Now five seasons in the making, the Stage Adventures series is a scion of the ever-improving Sioux Empire Community Theatre. It’s no coincidence that this is same length of time in which Patrick Pope has been the Producing Artistic Director for SECT.
I sat down with Pope last week to discuss SECT’s current production of The Giver, enjoy some pizza, and talk about what’s next for youth theatre education in Sioux Falls.
As Pope explained, SECT produces two shows each season (one musical + one straight play) for the purpose of “planting the seeds” of our next generation of actors. If you’ve never been to one of their Stage Adventure productions, what you’ve been missing is the opportunity to see talented young actors playing the roles of protagonists alongside seasoned adult actors. Age appropriate casting is critical says Pope.
In addition to these two in-season productions, which Pope sees expanding to three productions in the next five years, the Sioux Empire Community Theatre also provides two musical theatre summer camp intensives. This summer they will be offering Seussical: The Musical Jr for children grades 1–8, followed by Hairspray for youth grades 6–12. More information about these summer camps can be found on their website.
And if that wasn’t enough (for Pope it’s most definitely NOT enough), SECT will soon embark on a new educational project aimed at providing more formal training to young actors with its own staff, as well as guest instructors from the University of South Dakota and South Dakota State University.
Student actors will have the option to take a class in one of four disciplines: Acting, Movement, Voice, and Technical Theatre. Within each discipline, SECT will offer up to five levels of study (Acting 1 – 5, and so on). The only catch, students won’t be able to advance to the third level of a given discipline without taking classes in the other disciplines. The same goes for the fifth level of each discipline.
Pope explains that this gatekeeper approach is intended to promote a well-rounded experience for the young actor. Classes will be approximately 90 minutes in length, take place on Saturdays, and run year round with each class lasting one season (Fall/Winter/Spring/Summer).
Pope is planning a special bonus for students completing all twenty classes: a secret “Ensemble” designation and access to a new set of classes focusing on the craft of playwriting. Because SECT will be collaborating with guest instructors from the university, Pope hopes work out a small scholarship opportunity for those students reaching the “Ensemble” level designation.
Stay tuned to the Sioux Empire Community Theatre website for more details of this exciting opportunity.
The leadership of the Sioux Empire Community Theatre (SECT) recently announced that we have accomplished an essential fundraising task. Between Nov. 2015 and March 2016 our theatre raised over $10,000 for an endowment challenge.
After an extensive application process, SECT was selected as one of three organizations by the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation for the Arts Endowment Challenge.
The Arts Endowment Challenge sets lofty goals for the organizations to meet. For us at SECT, this meant that we HAD to raise $10,000 by March 2, 2016. If we had failed to meet that goal, the challenge would have been over and the theatre would have had to reassess its fundraising methods and priorities.
Fortunately this was not the case, our theatre raised more than $10,000 by the end of February and completed this part of the challenge. An endowment for Sioux Empire Community Theatre has been established. But we’re not through the woods.
So, what is an endowment anyway? An endowment means that we will have a professionally managed fund that will incur interest and grow through the years. The fund can always be added to and a percentage can be drawn from it for board-designated projects or needs. The Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation will manage this endowment.
The next step for SECT is both exciting and daunting. We must now raise an additional $90,000 by Dec. 31, 2018. When we accomplish this goal the Foundation will add an additional $33,000 to the endowment! This money will help to ensure the financial future of the organization for the theatre long-term.
This is truly exciting news for our vibrant community theatre. It speaks to how bold the organization’s vision is. But this is a daring endeavor to undertake and we’ll need all the help we can get out of the ‘community’ part of our name.
The $90,000 has to be raised in addition to the fundraising we already do to keep the theatre operational.
Operating a theatre of this size is very expensive. With seven major productions and two youth camps produced annually, costs add up quickly. Costs such as facility rentals (SECT rents their facilities from SMG, the company that manages the Orpheum for the City of Sioux Falls), performance rights, construction materials, insurance, marketing, stipends, and salaries are just a small sampling of operational costs. Ticket sales account for approximately 60% of the income with the rest coming from personal donations, corporate sponsorship and grants.
