By Tanya O’Connor
In 1979, the tenacious little town of Spring Grove put on a play. Forty-two summers later, they’re still there.
Like most good stories, this one isn’t that simple. But reduced to the basics, it’s about a community, a vibrant spirit, and a faith that magic can be captured in a big old barn and reflected on a summer hill.
Ye Olde Opera House (YOOH) opens its well-known barn doors on Thursday, July 15 for the opening night of an abridged version of Monty Python’s “concert style” Spamalot. The performances continue each evening at 8:30 p.m. until Sunday, July 18.
About the show
For those who do not know the musical Spamalot, or the Monty Python work it is based on, think of King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, a mystical lady who lives in a lake, medieval villagers, and the classic hero’s journey – aka the quest. Prepare to laugh because Spamalot is funny – a delightfully clever, joker kind of funny. It’s a show about always looking on the bright side of life, as her well-known signature song suggests.
YOOH has been waiting for this show for a long time. âWe first applied for the rights in 2010,â said YOOH’s David Storlie.
Finally came the pandemic summer, the widespread shutdown of live theater and the actions of Monty Python and Spamalot composer Eric Idle. Idle brought a new option to theaters. “When Monty’s Erik Idle
Python came up with a shorter and smaller ‘concert’ version, we jumped on it, read it and loved it, ânoted Storlie.
Get your tickets
Kay Cross is the theatrical and musical director for this summer. Full cast and crew lists and advance ticket reservations are available at yeoldeoperahouse.org or (507) 498-JULY.
Reserved spaces are $ 16. General admission is $ 12; those who hold general tickets must bring their own chairs. The doors will open at 7:45 pm Golf carts will be available for those looking for assistance on the hill. Popcorn and soda will be available. There will be no intermission.
“This first year is fuzzy, but good.” -A resident of SG remembers the story of YOOH.
This is how Mary Deters of Spring Grove remembers the summer of 1979.
Most cities have someone – or more “someone” – like Mary Deters in their midst. She is that generous spirit which always stands for “any community”. She taught many children, performed in many shows, and sang for hundreds of families in celebration and sorrow. His laughter is unforgettable. And she was with YOOH from the very beginning.
In May 1979, Deters remembers Alice Spenser walking into her classroom saying, âLet’s put on a musical. Deters said she did “what she always did” when Spenser had one of her “less realistic” ideas: she agreed. Then she met Jane Wold at church who told her, âWhat we have to do! Deters, Spenser, Wold, Audrey Liudahl Atchison, Janna Myrah, Kathy Jacobson and Annette Norgard attended the first YOOH reunion. âWe quickly brought in Karen Gray, who had a background in theater,â said Deters. Local physician Dean Whiteway became the premier pianist.
This fledgling team had no money, no show and no theater. But they raised enough money and got the exhibition rights for Annie takes your gun. The main actors were Mary Beth Alstad as Annie Oakley and (then) Trinity Lutheran pastor Ken Knutson as Frank Butler. Karen and Jim Gray donated their barn, which was cleaned out by local 4-H students and community volunteers.
The stage, Deters added, was half its current size and surrounded by chairs from Roble Funeral Home. The bleachers were borrowed from the city’s ball park. The costumes were from the Preston Historical Society because Nancy O’Connor knew someone there. âWith the little money we raised,â said Deters, âwe made a few costumes, bought makeup, lights and paid our directors a pittance.â
Eventually, a constitution and bylaws emerged. The costumes have been moved from the Grays sprawling attic to a new location on Main Street, and the lineup has expanded over the years. âWhenever YOOH has needed financial support or equity capital, the community has responded overwhelmingly,â Deters said.
“There is no case like show business â
Jen Solberg from Spring Grove joined the YOOH family at the age of five. YOOH, she said, is where she met her husband Scott, and it’s one of the reasons they live in Spring Grove as adults.
The YOOH experience is one that the Solbergs are now sharing with their own children, thanks to the theater’s youth options. âI believe that theater can help children find a safe and supportive place to share their thoughts and ideas. Â»In August, the young people will perform Robin Hood’s Very Unhappy Adventures.
During the pandemic, YOOH made three virtual productions and two outdoors, illustrating resilience, creativity or, as Solberg suggests – “a certain stubborn Norwegian”.
Whatever it’s called, the fact remains that the curtains close on many community theaters in less than 10 years – but not YOOH. âThe organization continues,â said Deters, ânot because a handful of people started a year ago, but because the community supported it in the beginning and still does today.â
And while Storlie has said he enjoys working in any performance venue, Ye Olde Gray Barn remains a special place. âIt’s the story that keeps us going,â Storlie said. âWe all want to take the mantle of those who walk the barn floor before us. It’s a great family event and we are all family at the barn.