond the city limits. That would acknowledge something of value outside of town.

Follow the money concerning the present site of the BH Playhouse. Recall that folks wanted a state resort complex in Custer State Park to compete with local businesses. That bad idea is not dead; and it is not buried.

larry kurtz said...

I attended the Merry Wives of Windsor and The Tempest at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds in Boulder, Mt.

Great comment!

Anonymous said...

What about building a theater at Rockerville? Close to Rapid, on a good highway. Nothing there now but a wonderful restaurant/bar. There was once a melodrama there that I remember attending. I never saw a production at the Playhouse because we live East River, but I drove out there once and thought it was kinda off the beaten track. Just an idea.

larry kurtz said...

What about Old Main at the School of Mines?

larry kurtz said...

Sorry, old gym

Larry Hague said...

I think that Mr. Gilbert is right, "the playhouse mess is so very complicated." In this situation, however, a complicated mess has a simple solution. The Homestake Opera House is the right landing place for the Black Hills Playhouse. The argument that folks from Rapid City will not drive up there does not hold water with me.

First, you are correct. Lead does have difficulty getting people from Rapid City to drive up there, but that is because there has always been very little reason to do so. In recent history Lead hasn't had a beautiful opera house and theater production company. The addition of these items should easily be enough motivation for the loyal to change their habits.

Second, Lead is a community in great need. for 125 years they had an industrial base with the homestake mine that is now gone. The DUSEL is a wonderful replacement, but is completely bypassing the town with respect to economic impact. The Opera House and Black Hills Playhouse, on the other hand, would become the foundation for a business renewal in the tiny community, and provide many additional opportunities to take advantage of the tourism dollars in the Black Hills.

Third, the opera house will, in the near future, be forced to begin programming regardless of what Playhouse decides to do. It makes great fiscal sense to utilize a production company with so much experience in lieu of recreating the wheel.

It just my humble opinion, but this is a match made in heaven.