Acting Like Adults

The Adventures of Leigh Hooks in Children's Theatre

Archive for the tag “sturgis community”

Broken Heart Ranch, East of Firesteel

“Oh he haw” I say

“Oh wah-hee” Says Jane

“Oh flan-hee”

“Oh waaa-heeee”

“Oh waan-flee”

“Close enough” Says Jane

“My French never was very good.” Says I

Mobridge is tucked away on the shores of the Missouri River and Lake Oahe (oh-wah-hee) in North Central South Dakota along Highway 12. Oahe, in Lakota, can mean: “A place to stand” or “foundation”. Which is exactly what Mobridge was established as during the Cowboy era. From the late 1800’s through perhaps 1915 the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba were tied to the boom and eventual bust of the cattle industry. Hundreds of thousands of Cattle moved through the Dakotas, and more specifically through Mobridge and Evarts, to be transported all around the continent. In Ike Blasingame’s Dakota Cowboy: My Life in the Old Days, Blasengame describes in pristine detail the environment and circumstance of 1911 Central Dakota. Mobridge also served as an important railway stop for all kinds of freight and passengers. Cattle Barons like Murdo McKenzie and G.E. Lemmon would make connections, to the now ghost town, Evarts to check on their herds. When they left the cattle business, they bought land and founded their towns: Murdo and Lemmon South Dakota.

(Lemmon S.D. has the worlds largest petrified wood park!,_South_Dakota)

(Murdo S.D. is pretty average:,_South_Dakota)

Mobridge is an interesting town. It is on the edge of both the Standing Rock and Cheyenne Reservations and is mostly pedestrian in nature. The community serves mostly as a service stop for the area, it has: 2 banks, 1 library, 1 chamber of commerce, 5 gas stations, 5 or 6 bars, 3 liquor stores, 1 abandoned rail depot, 1 pet shop and 1 coffee shop. The coffee shop was particularly interesting as it was also a book and floral shop: Bridge City Florist and Gourmet Coffee. Nothing says fun like roses, trashy romance novels and mocha’s! During one of our visits there, the barista asked why I was in town (she said I look like a foreigner and had to inquire to satiate her curiosity) and I explained what we do. She said: “Oh I thought you would be in town filming the Australians.” WHAT?! As it turns out, an Australian film company, Start A Riot, had been filming a documentary  about the Lakota on the nearby reservations. This was sparked from the ashes of and ideas that the Rez is full of broken and battered people. From personal experience I can say that such ideas are simply not true. check it out!:

Synergy Youth Movement:

Start A Riot: (they are connected to The Sitting Bull College:

Needless to say I was very excited to hear that people across the planet had even heard of South Dakota. On another note, I get asked if I’m from anywhere but America. People has asked: Poland?, Egypt?, Iraq?, Spain?, Native?, Mexican?, Greenland? I always feel flattered but ultimately joyous when I tell them I grew up in Minnesota. Surprise and disappointment all mixed together. The Barista was happier to hear that I work with kids and liked my coffee.

The kids of Mobridge were great! We had a lot of older kids turn out for the show which makes it a lot of fun because they can help teach the younger ones and they learn faster so you can do more! At one point I threw them a curve ball: after meal breaks we would try to collect them back into the theatre as quickly as possible. I took to yelling random Spanish and German phrases and pointing the the direction of the theatre. Some of the kids had no idea what to do. Some would freeze up not knowing what to do. Other would question what I wanted and some would just hurry to the theatre. Some would trip other themselves trying to both move towards to door and decipher what I was saying at the same time. While they made piles with each other, I would be yelling “The Chair! The Chair! Right Now from the Library!”

Whilst running my language experiments, I really pushed them that week. My pirates were still pretty young so I had them set but, we had three cousins that were 13-15. I gave them all kinds of feedback and ideas to try and fiddle with. I was especially strict with movement and placement of their feet, how they look at each other, how they look at the audience and their relationships with each other. Admittedly, I threw a lot at them in 20 hours but they seemed to catch on and retain much of it, even in front of an audience. And the best part: they had fun! We had so much fun leading and learning from them all week it was hard to say good-bye. Our host family, Jane and Lowell, said we had done very well with them and the show and that we erased any doubt they had about bringing us in.  Another week put on the top shelf.

