St. Louis Park in the 1950s was an exciting place, with
homes, schools, and churches springing up like wildfire, new
organizations forming, and a pervasive enthusiasm for all
things community. The baby boom was producing a vast number
of graduates from the local universities, many of which had
degrees in theater. In these days before the Guthrie (which
started in 1963), community theater groups were popping up
throughout the suburbs. For a timeline of theater in the
Twin Cities, see
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COMMUNITY THEATER OF ST. LOUIS PARK
Into the mix came the Community Theater of St. Louis Park.
The St. Louis Park Historical Society is fortunate to have
received materials of the Community Theatre of St. Louis
Park from two sources: Ruth Steimle generously donated her
collection of programs and articles in 2004, and in 2005, a
wonderful scrapbook kept by the group was found in an
obscure closet at Central. The history of the troupe was
described in an early program:
In April of 1958, Roger DeClercq and Lynn Taylor
approached the Women's Club of St. Louis Park with the
idea of a Community Theatre in the Park. The Women's
Club offered their spoken encouragement, and financial
support. Thus, the theatre began in June, and was
incorporated. Many meetings and much organization
transpired, and new members turned up at every meeting.
In September of 1959, rehearsals, scenery construction,
and costume round-up began for "Inherit The Wind,"
directed by Roger DeClercq. The ticket committee sold
1300 season tickets. A total of 2600 people saw our
first production which ran November 6, 7, and 8. January
started us right back into production on "Thieves’
Carnival." This play was directed by John Ahart from the
University of Minnesota. The play was presented on
February 12, 13, and 14. Our season ended, we went into
production of one act plays to be shown at the monthly
theatre meetings. These were directed and acted in
primarily by people with little or no previous
experience. We also had several readings of short scenes
from plays. In the spring of 1960, new officers were
elected. Our constitution states objectives, which set
us apart from many groups. It states: "The purpose of
this corporation shall be to encourage and cultivate the
dramatic arts in St. Louis Park, and to effectuate this
end to produce plays for the entertainment, education,
and edification of the general public, to afford
opportunities for the expression, development, and
training of skills and talents relating to the theatre
arts; to cultivate social relationships among its
Charter members were: Roger DeClercq (President), Stan Kloth
(Vice President), Kay Kelley (Treasurer), Ruth Steimle
(Secretary), Robert Stone (Chairman of the Board), and
Directors Kal Abrams, Al Anderson, Russell Christensen,
Jeannie DeClercq, Leon Hyatt, Ray Lammers, and Al and Janet
Pelton. Performances were presented in the High School
Auditorium until the 1966-67 season.
1959-60 Season: Howard MacMillan was named Business
Manager of the Community Theater in June 1959. At the time,
MacMillan was the business administrator for the St. Louis
Park school system. Supporter Colby Skinner organized a host
of volunteers who sold 1,634 season tickets. The first
production was “Inherit the Wind,” which opened on November
6, 1959 and drew 2,600 people (at $1.50) over three
performances. DeClercq was the director and Kloth was the
scenic director. Featured was Bobby, a South American
Sapajou monkey, who made his first appearance in the same
play the year before in St. Paul. On loan from the Como Zoo,
Bobby bunked with Mr. and Mrs. Al Anderson during the run of
The theater’s second production was “Thieves’ Carnival,”
presented on February 12-14, 1960 and directed by guest
director John Ahart from the U of M.
1960-61 Season: On October 20-23, 1960, “The Visit”
was presented at the high school auditorium. An estimated
2100 people came to see the play. The cast party was held on
October 28 at the Edina Legion Hall, and featured
entertainment on guitar and bongos. A Community Theatre
newsletter, The St. Louis Park Lantern, was produced for
members who supported the troupe. Here we find that Robert
Stone served as Chairman of the Board for the 1960-61
“Look Homeward Angel” was staged on February 9-12, 1961,
also at the high school. Both productions were directed by
DeClercq. Staging by Stanley Kloth, costumes by Ms. Leon
1961-62 Season: In October 1961, “Beggar on
Horseback” was produced with a cast of 31, directed by
DeClercq and staged by Stan Kloth.
“Teahouse of the August Moon” was presented on January
25-28, 1962 at the high school and featured a live goat. The
play was directed by DeClercq and designed by Darrell Fluke.
