By Marci Narum
Photos Courtesy of Sleepy Hollow
Note: This article is an extended version of the article printed in the July issue of Inspired Woman magazine.
Sleepy Hollow Summer Theatre and Arts Park (SHTAP) is anything but sleepy this time of year. Its president and executive director Susan Lundberg doesn’t get much slumber, either. This has been The Lundberg family dream, however, and Susan and her sister, Stephanie, have been living it for 30 years.
It all started with a question.
“Dad asked us, ‘What would you do if you had time and limited money?’” Susan says.
Susan and Stephanie had the answer: theatre, but not just any kind of theatre — outdoor theatre that provides something truly invaluable and memorable for the community.
“We’re so fortunate to do Sleepy Hollow here and give kids summers outside,” Susan explains. “So many of our patrons say, ‘I want to come and read a book before seeing the shows.’ Outside is a whole different experience. Sometimes we can draw people who would not ordinarily go inside and sit in a seat at the theatre. Here, you can sit on a blanket, you can sit on a chair. If you get a little antsy, you can just get up and walk around. You can watch the birds before the sun goes down and just utterly relax.
“We say you should be able to walk across the bridge and leave your troubles and enter into another world for a couple of hours at least. That’s what the arts do. They kind of release you. When you leave, you might see your problems a little differently.”
A LOCAL TREASURE
Susan says it’s impossible to put a number on the treasure SHTAP has become in Bismarck, but as it celebrates its 30th anniversary, these are some statistics that might help put its worth into perspective:
600 Kids participate in SHTAP theatre program each summer
10,000-12,0000 The number of kids who have participated over the summers
The influence on the lives of those kids has been a ripple effect and is evident after 30 years.
“We were in Minneapolis shopping and this girl stopped and said, ‘Do you remember me?’ She looked familiar,” Susan explains. “She had been one of the witches in the Wizard of Oz years ago. She told us, ‘That was my best summer I ever had.’”
This summer, SHTAP is inviting all alumni back for a reunion July 26 and 27. One alumnus won’t have far to go. Klarissa Pudwill was a Singing Gondolier at The Venetian Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. Back in Bismarck now, she sings for special events and appears in commercials.
“Oh, Sleepy Hollow was a huge influence for me,” Klarissa says. “My very first musical I was in was ‘Annie Get Your Gun.’ I had the role of Winnie Tate. I remember feeling like this is what I would love to do for the rest of my life. It really got me started on musical theatre at a young age.”
Another performer who got her start on stage at Sleepy Hollow is traveling half-way around the world to join the 30th year festivities. Anne Wieben is an opera singer in Vienna, Austria and says she found herself on the Sleepy Hollow stage.
“Being able to perform in such high quality shows at such a young age was instrumental in my decision to pursue a career in the performing arts. Those wonderfully fun, educational summers opened a whole new world to me and gave me the chance to not only discover but to actively explore my artistic side.”
Anne will return to Bismarck July 15 to teach a masterclass for Sleepy Hollow.
36,000 The approximate number of rehearsal hours over 30 years
“We’ve had wonderful directors throughout the years. Job Christenson is our artistic director and simply outstanding” Susan shares. “The shows are not just learning your lines. It’s how do you become that person on the inside, have that empathy, that pathos, that exuberance and translate it so people can feel it. The arts are electric”
600 The approximate total number of musical performances
“Of course, we do musicals because we want to cover it all. (SHTAP) is the place you can sing and dance and experience the whole ramification of the arts,” Susans says. “We’re always looking for good shows … these are recently released. They’ve been on Broadway and movies have been made of them.”
1,300 The record number of audience members attending a performance in one night
$200,000 The total annual expenses to perform the summer shows
“This includes royalties, professional directors, light and sound equipment, set materials and lumber, costumes, advertising, and printing, and on and on. The fact is that outdoor theatre is very intensive,” Susan explains. “We hire part time people and we pay them a seasonal wage. “Ticket sales don’t cover everything. We write grants and get donations, costume shows, sell concessions, advertising, novelties, execute special events and do everything we can to support the programming.
$25,000 Royalties paid per season
$2,000,000 Invested into the park so far
“About 300 trees planted. We have an excellent partnership with Bismarck Parks and Rec. SHTAP has constructed supporting facilities, the stage, scene shop, pergolas, and ticket booth. We also plant flowers and offer amenities, Stephanie says.
“Later in life, Dad said, ‘I loved playing sports and I liked watching ball games, but they never changed my life. I can go to a concert or see a theatre piece and it changes your life. It makes you think.’ It does,” Susan continues. “South Pacific is about acceptance. Fiddler on the Roof, the same. Sometimes Mary Poppins is just fun and entertaining and light, and sometimes there are messages that people’s lives are not so easy.”
30 years of awakening young people to the outdoor theatre experience at Sleepy Hollow has certainly not been easy, but the results may be worthy of an encore.
“What people see on stage is the fun and the show of the season, but what our young people take away is a sense of accomplishment and critical thinking. That’s what the arts teach, critical thinking.
“We’ve had terrific people of accomplishment and vision, people who can plan ahead and think ahead and brainstorm. Good minds can accomplish absolutely sensational things.
We’re just going forward on that premise.”
Sleepy Hollow Alumni Reunion: July 26 & 27
Register and get tickets for the 2019 Shows at shtap.org
Newsies July 9- 18
Mama Mia! July 23 – August 2