Skip to main content

Tent Theatre

Tent Theatre

The Tent Theatre, which housed Summer Theatre performances from 1966 to 1968

 

 

Tom Turner, according to current Summer Theatre director Kevin Neuharth, intended to re-create traditional summer stock theatre performed in a tent. Tent theatre staging would provide simplicity and create an intimate setting for actors and audience members, making the latter feel as though they were part of the show. The Minot Y's Men ( a service club in partnership with the Young Men's Christian Association/YMCA) worked out a deal to provide Minot State College (MSC) with use of a tent for Summer Theatre performances starting in the summer of 1966.

Tent Theatre Entrance, 1966

A 1966 photo of the Tent Theatre, standing in the parking lot just behind (north of) Old Main

 

 

The tent theatre was located in the parking lot north of Old Main, where Hartnett Hall was constructed in 1974. Interestingly, MSU’s theatre arts program, as part of the Humanities Division, calls Hartnett Hall its home today. The tent allowed the plays to be performed outdoors, to hopefully take advantage of the cooling breezes of the summer evenings, while providing some shelter to the cast, crew and audience members.

 

Tent Theatre Practice of "Damn Yankees" 1966

Rehearsal of Damn Yankees in the Tent Theatre, 1966

 

 

 

Practices could last up to ten hours a day, seven days a week, for three weeks. There was one instance when a female cast member of Bye Bye Birdie got into trouble for wearing shorts around campus, when Garnet Cox, who was MSC's Dean of Women at the time, deemed them too short. Julie Thorleifson (Peace) had to request special permission from Cox to wear the shorts for practice.

Tent Theatre Stage, 1966

Actors rehearsing on the Tent Theatre stage

The stage in the tent was small, but this had its advantages. The stage size limited the number of actors who could fit on stage at any given time, so casts were relatively small and staging was simpler than it was in other performance venues. Turner also noted, in a Red & Green article, that the smaller number of actors made choreography easier.

Turner also noted that the smaller tent theatre dictated the use of fewer set pieces on stage. For example, a chair could represent an office in the tent theatre, whereas more set pieces were needed to create the illusion of an office after Summer Theatre had moved to the Amphitheatre. This made set design both simpler and cheaper in the tent theatre.

Tent Theatre seating, 1966-1968

Audience seating in the Tent Theatre

 

 

There were disadvantages to hosting a theatre in a tent, however. For one, seating capacity was low. Fewer than 200 patrons could attend a performance. As the endeavor mushroomed in popularity, a recurring problem arose: many nights potential customers had to find something else to do because there were not enough seats in the tent to watch a show.

 

The Tent Theatre after a storm, summer 1967

Aftermath of a wind storm, 1967

 

 

Weather was also another problem, particularly when the prairie winds kicked up. Many times Tom Turner had to call on cast members to help him hold down the tent during performances. While this worked for a time, the turning point came when ninety feet of the back side of the tent was lifted up by high winds one evening in 1967. This storm proved how dangerous the weather could become for cast, crew, and audience members alike.  Summer Theatre needed a new venue.