Playing the lead role of Lotus Blossom was Betty Wong, wife
of Jimmy Wong, owner of the Foo Chu Café on Excelsior Blvd.
“The Andersonville Trial,” was produced on April 26-29, 1962
with an all-male cast of 26. The play was directed by Irving
Fink and designed by Stan Kloth, with Ms. Leon Hyatt on
costumes. This was the first play so far not to be directed
by DeClercq. It was presented at Hopkins High School because
of a scheduling conflict at Park High.
1962-63 Season: Season tickets were $4.50. The first
production of the season was “The King and I,” presented on
November 1-3 and Nov. 9-11, 1962, directed by DeClercq. A
last minute King change had to be made when the original
actor got transferred to Japan. Opening night featured
visits by the Queen of the Lakes and Miss St. Louis Park,
and got excellent press coverage. The show featured 61
performers wearing 200 hand made costumes.
“Three Men on a Horse” was presented on January 24-27, 1963,
directed by Lee Adey. The 1935 comedy was written by George
Abbott and featured two real-life married couples playing
husband and wife in the play.
“Little Mary Sunshine” was presented on June 13-16, 1963,
directed by DeClercq. Patrons were treated to the sight of
two Mounties on horseback as they arrived at the high
school. Meanwhile, the play was picketed by the Minneapolis
Musicians Union protesting the use of two nonunion piano
players Jean Rodberg and Donna Edwards. The dustup started
when the union took exception to the use of student
musicians in “The King and I.” The union threatened to put
the high school and the school board on the “unfair” list.
As a result, the school board denied the group the use of
the high school for their productions. In October 1963, an
injunction was issued to stop the union from intimidating
the school board. As a result, the school board reversed its
decision and allowed the company to perform at the high
On March 29, 1963, the group held a workshop in which three
plays were explored: “Riders to the Sea,” directed by
Harriet Fink, “Hello Out There,” directed by Al Anderson,
and “Clerambard,” directed by Marcelle Ayme. August 15,
1963, a housewarming party was held for the troupe’s new
home in a storefront at 2629 Louisiana.
1963-64 Season: “The Mouse Trap” was directed by
Patrick Ptacek and performed on October 31 through November
3. This play replaced the scheduled “Annie Get Your Gun,”
which had to be scotched because the group refused the
union’s demands to hire unneeded musicians. The Agatha
Christie play was designed by Stan Kloth, with costumes by
“The Crucible” was directed by Lee Adey and performed on
January 30-31 and February 1-2, 1964 at the Park High
auditorium. Cast members included faculty members from five
different schools. The Arthur Miller play was designed by
Stan Kloth, with costumes by Nancy Anderson.
The Community Theatre performed the children’s play “Land of
the Dragon” as a fundraiser for the Eliot School PTA, with
performances on April 24-25 and May 1-2.
“Gideon” was directed by DeClercq and performed on June
11-14, 1964. Set design was by Richard Ptacek and costumes
by Jan Stageberg. The cast included a live goat (and the
goat’s stand-in), which frolicked in the Steimles’ back yard
during the run of the play. Veterinarian B. Robert Lewis
injected these four-legged actors with a long-acting
anaesthetic to get them through the sacrificial ceremony.
The premiere was graced by much royalty, including Miss
Richfield, Miss Edina, Miss Bloomington, and Jane Veker,
Miss St. Louis Park. The performance of this Paddy Chayefsky
play was its Upper Midwest premiere, according to the
It was at this point that the group gave up its rehearsal
space on Louisiana Ave. as too expensive. They did, however,
get use of the old City Hall/Lincoln School building at 37th
and Alabama pending sale and demolition. It was there that a
creative dramatics workshop for children was conducted
1964-65 Season: “Most Happy Fella,” directed by
DeClercq and designed by Stan Kloth, was presented on
October 30-31, November 1, 5-7, 1964. This production
featured the Minneapolis Choralaires in the chorus and a
great deal of solo performances – 75 performers in all. Lead
Robert Mantzke didn’t have a broken leg, but needed a cast
for the play, so a doctor at Deaconess Hospital obliged.
