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Gig&Tell: Black Hills Playhouse

  • I will not be joining you...    
    06/08/2015  5:47pm

    I have worked at this theatre for 5 shows on two separate contracts. Some people love it here; Most don't. All I can say is that I have VERY mixed feelings about the whole experience and I wouldn't go back unless I was absolutely desperate.

    -The area of the theatre is beyond BEAUTIFUL! It's about 45 minutes from Mt. Rushmore and you are in the beautiful Black Hills of SD. Buffalo roam freely and there is a glorious lake that is about a 10 minutes walk from the housing.
    -All of the building you need are about 100 yards from each other. If you're super tired, you can wake up 10 minutes before rehearsal and get there on time.
    -There are a ton of fun touristy things to do on days off. You'll feel like you're on vacation as long as you buddy up with someone who has a car.
    -The talent level is pretty good. They get a lot of their cast from the South Dakota university students, and Midwestern regional auditions. Both years I was there, there were some amazing people, and the rest were at least well trained.
    -They are generally pretty good about putting people in the whole season. Most actors get a lead in 1+ shows, and ensemble or small roles in the others.
    -The theatre has a serious following. People in the area love it and so houses are usually really good.
    -They have a volleyball court and volleyball is a HUGE deal to the company. People would play after every meal before call and take it super seriously. They even have a tournament towards the end of the summer.
    -They loveeeeee their traditions. There are opening night parties and events frequently. Every year they have a huge Christmas in July party which is a ton of fun. People put on a variety show and there's a gift exchange, it's great. You also can't have Christmas without Christmas Eve, or in this case Tequila Eve. Yah.

    THE MEHHs:
    -Everything is uphill. Somehow they managed to make that possible. So after 8 hours of dance rehearsal and a show, you have to hike up this steep hill to go to sleep. Great exercise but it stucks.
    -They have this system that if you are still enrolled in college, you have to work in the scene shop when you aren't in rehearsal. If you're out of school, you're allowed that time to learn your lines, relax, hang out, go to the lake etc. etc. This creates a CRAZY amount of tension within the company and made for a very uncomfortable us vs. them experience.
    -The production values are really hit or miss. A couple of the shows I did were absolutely visually breathtaking in every way, while others looks sloppy and unfinished.
    -The direction is also kind of hit or miss. I had one of the best directors of my life and one who seemed mentally unstable. I also had a music director who threatened to sabotage my performance while drunk at a bar one night... so there's that.
    -Everyone has daily grounds cleaning duties. Necessary but pretty gross. Sweeping a dressing room, I understand, but cleaning toilets? No thanks
    -The housing was updated for my second season (thank the lord) but it's still pretty lousey. It's dorm style and quite small. You share a bathroom with like 12 people and they limit your showers to a couple of minutes. Also ours was always full of nature bits, so you would get out of the shower and instantly feel dirty again. Also, pretty much everyone has a roomate and so when people start hooking up... stuff gets real awkward.
    -The choreography was generally watered down and unoriginal. In the one big dance show that I did, we could tell that the choreographer was frequently making it up as she taught it.
    -I personally found the artistic team to be unsupportive when people had actual problems. They seemed really nice most until you came to them with an actual problem and you get brushed off. One member of the team was also really bad about talking behind peoples backs.
    -There is also clear favoritism with the people who went to the University because many of their professors are the ones directing the shows.

    -You are stuck in the literal middle of nowhere. NO cellphone service!!! There is wifi but they regulate it very strictly (no netflix, no streaming, no using it at all during heave box office hours). The closest Walmart is a 45 minute drive. You will be essentially unplugged for the summer.
    -NO AIR CONDITIONING!! You will sweat your tail off all day long. I actually got sick one day working in the scene shop between rehearsals because it was so hot.
    - Our company was unbearably cliquey both years; the second year was worse than the first. There was a time when I needed to buy deodorant or something important and a group was going to Walmart and they just flat out wouldn't let me come. No reason, just being rude.
    -The food is TERRIBLE. We had a number of cast members who had trouble maintaining their weight because the cook used so much butter and crap in our food. Almost no vegetarian options, definitely no vegan or gluten free, way to many carbs to sustain such active people. Just badddddd
    -The company morale is so poor. People were unhappy 90% of the time and it brought the quality of our work down. When you're in a 90 degree rehearsal space and have been working you butt off all day, and all you hear is how much everyone hates it and wants to go home, it's hard to keep motivated.
    -This is probably my biggest gripe of all. They have this weird fraternal like organization within the company that you are inducted into during your second season. It ostracizes the rest of the company and makes people really uncomfortable. You are hazed, taunted and then inducted in this ritual that I found pretty racist to Native Americans. It was so unprofessional, has absolutely nothing to do with theatre and just felt wrong to me in so many ways.

    So all in all, if you want to have a fun, touristy summer in the hills, do some decent theatre and party like a college kid on $300 a week, be my guest. I will not be joining you.