Not many small towns these days can claim to have a community theatre, but that’s exactly what the proud town of Barrett has with Prairie Wind Players. Based in the historic Roosevelt Hall, the theatre got started in the winter of 1978 when a group of people from Barrett and other towns in Grant County explored the possibilities of presenting a theatre production during the annual Old Settler’s Reunion in June of 1979. The result was the organizing of Prairie Wind Players and the first community theatre production in Barrett with “Spoon River Anthology.” Not only was the play a success, but so was the dinner that accompanied it, and the tradition of the dinner theatre continues on to this day.
Today, Prairie Wind Players is a non-profit community arts organization with an emphasis on community theatre. Like any small town non-profit organization, they have faced some challenges to keep the theatre going over the years. “The biggest challenge we have faced in these last years is the changing demographics of rural communities,” says Kathy Ray, a long-time supporter of the Prairie Wind Players. “A lot of the people who have been involved in the growth and ongoing work of Prairie Wind Players continue to age and it’s difficult to find younger people to take up the mantle.” On a positive note, Kathy notes that they have several young, committed people involved in the leadership of the organization and there’s a new enthusiasm for presenting high quality theatre productions for the community. Kathy also notes some years it has been difficult to cast even two shows, for lack of being able to find directors and actors. But they have truly made it work over the years and the productions that come out of the hall are works of art.
“It’s so wonderful to have Roosevelt Hall to perform in,” says Kathy, “It’s like a playhouse for grown-ups. There have been major improvements and good maintenance of this beautiful and unique community arts building over the years.” When I asked Kathy what her favorite production was over the years, she was hesitant to pick because there have been so many good ones! Kathy says her favorite would be “Fiddler on the Roof” in 1986 directed by Roger DeClerq with scene design by Professor Tap Payne from Morris. This was a fairly large production with over 60 people in the cast. “But that was just one show among so many memorable productions,” Kathy adds.
With all of these productions, there have been many children who started with the plays at a young age over the past 38 years and are now grown and have children of their own participating in Prairie Wind Players today. Many of these now parents have noted that being involved in this theatre shaped their future in a positive way. “We believe that just because we chose to live in rural communities, does not mean we should miss out on being able to sing and act and dance on stage with our neighbors, while providing fun and sometimes thought provoking experiences for area audiences,” says Kathy. “The more arts, the better”
The 2017 Season will kick off with “The Titanic: A Night to Remember” on April 21st and 22nd followed by “Princess Diana, The Musical” presented by Plays in Morris in May. There are several other theatre productions in the works as well for this season so check out their website www.prairiewindplayers.org or visit their Facebook page for a full list of shows, ticket information and ways to get involved in the theatre.