A special task force is being assembled to help with the extra fundraising effort over the next 34 months and counting, but if you want to help out now – here’s where to send your tax-deductible donation:
Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation, (please put “SECT endowment fund” in the memo line) 200 N. Cherapa Place, Sioux Falls, SD 57103. Or you can make a credit card gift at http://www.sfacf.org. Note: SFACF is charged approximately 2.5% fees for credit card transactions made online.
We hope to see support continue to roll in. If any readers have further questions, please contact me at email@example.com.
I recently sat down for lunch with Patrick Pope of the Sioux Empire Community Theatre to discuss their production of The Giver, showing now through March 20, 2016. If you’re not familiar with the novel or stage adaptation, check out Maxine Houlihan’s synopsis and review here on The Falls Theatre Blog. The Giver is part of SECT’s Stage Adventure series: theatre that is affordable and accessible for the whole family.
Pope is unapologetically passionate about the future of theatre in South Dakota. Stay tuned for a feature article about his vision of youth theatre education in Sioux Falls. As the Producing Artistic Director of SECT at The Historic Orpheum Theatre Center, he also has a special interest in the vibrancy of the budding urban landscape that is Downtown Sioux Falls.
We met up at A Taste of the Big Apple in Uptown. Where is “Uptown” you may ask? Good question. I’m still looking for an exact set of boundaries myself. But from my experience, its the area surrounding Main and Phillips Ave, north of 6th Street toward Falls Park.
In Uptown you will find the Uptown Exchange Lofts and Phillips Ave Lofts. You know those new gray, cerulean and maroon buildings along the parkway leading to the Falls. You also have older buildings that have been renovated into residential and commercial spaces, even a church.
Located in the Dakota-Moline Plow Co. & Dempster Mill Mfg building, A Taste of the Big Apple is just off N Main Ave on 4th Street. If you haven’t spent much time in this part of town lately, I encourage you to go for a stroll and see what’s changed.
Nearby you will find the Museum of Visual Materials and the Icon Lounge. I enjoy strolling through this part of town on my lunch hour and let me say, there have been some stunning views of the Old Courthouse Museum clock tower during the dead of winter with the low sun in the southern sky.
Entering the Big Apple, you are hit immediately with the smell of fresh pizza dough. Behind the counter sits a stack of boxes, reminding you that if the weather is too nice, you can always opt to take your pizza to Falls Park for an impromptu picnic. If you chose to stick around and enjoy the smells, the dining room seats around 50. There is also a covered patio running the entire length of the south side of the building.
On the menu are thin crust pizzas galore. In addition to pizza they have calzones, soup and salads, and appetizers. I’m going to try Grandma’s Knish on a future visit. Grandmothers have a special way in the kitchen.
Open for lunch and dinner daily, this is a perfect choice if you are taking a group of hungry kids out to eat before or after the show. Or, as was the case of my meeting with Mr. Pope, it’s a great place to get away for a quiet lunch on a weekday.
Not on the menu but available to order at a reasonable price is an individual 7-inch pizza ($7-$8). On our visit I had the Little Italy’s Garden in this single serving pizza. It was chock full of roasted tomato, chunky mushrooms, and artichoke: a satisfyingly light lunch option. At a previous visit my brother, 11-year-old nephew and I split the large (16-inch) New Yorker, a pie that was unctuously cheesy and meaty.
My recommendation: Get out and see The Giver at the Sioux Empire Community Theatre. Share the experience with a youngster; and afterward, hoof it over to A Taste of the Big Apple for some delicious pizza. The kid will thank you for it.
A Taste of the Big Apple
600 North Main Ave
Mon – Sat, 11am-2pm & 5pm-9pm
Sun, 4pm-8pm Patio Seating: Lots Vegetarian: Yes Beer/Wine: Yes & Yes Parking: Street
Imagine living in a colorless world where there is no passion, no restlessness, no creativity. As a person who feels her emotions, often in their extremes, I would never survive. It is the sensory input, the variety, the reactionary feedback that inspires us to re-invent our future to accommodate change. But, what if there was no diversity, and we were fiercely prohibited from even thinking about innovation? What if we were, for all eternity, mandated to “sameness”? Would we rebel? Would we comply for the sake of tradition?
