The History of Prairie Wind Players
By Dayle Ray (1993)
On a cold winter's night in 1979, five individuals met at the home of Tim & Kathy Ray. We had indicated an interest in forming a community theatre in our area. Kathy had been involved in a community theatre inVirginia, Minnesota, and liked what she had experienced.
At that meeting we decided "yes" we would form a theatre group. Most of us had no theatre experience since high school days, but we decided that it would be fun to again get involved.
One of the first things we had to decide on was a name for our group. The wind was blowing snow across the prairie that night and after several attempts Tim came up with "The Prairie Wind Players", a name which has stuck with us ever since.
The First PWP Logo
The city of Barrett had been holding an Old Settlers Reunion every 24th of June since 1905. We thought "What a wonderful time for a debut!". We had no money and no place to perform, but we set out to see what we could do. Someone came up with the idea that we might be able to get a grant from the West Central Regional Arts Council in Fergus Falls. Most of us had never heard of this organization, but decided that it might be a good idea to try. Kathy volunteered to write a grant request for a very minimal amount and we were successful in our first attempt.
Next we must think of a play which would be suitable. We all agreed on Spoon River Anthology, a play in which some very colorful characters who had formerly lived in Spoon River, but have since passed away, and were actually speaking about their past from their graves. I stated that I remembered several colorful characters who had at one time been residents of Barrett. By this time we had chosen a director, Marleen Lang, who was at the time a teacher in the Barrett school. She liked the idea and suggested that I write parts for these characters and also act these parts as they were worked into the script. I thought that was a pretty big assignment, but agreed to do it. The play was a overwhelming success and got our theatre off to a good start in the community.
We decided that we could perform in the Barrett Pavilion, however at the time there was a dance there every Saturday night. We wanted to start out with a dinner theatre performance, as there was no such theatre that we knew of this side of Minneapolis. We spoke to a caterer who would be willing to serve a fine meal before our performance. But, we must build our set after the Saturday night dance, and strike it again before the following Saturday night. We had very little opportunity to practice with a set in place, but somehow managed.We used this format for three productions, but then decided that these Crazy Sundays were just too much, and that we had to find another performance area. We thought of several options and finally decided on the old Roosevelt Hall. It had been abandoned by an insulation plant which had gone bankrupt and left ground up newspaper hanging from ceiling to floor. By this time our membership had grown some and we were able to round up several volunteers to clean up the mess. We rented this place for a few years and then decided to try to get a loan and purchase the place. By this time we had enjoyed several successful performances and were able to come up with one thousand of the ten thousand purchase price. We secured a loan from the local bank and were on our way.
For the first few years the Barrett community education organization had acted as our fiscal agent in securing grants, etc. At this time we agreed it was time to formally organize the Prairie Wind Players as a non-profit organization. We had an attorney as a member, and he helped us organize formally and to receive 501(c)3 status, which made us tax exempt and also made contributions to our organization tax exempt. This has been a great help to us in many ways.
We had virtually no lights or sound equipment to start with and borrowed what we actually had to have, and as we made a little money we replenished our supply of equipment. We will never have enough it seems. We have been fortunate in having some generous donors and have been especially fortunate in getting grants from West Central Regional Art (now known as Lake Region Arts Council), and the McKnight Foundation.We have been especially conscious of providing our patrons with both quality performances and quality food at our dinner theatres. We do try to have several dinner theatre performances with each show. We have found that the musicals draw the largest crowds, but also cost the most money to produce. At this time we are able to pay our directors, producers, and all technical personnel. To begin with, everyone was a volunteer.
I think it amazing that what started out as five people looking for some fun has grown into an organization with over 150 members and a budget of over $30,000, and we are still having fun. We do find, however, that at this time we have to be more conscious of the business end of the organization than at the time we started.I firmly believe that any community has the talent available to form and to perform a good community theatre. Always try to remember that community theatre is both fun and educational. I can think of no way where a community might become better acquainted with one another than through community theatre. If you have any questions about our organization which I might be able to answer, I would be happy to do so. Also remember we are always looking for new members, and hope you will choose to become involved.