Renovation of a quartermaster warehouse to create the Post Playhouse in 1964 | Local

0





Artistic director Tom Ossowski offers a tour of the costume room at the Post Playhouse for an Upward Bound band on June 21, 2016.


(Photo by Tena L. Cook/Chadron State College)


Traveling the winding roads along historic Highway 20 in the Pine Ridge region of northwest Nebraska, travelers will find Fort Robinson Historic State Park. The former US Army fort comprises a 22,000-acre public recreation area a few miles west of Crawford, which includes a white clamshell community theater building established in 1967.

For over 50 years, the Post Playhouse has entertained guests with shows and musicals as it has undergone renovations and changes of ownership.

It opened in 1964 when Governor Frank Morrison was on his “Boost Nebraska” tour and asked the music and theater departments at Chadron State College to present “Oklahoma!” at Fort Robinson. The college had staged the musical several times that summer, but with no theater available in the park, the show was held outdoors. As a rainstorm swept through the area and the horses used for the rides escaped, the spectacle had an element of realism, according to CSC records.







Post-Playhouse history

Phoebe Boynton, right, costume designer for the Post Playhouse explains to Upward Bound students June 21, 2016, her responsibilities and the places like Italy and Spain she has traveled with her career.


(Photo by Tena L. Cook/Chadron State College)


The theater project fostered a collaboration between the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and Chadron State College to strengthen tourism in western Nebraska. With the first two seasons featuring shows behind the pavilion on the balconies and at the college, the Post Playhouse has earned a reputation for providing quality live entertainment.

People also read…

Located in a converted quartermaster’s warehouse that dates back to when Fort Robinson was an army post, the atmosphere was hot and noisy.

“There was no air conditioning in those days,” said Post Playhouse art director Tom Ossowski. “The wall on the side that faces the highway was a wall of huge fans.”

The performance hall opened in 1967 after CSC received a federal grant “to foster cultural programs in northwest Nebraska,” Con Marshall wrote in a 2011 article.

As the theater turned 25 in 1992, it underwent an architectural renovation, Ossowski said.

“The front door was at the end and the walls were these fake logs, like a log cabin,” he said. “In 1992 they changed the lobby, added the porch, but they also dug into the ground and gave the seats a rake that goes down, so you can see. It was flat ground before that.







Post-Playhouse history

Fort Robinson’s Post Playhouse has been a popular attraction since Chadron State began operating it in 1967. This scene was taken from the 1983 melodrama, “He Ain’t Done Right By Nell.” Participants, left to right, are Randy Oestman, Pat Sibley and Mary Theresa Green.


Chadron State College


Ledges that run the full length of the audience rows formed the base of the original floor. The workers also built a stage, a hatch under the stage and updated the seats to accommodate the new pitch during the renovation.

Following the upgrades, the economy took a nose dive, causing difficulties for the theater. At that time, CSC and Fort Robinson leaders decided they wanted the Post Playhouse to become a nonprofit with a board of directors. In addition to the building’s name being the Post Playhouse, the non-profit organization also operates under that name.

Former general manager Loree MacNeill of Chadron organized a fundraising campaign to keep the Post Playhouse open. Prior to the 2002 season, MacNeill solicited $20,000 in donations with a donation range of $5 to $2,500, according to CSC records.

“People have been very generous,” MacNeill said. “I am extremely grateful to everyone who responded. We received a lot of help, including donations, discounts from vendors and those who helped raise funds. People from across the state and from elsewhere have pitched in. They want the Post Playhouse to stay open.

The Town of Crawford donated $2,500 and the Dawes County Travel Board donated $1,250.







Post-Playhouse history

Actors stand on the steps of the Post Playhouse dressed in costumes during Fur Trade Days on July 18, 1990.


Jerry Ingram/Chadron State College


The Fort Robinson and CSC administration is still active with the playhouse, being represented on the board and collaborating when possible. Since the college produces shows during the winter and the Post Playhouse is a summer venue, they can share equipment such as light panels, props, light instruments, and costumes.

“There is a very good relationship and Randy (Rhine, president of CSC) is very generous with us,” Ossowski said.

One year the playhouse popcorn machine broke down, so Ossowski had to go to Chadron and borrow the college machine, he recalled.

Ossowski is in his 15th year as director of the Post Playhouse, which has expanded to offer more musicals and shows across all genres due to a growing budget. Previously, he directed the musical theater program at Illinois Wesleyan, and MacNeill invited him to direct a play. Two years later, MacNeill called him to direct “The Fantasticks” and be his successor. When he took over after his retirement, he learned that he had no budget.

“When I started, my budget for the first year was $60,000,” he said. “Then I got there and found the taxes hadn’t been paid for three years, so the $60,000 was actually $0.”

Despite these challenges, Ossowski kept the shows going and learned what audiences wanted to see. Now the venue has a budget of $500,000 for the upcoming season.

“I knew musicals would be more successful because people are on vacation and they want to go have fun,” he said. “They don’t want to see Hamlet die. They want something fun, light and entertaining.

The Post Playhouse celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017, where CSC alumni reflected on their time in theatre.

Retired teacher and CSC alum Jane Rice shared her thoughts on her involvement with the Post Playhouse in the summer of 1982.

“I had one of the best times of my life participating in the 16th season at the Post Playhouse,” Rice said. “Fred Wheeler and John Lurvey were both like family. My two crazy talented uncles with big booming voices.

Post Playhouse veteran Kim Huckfeldt expressed his gratitude for the compensation the CSC cast received: college credit, lunch at Crawford’s Corner Cafe, and experience.

“We built the sets, ran the lights, made the costumes, acted, all the work,” she said. “It was very tiring, but I would come back and do it again in a minute if I had the chance.”

Over the next eight years, Post Playhouse productions saw large crowds participate and generate revenue. But after seeing some of the shows a few times, audiences started asking for something new.

“That’s when I started adding a new show into the mix,” Ossowski said. “People are now at a point where they trust that I will bring them what they want to see. I sometimes push the limits, but I would say that more people appreciate it than complain about it.

Show opening dates after Playhouse

Show name Show opening date
Cursed Yankees May 27
Desperate measures June 3
The sound of music June 10
Ladies from the basement of the church June 24
something rotten July, 1st

Looking ahead to the 2022 season, the productions are “Damn Yankees”, “Desperate Measures”, “The Sound of Music”, “Church Basement Ladies”, and “Something Rotten”.

Even though the COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered the Post Playhouse for the past two seasons, the cast and crew are gearing up for a great season of entertainment.

“I’m thrilled to be live again after two years,” Ossowski said. “I want to see everyone back on stage, backstage and in the audience.”

For more information about the playhouse and to purchase tickets online, go to www.postplayhouse.com.

We are always interested in hearing news from our community. Let us know what happens!

Share.

About Author

Comments are closed.