These are the questions Lois Lowry poses in her novel “The Giver”, which has been adapted for the stage by Dramatic Publishing Company. This chilling tale of a suppressed community has been given life by the Sioux Empire Community Theatre, whose actors are ready to mesmerize you on the stage of the Anne Zabel Theatre at the Orpheum.
We are introduced to this nameless community by two identical announcers who pace like sentinels as they watch their human charges, declaring rules in a tin-can tandem that sent a tingle up my spine. They inspired thoughts of Mr. Spock and his logical monotone; Siri, as she tells me to take the next exit; even Austin Powers’ Fembots, but without the sex appeal. Karrisa Kummer and Elaina Wegleitner never broke character and I found myself unable to look them in the eye as they passed.
We enter the story as Jonas, a boy of eleven who has no last name, paces anxiously, stressing about the upcoming ceremony where he will give up his childhood and be assigned a lifelong vocation. Outside of his home he is only referred to as “Number Nineteen” of “The Elevens”. Although they have been assimilated into the culture, Jonas’ family displays a contrasting bit of empathy, but insists that he do as all have done before him. He and his friends brood over what assignments they will receive, as not all are desirable.
Fast forward to the “Ceremony of Twelves”, where Jonas’ friends are given ordinary jobs, but Jonas is assigned the title of Receiver of Memories. This is a revered position that he does not understand, and it’s profound responsibility has the potential to isolate him from life, as he has known it.
Jonas is soon introduced to The Giver, a brooding man who seems vexed with the idea of transmitting all of the world’s memories into Jonas. You see, Jonas will be the Library of Alexandria, in human form. Throughout the show I was hypnotized by Jay Wickre as The Giver. He portrayed true empathy and despair through his movements and facial expressions, but, above all, I was transfixed by his eyes. They were piercing and emotive and I couldn’t look away.
As Jonas receives memory after memory, he becomes overwhelmed. He begins to see the community in a new light; and not a good one. His family and friends don’t understand what he is going through, and he feels support only from The Giver. He questions why the “sameness” is necessary, and is told that it is for the good of the people. There is a day, a scale-tipping day, when Jonas receives a shocking revelation about his family, and he can no longer accept the status quo. This twelve-year-old boy must now make a choice that could put him on a perilous new path through the unknown.
This production kept me on the edge of my seat all evening. Director Andy Heller clearly had the creative vision to assemble a great cast and keep them focused. What really stood out for me was the talent of the children. Young Robert Baker, as Jonas, had reams of lines to memorize and he delivered them all with just the right amount of emotion. I noticed that, the first time he laughed in character, he chose a cackling tone that clearly demonstrated his character’s lack of experience with joy. Jonas did not know how to laugh. Noah Bunger was moving as Asher, clearly displaying his angst about life as a “Twelve”. Olivia Gordon’s Fiona infused her character with a bit more contentment than the others. It made sense for a young girl who is okay with her world and satisfied with her job. Cast as little sister Lilly, Cassidy Jennings was adorable in braids and bows, carrying around a stuffed elephant that her character would never have seen in real life. She successfully portrayed the rebellious nature of a younger child, who is sometimes grumpy, regardless of what her elders say. Alex Vasquez and Jessica Tebben, who played Jonas’ parents, allowed their characters to display some emotion and empathy for their children. It showed an adherence to the rules in public, but some parental love within the home. Cheryl Matthews was pompous, forceful and condescending as the Chief Elder. It was spot on; she scared me. Last, but not least was Johanna Merrill as Rosemary, whose story we learn mostly through dialogue. We don’t see much of her, but, when we do, the sorrow is raw on her face.
The Zabel Theatre was arranged with the stage on one end, set pieces on the floor, and a U-shaped audience surrounding it. It was easy to see the action from any seat in the house. Sound effects successfully brought in a sensory effect, and a screen on the stage allowed us to enter Jonas’ mind when he was thinking.
This production of “The Giver” clearly stayed true to the themes in the book. I did not know what to expect, as I have never read it, but this cast drew me in and didn’t let go. The show runs the next two weekends and can be seen at a very reasonable price. With a running time of just over an hour and no intermission, I would recommend it for anyone over the age of ten. I think younger kids might struggle with the concept and get fidgety. See the show, then go get coffee and dessert and talk about it!
