Black Hills Playhouse Enriches Rural Communities Through Theatre
Associated with the University of South Dakota College of Fine Arts, the BHP’s mission is to deliver exceptional theatre programs that engage diverse people and strengthen South Dakota communities. The theatre upholds this mission by running year-round education programs that allow students to explore the world of theatre.
One of these programs is Dakota Players, which brings musicals and performing arts workshops to over 40 rural communities across the state of South Dakota and in the region each year. Traveling with costumes, lights, set and sound, Dakota Players puts on week-long performance residencies that engage K-12 students in musical productions. Students audition for around 50 parts on Monday and perform the production by the end of the week.
“We believe that drama is an integral part of the human experience because it teaches you empathy and how to be comfortable with different emotions,” said Deb Workman, education director at BHP. “Theatre lets kids be themselves, and with all the anxiety and stress that the world is feeling right now, I think it’s more important than ever that kids explore these other parts in them.”
For students who live in South Dakota's rural areas, opportunities to engage in theatre productions are often limited. However, the BHP removes those boundaries, opening doors for youth to immerse themselves in the world of theatre.
“There are artists everywhere, but if students don’t have the opportunity to try something, they’ll never know,” said Workman. “If they are a theatre kid but they don’t have a theatre in town, they are able to be seen for the week we’re there. Even for students who don’t want to go work in theatre, the skills you learn through these experiences take you everywhere.”
The Dakota Players program partners with schools, libraries, afterschool programs, community theaters and more to bring these opportunities to communities.
In addition to Dakota Players, the BHP promotes several other programs that encourage both children and adults to engage in performing arts experiences. Some of these programs include The Expanding Stage and the Oceti Sakowin & Dakota Players Theatre Experience.
The Expanding Stage is a program that encourages people of all abilities to experience and enjoy theatre and is organized in collaboration with several partners, including LifeScape Center for the Arts, DakotAbilities and various assisted living facilities.
The Oceti Sakowin & Dakota Players Theatre Experience is designed to introduce students to a wide range of theatrical skills through the lens of the Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings.
"These art-based partnerships have the ability to bring together unique perspectives and drive meaningful change in the world," said Workman. "Imagination is the key to unlocking a world of possibilities and discovering new horizons – the magic of theatre is the perfect way to bring that to life."
The BHP’s programs not only inspire and encourage students but enrich communities as well.
“Even just watching theatre can have a transformative effect on you,” said Workman. “We work with over 50 kids a week, but we don’t just reach the kids who are in the show – we also reach that community.”
Looking into the future, Workman said she hopes the BHP can continue to create new partnerships and increase program opportunities for communities.
“Our goal is always to reach more kids and communities, and I’ve always been amazed to see how this company has continually evolved to meet that goal,” said Workman. “Finding more or different South Dakotan partnerships and reaching more audiences will take our company to a different level.”
Learn more about the BHP and its various programs online.