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Published August 02, 2009, 12:00 AM

Flooding shuts down summer theater venue

Show goes on at LaMoure Public School
GRAND RAPIDS, N.D. – For more than 80 years, a rural theater here hosted graduations, church services, gatherings and performances.

By: Katie Ryan, Jamestown (N.D.) Sun, INFORUM

GRAND RAPIDS, N.D. – For more than 80 years, a rural theater here hosted graduations, church services, gatherings and performances.

This year, the setting stands empty, save for the remnants of the tousled auditorium seating, a broken stage and a curtain with water marks waist high.

Floodwaters inundated the LaMoure County Summer Theater this spring, leaving broken appliances, overturned stage props and a sediment-covered concrete floor. Any events scheduled to use the space, including the 38-year-old summer musical, were canceled, displaced or rescheduled.

But the lack of venue didn’t stop the cast and crew of “The Music Man,” which moved to LaMoure Public School for performances, said Darcy Brandenburg, the musical’s co-director.

Brandenburg, a native of Edgeley, remembers his first exposure to the

LaMoure stage as a second-grader. Even as a 7-year-old, the stage called to him, he said.

Now, he and his wife, Lauren Brandenburg, teach music education and live in Fargo. In the summer, however, they travel south and direct the LaMoure County Summer Musical.

The theater gives children and adults an opportunity to perform and practice their talents – opportunities families might not have if they had to travel to larger cities such as Jamestown or Aberdeen, S.D., 48 and 69 miles away, respectively, the couple said.

“The thing is, the theater has something for everybody ... You can find your common bond ... Someone has to act, someone has to play oboe and someone has to weld,” Darcy Brandenburg said, eyeing paint and permanent marker signatures in the boys dressing room.

The dressing room walls at the theater are graffitied with the names of cast and crew from as far back as 1973. The dressing rooms’ history encourages travelers to return years later in search of the names of family, friends and even themselves.

“This theater’s just been engraved in the community for so many years,” he said.

The LaMoure County Summer Theater provides more than just a venue, the Brandenburgs agreed. Mothers and fathers watch their children perform on the same stage their own parents once performed on. Some parents even perform on stage or behind the scenes with their children in the same show.

One of those families is the Spiese family of Oakes.

Michael A. Spiese stars as Harold Hill, the production’s lead, in “The Music Man.” “The Music Man” is Spiese’s 35th production at the La-Moure County Summer Theater. His wife, Suzanne, choreographed the show and designed costumes.

The couple’s children perform, as well.

Abigail, 16, plays oboe, English horn, bassoon, piccolo and flute in the orchestra. Carley, 14, and Julia, 11, sing in the chorus and are principal dancers. And Michael B., 9, plays the character of Winthrop Paroo.

The theater gives the area a cultural identity, Michael A. Spiese said. The flood damaged it, but the venue isn’t devastated.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency deemed the building structurally sound and might assist with some of the cleanup costs.

The stage will need repairs and the floors will need washing, but the building itself will stay.

“We haven’t lost the heart and soul of what that theater is,” Spiese said.

That theater is what makes some members of the cast and crew return every year.

Kelle Bacon, 20, also grew up in Edgeley, and now is a junior at the University of Mary in Bismarck. Bacon said she planned to suspend her involvement with the musical because of her schooling. After the flooding and relocation, however, Bacon said she couldn’t let this year be her last with the theater.

“I have to come back another year. I can’t let my last show be at LaMoure High School,” she said.

And while the cast and crew are grateful for the opportunity to perform at the school, the feeling and the charm of the theater itself are missing, Darcy Brandenburg said.

“When you’re out here, it’s just inspiring,” he said.

The musical ends today but expects to perform within the domed ceiling of the theater next year. Already, the community has offered some support for its renovations. Attendance at last week’s performances was higher than attendance the year before, Lauren Brandenburg said. Those who attended made additional donations, as well.

The flood was a tough break, said Bob Muhs, board member who also plays the role of Mayor George Shinn. But the show must go on.

“It’s an act of God,” Muhs said. “You just deal with it.”

The Jamestown Sun and The Forum are both owned by Forum Communications Co.