The Giver runs March 10 – 20, 2016. Thurs., Fri. & Sat. at 7 p.m. and Sat. & Sun. at 2 p.m.
For the last few years, Sioux Empire Community Theatre has progressively improved in its quality of productions, changing for the better what we’ve come to expect from community theatre companies. Their production of Neil Simon’s Lost In Yonkers continues this trend impressively.
Neil Simon tells a story of two young brothers, Jay and Arty, who are left with their domineering grandmother while their father takes a traveling job to pay off debt. While their mother was alive, the boys had not been close to their father’s side of the family. Now stranded among them, the brothers come to know to their developmentally disabled Aunt Bella, their charmingly deceitful Uncle Louie, their distressed Aunt Gert, and of course their larger-than-life Grandma Kurnitz. The show features a broad array of emotions and perspectives. The audience may laugh and cry. The characters are genuine and evoke empathy – even the ones who are harmful.
Director Jim Leyse is an intriguing combination of a deep, contemplative mind and an ever-present sweet sense of humor, which makes him a perfect fit to bring a Neil Simon play like Lost In Yonkers to life. He was able to pull together a cohesive cast who could pass for their ages and relation to each other, then make them live naturally on the set. His eye for talent formed a perfect ensemble
Young actors Blake Anderson (Jay) and Aaron Conrdron (Arty) were nice choices for the brothers. Neil Simon gifted them with some great lines that made them the sweethearts of the production. The two carried themselves with ease – more than I might expect of young men with such a line burden and stage time. I appreciated how Jay Wickre (Eddie) and Sue Martens (Aunt Gert) owned their smaller roles and still managed to standout. DJ Steckelberg (Uncle Louie) portrayed a New York bruiser with just the right balance of toughness for the streets and tenderness for his family. Lesser actors would have played Louie full throttle, but DJ was able to dynamically portray an angry man with something brewing just beneath the surface. Sonja Niles played Grandma Kurnitz with the sternness you would expect by reading the script. Her physicality was believable. Hers was a difficult role – in other plays, the villain isn’t railed against throughout the production by the people they’ve hurt. Sonja handled that challenge well by delivering hurtful dialogue in a way we kind of approve of.
Molly Leyse (Bella) is a veteran of the Sioux Falls community theatre scene. I have seen Molly perform many different characters, but for the first time I felt she completely transformed herself for this role. At times I felt like I would like to have seen Bella less like a five year old, but that’s probably a personal preference and nitpicking an otherwise brilliant performance. Molly Leyse earns this role every second she’s on the stage, and she does it exceptionally well.
The scenes were connected with Jay Wickre’s recorded voice, as he read aloud letters Eddie wrote to his sons. Jay’s voice-over delivery played a bit for the laugh, which contrasted with the rest of the cast with its lack of nuance. The entire cast was caught in an unfortunate trap with New York dialects; some actors were spot on, some were muddled, and some didn’t have a dialect at all. That’s a difficult situation for actors in community theatre, who each may have varying abilities to master dialects. You can’t not do dialects if they are placed in such a distinctive city, so the cast did what they could.
All of these performances were supported by Benjamin Kramer’s set design. It is striking, but at times a bit cumbersome for the Orpheum’s limited stage. It had some troubling attributes, like a door perpendicular to the audience and richly-constructed columns in the middle of the rooms which seemed unnecessary. The layout of the apartment was confusing, with the kitchen on the other side of an upstage external building. The set was in a loft over an ice cream store, but it appeared to be in a high rise apartment. However, it was dressed very well to fit the heavy mood of the apartment’s main occupant. Nick Rokahr’s lighting design was able to get around the set with multiple angles and cues. Paint Charge Sara Nadenicek has crafted a number of recent sets, but none so artistically as Lost In Yonkers. She executed Kramer’s design and created a perfectly detailed piece of art on stage, from the downstage floors to the buildings in the background.*
Samanda Nunnery’s costume design was the most diverse, interesting, tailored, and accurate period dress in any SECT performance I’ve ever seen. I’m sure other local theatre companies hope this fourth-year college student sticks around after graduation to make their productions look this good.
Sioux Falls needs to experience this show. I have never seen a faster standing ovation from an audience, so trust in their experience – this show lands, and you have one more weekend to catch it.