“Five Finger Exercise” was presented on January 21-24, 1965
at Park High. It was directed by Lee Adey and designed by
Richard Ptacek. This play received less-than-stellar
Eugene O’Neill’s “Ah, Wilderness!” was presented on June
17-20, 1965. It was directed by DeClercq and designed by
Richard Ptacek. Jean Rodberg designed the costumes. Again
the critics were unkind, but were roundly criticized
themselves in the paper.
“Many Moons” was performed on April 12 and 13, 1965,
sponsored by four elementary schools. The children helped
sell tickets and other tasks, and got a portion of the
proceeds. The play was adapted from a story by James
Thurber, and featured 10-year-old Jana Andren in the lead.
In July 1965, the musician’s union placed St. Louis Park
schools on its “unfair” list, making it impossible for
students to book bands for dances. The union rep, Biddy
Bastien, lifted the ban for 24 hours so that the all-night
senior party could go on. “Ah Wilderness” had pickets at its
1965-66 Season: “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” was
presented on October 28-31 and November 4-7, 1965. 1961 Park
High graduate Nancy Bantel played Molly. The premiere was a
benefit for the National Kidney Foundation. Rehearsals were
held at the home of Mrs. Fred Nordstrom, 4308 Brookside, in
an auditorium at Methodist Hospital, and at the old
community center on Lake Street. Although they could store
items at the old City Hall building, it had no heat,
electricity, or water, so was unsuitable for rehearsal.
Reviews pointed out problems with the orchestra, and the
reviewer for the Minneapolis Tribune gave the show a
A children’s play, “Crown Prince of Wanderlust,” was
presented on December 29 and 30, in conjunction with the St.
Louis Park Women’s Club. The cast included 45 children and
one adult. 20 Pioneer Girls and Girl Scouts served as
usherettes. The performances netted $475 for scholarships to
graduating seniors in the class of 1966.
In December 1965, it became untenable to continue using the
Park High auditorium. The cost was considerable, and the
1,000+ theater too big for many productions. It was also
increasingly difficult to schedule the amount of time
necessary for rehearsals and performances. The Theatre
contemplated raising funds for their own building, but it
never panned out. Conditions were also bad at the old City
Hall building, where the leaks in the roof were causing
stalagmites to appear, threatening stored costumes. Finally
they were evicted on March 15, 1966.
“Time of Your Life,” by William Saroyan, was presented on
January 20-23, 1966 at the Park High auditorium. The
production was noted for the participation of 8 members of
the aptly-named Stageberg family. Richard Ptacek was set
designer, with Bess Yocum on costumes.
“Take Her, She’s Mine” was presented on June 16-19, 1966.
All plays presented in the 1965-66 season were directed by
DeClercq. In 1966, the Community Theater presented a $300
scholarship to a Park High drama student.
On September 19, 1966, Colby Skinner of the Community
Theater made a request to the City Council that the
recreation center being proposed include space for community
1966-67 Season: “I Knock at the Door” was presented
on November 4-5 and 11-12, 1966, directed by Burton Frink.
“Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp” was produced December 28-29
in conjunction with the Park Women’s Club.
“The Death and Life of Sneaky Fitch” was presented on March
3-4 and 10-11 at Central Jr. High, directed by DeClercq.
“West Side Story” was produced on August 4-6 and 11-13,
1967. The stars of the show sang “Tonight” at the Maid
Marian (Miss St. Louis Park) coronation on August 17, with
two pages of the program going to promote the production.
1967-68 Season: “Luther” was produced in November
1967, directed by Roger Cornish.
“South Pacific was performed on August 8-11 and 16-18,
1968. The Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra (precursor to the
Minnesota Orchestra) accompanied the show, but it cost so
much money that even if the troupe had sold every seat, they
would have still lost money. Choreographer of the show
was Toni Swiggum, who later became the choreographer for the
Parkettes. Performers from the show sang “There is Nothing Like a
Dame” at the Maid Marian (Miss St. Louis Park) coronation on
August 15, with two pages of the program going to promote
Unknown year: “You Can’t Take it With You” (October),
“Because Their Hearts Were Pure” (November), “JB”
(February), “Guys and Dolls” (April).
1968-69 Season: On September 5-6, 1968, the group
presented “Broadway, Our Way” at the Prudential Building on
Wayzata Blvd. The show was put on as a fundraiser, asking
patrons for donations in order to pay off some of the
Theater’s old debts. In August 1969, the Community Theater
was conspicuously absent from Robin Hood Days activites.
