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Commentary: Issue a casting call to community

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Those of us lucky enough to live in the Red Wing area have access to one of the finest theaters in the land, the historic Sheldon Theatre.

The Sheldon Theatre of Performing Arts has an event calendar that brings us an array of entertainment that is second to none. From professional groups and traveling performers to home town pageants and celebrations, the Sheldon has it all.

With this success there is one footnote, however. In 1988 the Sheldon Theatre absorbed the Red Wing Playhouse (the Red Wing community theater group) and it became the Phoenix Theater.

Since that time the productions have become more professionally produced and perhaps better in many ways. If there is a downside, it’s as the Phoenix productions increased, the “community theater flavor” was lost and the pool of amateur actors dwindled.

Many “hometown” actors became intimidated with the professional approach and as a result, we now see many of the same people in play after play, production after production. This may not be all bad, but I believe we could do better. I believe city residents would support a community theater group that was not associated with the Sheldon’s Phoenix Theater. Like the “minor leagues” if you will.

Prior to this new golden era of performing on the grand stage of the Sheldon Theatre, the Red Wing Playhouse (which began as the Penthouse Club in the late 1950s) held try outs at the city library and for a few years produced plays at the St. James Hotel down in the Mississippi room. It was Dinner Theater at its finest! There wasn't a stage, but we made do, and we had a ton of fun doing it.

A couple of plays produced in the mid-1980s that I was lucky enough to be involved with were Neil Simon‘s “The Good Doctor” and Ira Levin‘s “Death Trap.” There were many other productions prior, but I believe “Death Trap” was the final production before the Rededication Festival of the Sheldon Theatre in 1988.

The theater had been completely remodeled back to its former breathtaking glory and from September to December of 1988, the festival was in full swing. On Oct. 7, 1988, the Red Wing Playhouse presented the opening production for the newly remodeled theater. The play was “Tom Sawyer” with a cast of 23 characters and 34 non-speaking parts.

The production crew numbered into the forties and I was lucky enough to be the play's director. We all were amateurs doing what we loved to do and from the reviews we received, our audiences loved it also.

The Red Wing Playhouse was never to be the same after that production and would soon become the Sheldon’s Phoenix Theater. This was bittersweet in that it was a new beginning and at the same time a sad ending for the Red Wing Playhouse, Red Wing’s community theater group.

I know we can’t go back, but it would be wonderful to see the rise of a new community theater group. Fresh ideas and fresh faces on makeshift stages, pure theater! In conclusion I can only say, Community Theater, how I miss thee … .

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