Summer Theatre Stays Strong for 46 Years
"If it weren’t for an audience, we couldn’t go on," said Kevin Neuharth, Minot State University associate professor of communication arts and director of the MSU Summer Theatre.
Neuharth would know, he’s been around a long time and remembers tales about when the Amphitheater was just a tent with some fold-out chairs as seats and a 12’x12’ stage. Initially, the idea was tossed around by several MSU faculty members about having theater performances during the summer months, after school was out.
Harold Aleshire, then chair and professor in the Division of Humanities, and Thomas Turner, MSU faculty in the Department of Communication Arts, took the idea and made it a reality. The MSU Summer Theatre began in the summer of 1966 with "Bye-Bye Birdie" performed as the first show in a donated tent in the parking lot, where Hartnett Hall now sits. By 1970, the summer Amphitheater was built on the hill, north of the W.D. Allen Field. In 1972, a young, hard-working Neuharth, with a passion for theater, began working and performing with the Summer Theatre company. He did this for two seasons while in school at MSU, not knowing that one day the stage would be his to run.
Neuharth was hired at Minot State College in 1976 as a theatre and speech instructor, director, technical director and designer, and began working again with the Summer Theatre program. During the frenzy of squeezing work and Summer Theatre together, he also completed a master’s degree in theatre at the University of Denver in 1979.
"I worked with Tom Turner for several years, when he was the director of Summer Theater, and when he decided to leave, it fell on my shoulders," said Neuharth. "Thank goodness for the expertise of Minot High School Theatre director Ron Wineteer. He taught me how to run the theatre as a business, and I had great help with the creative side as well."
In 1980, Neuharth became the artistic director, who hires for positions in costume construction, set construction and design, technical direction, lighting, as well as stage directors, choreographers and music directors. He still directs at least one show every season, designs at least two sets each summer, serves as the business manager, participates in all the casting and chooses a schedule of shows that will entertain any audience.
Summer Theater stays alive because of the involvement of students, community people, and an audience that never seems to give up on this outdoor Amphitheater. Neuharth acknowledges the community keeps the theater going through suggestions for shows and continuing support.
Neuharth explained the amphitheater showcases the talent of students and community members. But for him, the reward is watching students grow and take on more responsibility each day, week and season and get more excited about what they are doing on stage.
"If the audience remains excited then it means that we can do the things we love to do," Neuharth said. "They don’t care if we can’t technically put on a show like ‘Les Misérables,’ they support us and enjoy the performance while having fun with everyone around them."
Even though the weather’s a continual concern, the magic still comes alive every summer, with four different shows and over 20 performances. Improvements are constantly being made at the Amphitheater: what started in a tent grew to an outdoor facility; permanent seats have replaced plastic; added dressing rooms, a lighting booth and an outdoor deck enhance the enchantment and ambiance.
For many years, Neuharth has walked out in front of a crowd and introduced the performances that he hopes an audience will enjoy. He says that through all the changes, challenges and strengths, "there is nothing better than seeing a show on a beautiful summer night on the hill in Minot, North Dakota."