The Northern Fort Playhouse likes to see people use the campground at Fort Sisseton Historic State Park.
That way, folks can enjoy a nice weekend at the park and see both shows, said Northern Fort artistic director Daniel Yurgaitis. Unlike some summer theater companies, the Northern Fort Playhouse alternates from one play to the other.
Six women make up this year's acting company: Sara Pillatzki-Warzeha of Burnsville, Minn.; Yvonne Freese of Lanesboro, Minn.; Haley Hubbard of De Smet; Sarah Honerman of Sioux Falls; Mary Elizabeth Wachs of Aberdeen; and Jessica Massa of Winner.
Those women appear in both “Swingtime Canteen,” which opens Friday, and “The Friendly Hour,” which opens Saturday.
Seeing both plays in a weekend gives audiences “a chance to see how versatile these actresses really are,” Yurgaitis said.
Each play will be presented four times before the season concludes July 20. The theater is in the South Barracks of Fort Sisseton, which is 10 miles southwest of Lake City.
This is the eighth season of the Northern Fort Playhouse, which has a strong connection with Northern State University. Yurgaitis is director of theater at NSU.
Fort Sisseton knew for years that theater was in its future, Yurgaitis said, because research shows that people who visit historic sites like Fort Sisseton also enjoy the arts, including theater and music. The Fort management, therefore, felt that summer theater would be a good fit.
Northern had a been approached a couple of times “before we finally worked out a way to do it,” Yurgaitis said.
In doing plays out in the country, Northern students are following in the footsteps of many actors before them.
“Summer stock is a great tradition in American theater,” Yurgaitis said. “We don't have a lot of it in South Dakota. It's more of an East Coast thing. In New York, it started because the theaters were not air-conditioned in the summers, and so you had actors out of work for three months.”
Those actors headed to resort areas to remain employed. Tourists and vacationers enjoyed seeing plays “and that's kind of stuck,” he said.
The Black Hills Playhouse and Northern Fort Playhouse both stage shows at state parks, the former at Custer State Park.
With the Northern Fort, “we're looking for the tourist audience, but also it's a nice one-hour getaway from Aberdeen, just to get in the car and go to someplace nice and the area is just beautiful out there. People always think of the Black Hills. But we've got some beautiful lakes and rolling hills out there. It's a beautiful setting for theater.”
What's new this year at the Northern Fort Playhouse?
The playhouse has entered into a partnership with the Dacotah Prairie Museum, which will have an exhibit relating to “The Friendly Hour” at the South Barracks.
“The Friendly Hour” involves a women's social club that operated in Beresford from 1934 to 2007. The play was written by Los Angeles playwright Tom Jacobson, who's related to one of the descendants of the Beresford women. Author Caryl Crozier, who's written a book about growing up outside Beresford, will be at the Northern Fort during the season's final weekend. Crozier, who lives in the Twin Cities, will be selling and autographing copies of the book, called “Waking to Mourning Doves.”
“Prairie Sonata,” a film dealing with some of the members of the Beresford women's club, will be shown at the Visitors Center.
Also new this season are wine and cheese receptions before every Friday performance. Lunch options are also available for the two Sunday matinees. The lunch begins at 12:30 p.m. in advance of the 2 p.m. shows. Dinner theater is being offered at the three Saturday night performances.
The Northern Fort show is the South Dakota premiere of “The Friendly Hour.” Yurgaitis thinks this might be only the second or third production.