SHERIDAN — A group of residents dedicated to arts and economic development have begun planning a theater festival in Sheridan for this summer.
“The impetus for this includes a lot of things,” said DannyLee Hodnett, one member of the committee working to pull off the event. “A perfect storm is about to be let loose on Sheridan.”
Bill Rapp, community liaison for the group and ERA Carroll Realty agent, explained that economic development studies done in recent years indicated that the city of Sheridan should pursue several industries. Those included light manufacturing and tech jobs, so officials have put in place infrastructure to help lure such business.
The recommendation to expand the creative economy at that time, he said, was overlooked in favor of industries that would make a bigger splash in the local economy.
The committee of which he is a part hopes to lean heavy on the arts economy to even out some of the ups and downs of the energy industry.
“You want a strong arts economy. It fosters innovation and creativity in business,” Rapp said, adding that it also encourages people to think outside the box.
Hodnett noted that Sheridan struggles to attract businesses as the city competes with other locations that offer more of the lifestyle and culture draws that Sheridan lacks.
“We can up our game to help that,” he said.
Hodnett said the arts are often overlooked as an avenue for economic development, but as a former resident of Los Angeles noted that there the arts are “the industry.”
The goal of the committee’s project is to make Sheridan an arts and culture destination by creating a summer theater festival that lasts two to three weeks with the potential for expansion.
He also noted that the cost of producing new plays often prohibits such work from being done. Theaters are unlikely to risk their bottom lines on untested plays. In a way similar to how Sundance provides an avenue for new and different film formats, Hodnett hopes Sheridan’s theater festival will provide a low-cost option for producers seeking to test new plays.
The idea of a theater festival is not new. Hodnett pointed to Cedar City, Utah, and Ashland, Oregon, as successful examples how it could be pulled off.
The group already has commitments from a nationally known music director and playwright to take part in the festival and the group continues to recruit others to participate.
The festival, tentatively scheduled for July 13-27 with the potential to extend another week, would include workshops and the production and performance of new plays.
Hodnett noted that the event is not meant to compete with other groups in the community, but promote them. He and Rapp said they hope all local theater groups and several regional theater groups will participate. He also noted that by drawing more people to the community, the goal is to encourage visitors to check out other galleries, performances and shows in Sheridan during the same time period.
With the theater festival as the litmus test, organizers also hope to expand and include a focus on visual arts, music and other genres in years to come.
Over time, they said, the goal is to create an arts experience that can last days or weeks for visitors who will stay in local hotels, eat in local restaurants and shop in local businesses.
While the work for the festival is in its early stages, the committee is also planning to launch an arts-focused online calendar. Groups are currently being invited to post their events to the calendar, which in coming weeks will be posted on the Sheridan Travel and Tourism website.
STT Executive Director Shawn Buckley is working with the committee to get the calendar going and promote the theater festival this summer.
“Our interest is getting it (the festival) going and helping sustain it as a viable property of the community,” he said, adding that his organization has a lot of tools ready to help market Sheridan as a destination for the arts.