Outdoor activities abound in the Sheridan area. However, if you are more inclined to seek your entertainment inside, then Sheridan can offer that as well.
Though it may be more well-known for things such as rodeos, hunting, fishing and snowmobiling, Sheridan is also home to a surprising number of theater groups that entertain Sheridan audiences year round.
DannyLee Hodnett, a theater faculty member at Sheridan College, said there are several theater groups operating in Sheridan, including Pick Your Poison, the Civic Theater Guild, the Twisted Stair Theater Company, the New Lear Theater Company and Tandem Productions as well as the WYO Theater, Sheridan College and local high schools.
But how have all these groups been started and even more importantly, how do they stay afloat?
“They have very different focuses,” Hodnett said.
As one example, he explained that the Twisted Stair Company operates at Sheridan College and is comprised mostly of SC theater students who sometimes are not able to get a role in one of the college’s plays. He said there are often more students than there are roles to fill in a certain play. To allow more students to participate, Twisted Stair operates plays independent from the ones the college offers.
He also highlighted the Civic Theater Guild, which is open to all community members with an interest in theater and Tandem Productions, which focuses on children’s theater productions.
Starting a theater company can be a challenge. There are often many costs involved, including purchasing costumes, props for sets, lighting, sound, royalties for use of plays, renting a venue and of course, marketing of plays to attract audiences. These costs can run into the thousands of dollars, requiring financial donations from sponsors, as well as strong ticket sales to audiences.
However, it is possible for a theater group to skip all of these components and simply act whenever and wherever possible.
“Pick Your Poison is the town’s only improv company,” Hodnett said, noting that SC students as well as community members participate in the group. “They don’t produce scripted shows with sets and things like that. It is improv which is a totally different thing than having a script and memorizing it and working it out. They might just ask the audience to give a location or a subject and they build it from there. So people can start theater companies with almost no budget. “
“Students love it,” he added. “One reason they love it is it is very flexible. Some students don’t have the time to be at a rehearsal every day for four months, and with this, you can be involved as intensely as you want or less intensely if you just don’t have the time. They might meet once a week or every other week to keep up on their skills and do different games and exercises to think on their feet.”
But how can a relatively small town like Sheridan build and maintain such a strong theater presence? Hodnett said there are at least two reasons he has considered, and they have been in the making for many years.
“One, Tandem Productions has been going for at least 20 years,” he said. “It was started by Dick and Tami Davis and they do children’s theater. Having done it that long, kids have been raised doing theater. It has become an important thing for a lot of people growing up and they continue doing it in their adult life and support it. I think that is an important reason why this is an unexpected theater town.”
“The Civic Theater Guild is also important,” he continued. “I think they are in their 57th year, so we have over half a century in this town of building an audience. Add to that the WYO which has been bringing in acts since the 1980s and we have a pretty firmly established theater culture here.”
Another vital component of the theater scene noted Hodnett, is the strong financial support of generous patrons.
“They want theater and entertainment and culture,” Hodnett said, noting that donors work hand in hand with a strong base of performers wanting to offer plays to the public. “You have people who want to do theater, but also have the patrons who demand it as well and it is important to them that it gets done. They help direct it, finance it or help in other ways. It is just an important thing in this community.”