Profile: County Seat Theater in Carltonby Stephanie Hemphill, Minnesota Public Radio
The County Seat Theater Company in northeastern Minnesota is representative of the dozens of community theaters in smaller towns and rural areas that have seen success over the years.
Carlton, Minn. — The County Seat Theater Company has been a mainstay in Carlton County for 20 years.
The mostly rural county is best known for its paper mill in Cloquet, and the Black Bear Casino, operated by the Fond du Lac band of Chippewa Indians. It's a blue collar area with a sprinkling of farms.
Support for the theater company has been strong enough not just to keep the company going, but to allow it to own its own home.
Cheryl Kramer-Milder says the company got its start when the Carlton High School band asked her to help raise money for their activities. She proposed that the band invest in a play, promising they'd double their money.
That's what happened, and after a couple more years of raising money for the band, Kramer-Milder and the rest of the group decided to spin it off on their own.
She says the group performs "absolutely typical" community theater fare -- comedies, dramas, and musicals. In addition to three plays for adult audiences, they do two children's productions every summer. There's even a teen group that hosts guest lectures, in addition to putting on a play. Some of the teens have gone on to study theater in college.
Kramer-Milder says the company mixes up reliable audience pleasers with more challenging material. Recently they produced "Wit," a play about a woman with ovarian cancer.
After performing in the high school for 13 years, the group bought a small church on Highway 61 south of Carlton. They called their new home Old Country Church Theater. In addition to plays, the church hosts musical recitals, 4-H Club programs, and other community events.
But the County Seat Players are outgrowing the tiny building. Kramer-Milder and her board of directors are launching a capital campaign to buy a former Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall. The spacious building is close to I-35, and Kramer-Milder says it'll be easier for people from Duluth to find. Both actors and audiences have come from Duluth to take part in the local theater.
Kramer-Milder is artistic director, and recently the group hired a general manager. After 20 years, Kramer-Milder says sometimes her work just feels like any old job.
"But what keeps you there is the feeling of accomplishment." she says. "As a director you've taken a great story and made it come to life, you've found more in it than you ever thought you could from reading the script, and you see what unique talents people bring to it."
Last spring The County Seat Theater Company took third place in the Minnesota Association of Community Theaters festival.
The County Seat Theater Company's production of "The Foreigner" opens Sept. 27.