When leaving Mobridge to the West, one has to cross a beautiful American Gothic two-lane bridge spanning Lake Oahe and into Cheyenne. From there you might head South on Highway 20 just past the casino. The road runs out over a patch of hills forgotten by Eisenhower but make great cow paths. Cresting the last hill, the old highway can be seen stretching like a varicose vein into the range lands. The new black top curves hard to the right leaving its brethren to roll out into the lost fence lines and lazy hawk tracks of the horizon. Highway 20 converges and marries Highway 63 through Trail City with its junk yard lawns. Abandoned and broken by time. Just after Timber Lake, which has no Timber left, 63 cuts South through a fallowed field. As you turn left, in just the drop of a lash, Broken Heart Ranch beats crookedly to the North. Under grey thunder heads and barren trees it bleed coal and cattle as did most of Cheyenne. Leaving towns stripped to Historical Markers like Firesteel to the West. 63 takes you away from this tortured earth, South to Eagle Butte. Broken Heart becomes a reflection in the dust.

With Love, All the Best, Travel Safe


P.S. From Faith SD to Isabel SD is a stretch of 72 miles with no services. Thanks for reading.

Rapid City Shuffle

Rapid City reminds me of a place in a folk singer’s lyrics:

“…It’s a dusty old Jewel in the South Puget Sound…” (Thrice All American– Neko Case)

“…There’s a backwards old town that’s often remembered…” (Paradise- John Prine)

“…Drinking whiskely till he’s had his fill, Inspired by, a summer storm…” (Where is My Love?– Lucinda Williams)

Nestled in The Badlands and Black Hills of South Dakota is the sprawling, ever stretching, Rapid City. Here lies the second most populous place in South Dakota with 59,607 residents (second to Sioux Falls: 123,975). Living mostly in the flatlander’s paradise of Sioux Falls, the bastion of East River, Rapid was a great stop. Leaving out the chinky tourist attractions, Rapid has a lot to offer. Being situated so close the the boarders of Montana and Wyoming right along the infamous I-90, it is a welcome pit stop. A beautiful spot in the valley of the buttes.

While on our residency there: myself, Kevin and Jacinta (who stuck around just for kicks) we met a friend of ours: Eric Hedlund. Eric has previously worked for The Dakota Players (aka CTCSD) and knew exactly what a touring artist needed in a town:

1. Coffee. Most of the Theatrical crowed runs on coffee (also reference point 4) . Not just in the Morning but at all times of the day and sometimes night. And not the dirty-water gas station stuff that a Nomad can find at any Sinclair. Real, Imported, Espresso-infused, sleep shaking, kick in the pants, coffee. Rapid has several such luxurious establishments. Of course there are Starbucks and Seattle’s Best but also home grown stuff like: Alternative Fuels. If you don’t mind the Christian atmosphere it’s a great spot to juice up on main street and watch the traffic.

2. Free Wi-Fi. For communication and a bulk of our entertainment. Luckily most Coffee Houses have free wi-fi (bonus).

3. Food that is not Fast. Something that might be green and not served in a wrapper. A nice meal that takes time and can be called adult. Even if it’s Three Cheese Pasta aka Mac n’ Cheese. Rapid has a plethora of great food and nifty spots like: The Firehouse. A restaurant built in the first established firehouse in Rapid. It also serves as a mirco-brewery (see point 4).

4. Beer and Wine. After a long day with the kids, you might need a stiff drink. Now mind you, all around Dakota one can find plenty of Domestics, such as: Bud Light, Bud, Miller Light, Coors Light, Coors, Shiner Bock, PBR, Grainbelt, MGD, Bud Select, MGD 64, etc. What the traveling artist needs is something tasty and new. Luckily, Rapid is full of great drink spots which also serve food! The Firehouse, Paddy O’Riely’s, Murphy’s, all have great food and exciting drinks.

5. Social Events. Other people to talk to and not about children. With this job we meet a lot of people and get invited out every now and then. It’s important to get out by yourself sometimes and talk to a stranger or dig the city with a friend. Rapid has a seasonal ice rink, movie theatres, music shops, open mics and a Hookah Bar (Ifrits). Not to mention (which I will) the Downtown district is full of great shop to stop into (lots of book places, a comic and gaming shop, thrift and antique).

6. A place to stay. A nice bed to sleep in and is preferably close to points 1-5. Working with kids makes you take the easy going conveniences of life very seriously.

Eric pointed us to all the right places flawlessly and with enthusiasm. It’s always good to meet a friend on the road. He’s been living and working out there with The Black Hills Community Theatre, Cherry Street Children’s Theatre and The Dahl Arts Center. Eric was also our contact person for this residency. He warned us that he wasn’t sure how many kids would audition and from that he could not discern their experience level. So, Kevin and I auditioned the kids and cast the show. 20 of 50 parts were filled (only 20 came and we usually need 23 to make a minimum.) Eric said he was pleased with the turn out. This was a call for the entire community of Rapid, not just one school but the whole city. Eric said he pulled a few strings.

