Theatre in 1880’s Montana

“Our stage was in an old shed next to a pigpen, and our curtain was a white sheet Johnny Spiker had swiped out of their hotel. The ‘theatre’ was just the back of the Spiker Hotel and Saloon, and we borrowed empty beer kegs for our audience to sit on. The curtain was fixed to be drawn along a wire in front of the stage. When the show opened the curtain was drawn across the wire to the edge of the pigpen. As the weeping leading lady finished her song, and fell to faint to the floor, the curtain was then to be drawn back across the stage, hiding the stage so we could prepare for the next act. It never happened, for when the boy who was tending to the curtain reached for it, it was gone. It seems one corner of the sheet protruded into the pigpen. It looked to the pigs like it might be edible, so while the acting was proceeding on the stage, the pigs ate our curtain. The audience, judging by their applause and laughter, evidently thought this was the best part of the play. That first act was the one and only one, and the show ‘did not go on.’”

That was how my great-grandfather, Roy Fitzgerald describes their childhood efforts at producing their own play in 1880s Gardiner, Montana. (See my previous post for more on the discovery of this autobiography.) Those of us who have ever produced, directed, performed in, or in any way participated in community theatre will be sympathetic!

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