Community theater fans like the intimacyby Marianne Combs, Minnesota Public Radio
It's opening night at the Lakeshore Players Theatre, as the curtain rises on its production of "Harvey." Audiences appreciate the intimacy and convenience they find in community theaters.
White Bear Lake, Minn. — Opening night at Lakeshore Players brings out a lot of familiar faces. There are the friends and family of the cast, coming to show their support. And then there are season ticket holders -- couples who've made it a tradition to attend opening night.
Jan Kohs is from Forest Lake. She and her husband have had season tickets for years. They always come with their friends the Petersons, after enjoying a dinner out on the town.
Kohs sees other theater on occasion, including shows at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, but she only has season tickets to Lakeshore Players.
"This is wonderful," says Kohs. "We love it. It's plays we've sometimes seen several times -- we're thinking we've seen "Harvey" before -- but it's very entertaining. It's especially good tonight."
Kohs says she brings her grandchildren every year at the holidays. She enjoys not only the performances, but the convenience of having a theater nearby with reasonable ticket prices and free street-side parking.
If you think community theater might be a source of entertainment only for grandparents, Bob and Beth Rogers of nearby Hugo are proof to the contrary. They've just marked their 10th wedding anniversary, and bought themselves season tickets to Lakeshore Players to celebrate.
"We both grew up in White Bear, so it's been many years since we were here as kids," says Bob Rogers. "This is our first time back in 20 years, probably."
"It's great so far," his wife Beth adds. "It's really been fun."
While the Rogers may be much younger than the Kohs or the Petersons, they share with them their appreciation of a sense of intimacy they find at Lakeshore.
Jiliana Sklucazek is president of the Minnesota Association of Community Theaters. She says at a time when so many things going on in a community can pull people apart, she believes community theater brings them back together.
"Often the audience is filled with people who know the folks up on stage," says Sklucazek. "You see people in the lobby you know. It's your neighbors, the people you work with, the people you buy things from, and I think that makes it all feel intimate. If you go to the Guthrie you might run into three or four people you know, not 40."
Sklucazek points to several community theaters across the state celebrating 20th, 30th and 40th anniversaries. She says community theaters in towns like Albert Lea, Faribault, Eagan, Burnsville and Prior Lake offer the locals a chance to see good theater starring people they know.
Sklucazek likens community theater to a local baseball game in which you personally know the players. While the game might be rough around the edges compared to professional baseball, you care more about the people on the field.
Bill Muchow is president of the American Association of Community Theaters, the national version of Sklucazek's organization. In addition to offering an intimate theatrical experience, Muchow says community theaters play an important role in the economic development of small towns.
"A lot of times the community theaters will be the one sort of major entertainment element in a small town," says Muchow.
Muchow says rural areas and small cities typically house the larger community theaters, where the money they spend on sets and props and advertising has an even greater economic impact.
"Some of these community theaters, like Duluth Playhouse, that's a $2 million operation," says Muchow.
Muchow says community theater may be known as just a fun hobby or an evening's distraction. But when you look at what small towns across Minnesota and the nation get out of having their own community theaters, they add up to much more.