As we found out, most of the kids have never been in a show before. So, most of the week was trying to get them to come forward and be heard. Be seen. The cast consisted of a lot of middle school girls. My Lex Luther: giggly, smiley, self-conscious, quiet girls. It’s not that I dislike working with them, I just have a challenge trying to get them to open up and be confident. They don’t respond well to loud, intimidating men that have expectations of them and have no idea what it’s like to be a 12 year old girl. I’d like to say there is a formula to fix it but, I’m not very good at math and I haven’t found one so…

Throughout the week we had a lot of issues with information retention. I had to do the blocking with the pirates several times before they even began to memorize it and Kevin had a hard time with his group of Cousins. Besides the lack of personal responsibility and focus that came with this particular cast I can attribute most of the problems with the experience itself. Working in a theatrical environment is drastically different from any other. Public School generally does not prepare someone for the massive amounts of attention and responsibility this field requires. We are not here for the kids entertainment. We are not babysitters. We are not machines that conjure up answers to all life’s mysteries. We are teachers. We are artists. We need you to do what we ask and try. We cannot do it for you. We cannot do this show alone. We need you to trust in yourself and risk looking stupid just for a minute. We look stupid too. I dress as a purple pirate! A GIANT PURPLE PIRATE!

All in all, the kids did well for their first experience in theatre. I hope they learned an incredible amount from us.

One of the kids, Collin, had a farting problem. He farted all the way through auditions. He farted during rehearsals. He farted on stage. He farted backstage. He farted loudly. He farted louder. Collin farted a lot. And not like a normal child of 8 farts. Small wimpy poots of cheerios but middle age steak and broccoli hurricanes.

pootweeee! THFFFPPPPPPPPPPPT!…p p p p p p….pwung!

“Collin! Holy Moly Dude! Do you need to go to the bathroom?”

“I think so?”

“You think so? It smells like napalm! Go!”

5 Min. Later

“How was it?”

“It was bad…” -shell shocked

It was so common that even when Kevin abruptly farted during rehearsal he blamed it on Collin. Collin protested that “It wasn’t me this time I swear”. It was bad too. It was like a lingering cloud of Chinese food and road rash. Everyone blamed Collin. It wasn’t until our show that Friday that Kevin confessed to the cast that it was him. Collin received a formal apology from both of us.

I’ll be posting about Mobridge just as soon as I can. Travel Safe.

Until Next Time, With Love, All the Best,


Fun Fact: South Dakota is 46th in the National Average Population Density, marking 10.86 or 11 people per 1 mile sq. or 4.19 people per Kilometer sq. (For the Metric crowd)

Sturgis: Life Behind The Rally

Last week we competed our Residency in South Dakota’s most infamous party town. As you may have guessed, people live in this town. Not just bikers and commercial advertisements. The scoop behind the rally is some thing like this: Pappy Hoel liked motorcycles and wanted an event to share his enthusiasm with his friends. so, in 1936 he and a few others started The Jack Pine Gypsies (an official AMA club) to hold short track races. As time went on, the small race event began to attract bikers from all over the region. It eventually grew into a weekend event, which Sturgis embraced. A small one year event that brought business from all over. As more time went by, the event began to attract bikers from all around the nation and world. Gangs, drugs, trafficking, alcohol and Rock bands eventually took over. According to our host family (Duwayne and Diana Hayes) Sturgis, a once thriving community full of local gems, was being sold off to Rally vendors. So this annual event has come to consume Sturgis as the vendors have bought buildings (which once held local business and infastructure) that are only used for two or three weeks a year. Thus, most of Sturgis’s business moved to Rapid City or Spearfish. Some of the residence of Sturgis dread the Rally (which is held in early August) and the 500 thousand visitors that pass through. For more info:

This does leave some interesting summer work for the area: Technical Theatre (for the bands), Bikini Bike Washers, Tattoos, Graphic Arts, Iron Cross work, wholesome beer sales and Girls Gone Wild! The Rally has it all, even Religion!:

The kids of the Sturgis community are wildly imaginative! We had a full cast of 54 and they all had a blast. They were so willing to be silly and have fun. It made the week a real treat! One of my pirates decided she was Russian and instead of a hook for a hand, she had this weird two fingered antenna thing that squirmed and some kind of facial paralyses. I just about pooped my pants I was laughing so hard. She reminded me a lot of Boris from Rockie and Bullwinkle (Moose and Squirrel!)

Sturgis also marked Kevin’s first residency. Jacinta tagged along to give Kevin some pointers along the way. The first couple weeks are always the toughest. Right out of training you have to figure out how to teach the show most effectively in twenty hours. Kevin did well. He took what he needed and wanted from Jacinta and added some of his own work along with it. At one point Kevin, playing Larry the Dog, pees on my leg. A hilarious turn of events! It looks like we’ll have a pretty great team for the spring tour.

I’ll post about Rapid City just as soon as I can.

Until next time, With Love, All the Best,

Leigh Hooks

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