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Sleepy Hollow celebrates 25 years

Sleepy Hollow: 'Fabric of the community'

The Wizard of Oz
The Wizard of Oz, 2009, staring Karsten Pudwill,
Eric Morris, Kaley Schwab and Nikko Raymo.

In 1990, Moni Lembke auditioned for a role in “Annie Get Your Gun,” the very first production of Sleepy Hollow Theatre and Arts Park in Bismarck. A senior at Century High School, she scored the role of Dolly, Frank Butler’s assistant. In the show, Frank has a romance with Annie Oakley, a poor girl from the backwoods who is a sharp shooter. She eventually joins Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show.

Moni performed in several theatre productions during her high school years. Reflecting on her experiences, she says acting helped her meet people from other schools and towns. It also taught her how to give televised interviews, and learn about costumes, set design and lighting.

Her experiences with Sleepy Hollow differed from school productions, in that performing outdoors gave the students unique opportunities.

“In our production, we had a stunt double who rode a horse,” she says. “Sleepy Hollow also gave me a broader sense of community and family involvement.”

After high school, Moni moved to Minot for college. She married Jon Krantz, and they moved to Grand Forks. In the summer of 1996, the couple returned to Bismarck with their children Megan, Karli and Nate, to be closer to family.

In 2009, Megan followed in her mother’s footsteps and auditioned for the Sleepy Hollow production of “Wizard of Oz.” She earned the roles of munchkin and flying monkey. Moni says all of their children have been involved in theater and music in some way. While it’s been a big time commitment, Moni says her family has greatly benefited from their involvement.

“It is a great opportunity to make lasting friendships and further develop acting and singing skills,” she says.

Moni and Jon, who are Capital Electric Cooperative members from north Bismarck, have attended many Sleepy Hollow events over the years. Moni’s parents, Claus and Marsha Lembke, are also strong donors and supporters to ensure this gem in the community continues.

“There is a lot of talent in this community, and Sleepy Hollow offers great opportunities for young people to be involved in a professional show,” she continues.

“Some of my longest friendships are friends with whom I shared theater experiences. I am proud to say I was in the very first production of Sleepy Hollow. It has been fun to see the improvements since 25 years ago when there was only a wooden stage.”

The past

Sleepy Hollow park, July 1993
Sleepy Hollow Summer Theatre featured
Fiddler on the Roof in July 1993. Thanks to the
scenic landscape and theatre programming,
productions like this one were quite popular,
as evidenced by the large crowd.

Twenty-five years ago, Sleepy Hollow Theatre started as a “what if?” in the family car of Bud and Evelyn Lundberg and their daughters, Stephanie and Susan.

“Dad, who was a wonderful thinker, started it out by saying, ‘If you had lots of time and money, what would you do?’” Susan shares. “We said we’d start a theatre. While lack of money was a deterrent, we knew it would work because it was what Bismarck and our youth needed.” A few weeks later, the idea that had been planted took root and started to grow, and the family began making plans and forming community partnerships.

“We charged full speed ahead with an idea and ambition, and have continued that pace,” Susan says.

The idea was not to turn students into actors, but to help them grow in experience and life lessons.

“Sometimes what you learn off-stage is just as important as what you learn on-stage,” Susan shares.

On the outskirts of Bismarck on east 26th Street and Divide Avenue, the Lundberg family chose Sleepy Hollow Park for a theatre site. The park, named by neighborhood kids because it was a hollow that was sleepy, offered a beautiful, rural setting.

The first production, “Annie Get Your Gun,” was basic in every aspect. The cast changed costumes in a semi trailer. The stage was made out of railroad ties with rebar, creating an outline that was filled with sand and topped by 2’x 6’ posts. It didn’t matter. While the stage and sets have changed drastically over the years as Sleepy Hollow Theatre evolves, the guest experience never changes.

“The park still offers a beautiful setting. Thousands of people wander through the mature trees and see gorgeous skies, sunsets and nature. We have pheasants and squirrels and rabbits, and when the sun goes down … it’s just a wonderful experience,” Susan says.

The present
This summer, Sleepy Hollow Theatre and Arts Park is putting on “Shrek, The Musical” from July 14 to 18 and July 26 to Aug. 1. It will then feature “Chicago” from July 19 to 25 and Aug. 2 to 6. Both productions are directed by Job Christenson and Casey Paradies.

Tickets are available at Eckroth Music, Satrom Travel and Tours, and select Subway restaurants.

The park is located at 26th Street and Divide Avenue in Bismarck. For more information, visit www.shtap.org or call 701-319-0894.

The future
Susan and Stephanie continue the family dream of offering the community great theatre programming in an attractive outdoor setting. They signed a 25-year contract with the park district in 2012 for the total management of the park.

“Now we can build because we know we’re going to be here for 25 years,” Susan says.

Recent enhancements include a reconstructed stage, orchestra pit and full basement, plus a new gazebo site. In mid-July, a pergola and turrets to mark the entrance should be complete. The sisters are also currently working with an architect to design plans that would construct the side stages to the center stage and lighting towers with enhanced electrical capabilities this fall. Down the road, they also hope to add a stage covering with catwalks.

“Our idea is to make it a three-season theatre. We are going to use it, and the community can use it to bring in regional and national shows,” Susan shares. “What better thing than to be under the stars and have an outdoor concert? It’s going to be stunning.”

But like the dream that started in the car 25 years ago, grants and other significant donations are needed to turn sketches into skits.

“After 25 years, Sleepy Hollow has become a fabric of the community. Stephanie and I know Bismarck. We’ve been around it all our lives. It’s our responsibility to do as much as we can,” Susan says. “We always say, you can never ask someone to do something that you are not willing to do yourself. So we have been working hard. Our goal is to put it on a stable basis … so we belong forever.”

Their father, who loved sports and was a good athlete, once told his daughters that a game never changed his life. But when he would go to hear a concert or see a production, it changed his life.

“That’s the arts,” Susan simply says.

“We all have problems and responsibilities. What the arts can do: For a couple hours, you forget everything. You are just there and engaged. And when you come back to your problem, you think, ‘Maybe I could approach this differently. Maybe it’s not as important as I thought.’ We are always all-thinking. The arts just relieve that tension, and make us a different person,” she concludes.

Sleepy Hollow is a nonprofit organization that relies on grants and donations to offer community entertainment. To contribute to the next 25 years of Sleepy Hollow Theatre and Arts Park, contact Susan Lundberg at 701-319-0894.

 

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