Just as the baby boom engendered the Park theater group, it
also contributed to its demise. The sheer numbers of
students entering the high school meant that there were more
numerous and more elaborate productions for DeClercq to
stage, and he could no longer wear both hats. It also meant
that the high school auditorium was no longer available. The
last program of the 1965-66 season indicated that the group
would move its performance space to the audio-visual room at
Central Jr. High, forcing a downsizing in the productions to
fit the smaller stage. In 1971, when the St. Louis Park Rec
Center was being built, there was some hope that there would
be space available for a theater group, but it was not to
Some of the actors who appeared frequently in the theater’s
productions include: Al Anderson, Russ Christensen (a
teacher at Park High who appeared in at least ten
productions), Saul Laiderman, Ray Lammers, Pete Peterson
(also taught at Park High), Harry Pulver, Dennis Stageberg,
Grant Stageberg, Bob Stone, and William Woods.
JEWISH COMMUNITY CENTER
The Jewish Community Center began staging plays just about
as soon as it came to St. Louis Park. The organization
Center Stage operated out of the JCC from 1968 to 1984.
ST. LOUIS PARK COMMUNITY THEATRE
An article in 1977 announced this newly-formed group, housed
at Union Congregational Church. The group’s first play was
“Butterflies are Free,” running November 4-5 and 11-12.
Director was John Kirtland, Jr.
PARK COMMUNITY THEATER
There was a rejuvenation of Community Theater in the Park in
1980. Performances included:
“Dark of the Moon,” presented on October 23-24, 30-31, and
November 6-7, 1981 at the Eliot Center for the Arts. The
director was Susan Pritchard.
“Story Theatre,” July 15-17 and 22-24, 1982 – an official
“Dracula,” Fridays and Saturday from October 15-30, 1982.
Directed by Ed Jones.
“The Bald Soprano” and “The Great American Cheese Sandwich”
(Studio Series) November 4-5, 11-12, and 18-19, 1982, Eliot
“A Life in the Theater,” Thursdays and Fridays from January
13-28, 1983, Eliot Center.
“Getting Out,” February 10 at Eliot Center.
In 1983, Susan Pritchard directed Park Community Theater’s
entry in the Minnesota State Theatre Festival on March 13 in
Albert Lea. The winner would represent Minnesota in a
regional festival in Iowa, with nationals taking place in
Alaska. Park’s entry was “Sing to me Through Open Window,”
and competed with nine other Minnesota local theaters.
“Patio/Porch,” April 1983.
“I Ought to be in Pictures” on May 14, 20, and 21, 1983 at
the Eliot Center.
In 1982, and 8-member group calling themselves Outcaste
found a home at the Eliot Community Center. That summer, the
group performed 17 times in 12 different Minneapolis parks.
Their first big production, ”Lion in Winter,” opened
December 2, 1983 at Eliot. Passing the hat at the parks the
previous summer paid expenses.
ST. LOUIS PARK FOLLOW ME PLAYERS
From about 1991 to 1992, the St. Louis Park Follow Me
Players produced at least two performances.
ENSEMBLE THEATER COMPANY
In 1993 there is an item announcing the Ensemble Theater
Company, formerly the St. Louis Park Players. Grif Sadow
acted as the group’s artistic director, actor, and
co-founder. “Baby With the Bathwater” was performed at
Central Community Center on June 24-26, 1993. Previous
productions were “Beyond Therapy” and “Laughing Wild.” The
group planned to present “The Actor’s Nightmare” and “Sister
Mary Ignatius Explains it all for You” at the Brookside
Little Theater in July/August 1993.
ST. LOUIS PARK COMMUNITY THEATER COMPANY
In July 2007, the SLP Friends of the Arts announced a
community meeting to discuss the establishment of a
community theater. The group established a formally
recognized Community Theater Company, with the intent to
launch an on-going performing theater company and promote
its continual growth. The Company is a non-profit
organization supported by donations and arts grants, and is
fully endorsed by the SLP Friends of the Arts.
The SLP Community Theater's first production is "The Piper,
scheduled to perform city-wide throughout August and