The Pioneer Playhouse in Billings, Montana had a short life, only fourteen years.
I spent the summer between my junior and senior college year working at the Pioneer Playhouse as an actress, stage hand, props mistress and anything else needed for the current show.
Time has passed since then and my memories of that summer have been replaced by children and husband and other adventures. I know I was there though. I remember the train ride through the Wind River Canyon to get there. I remember one evening seeing the undulating green curtain of the northern lights, a rare sight at that location. I remember standing in the center of my shaking, rocking room at the YWCA while the terrible earthquake in Yellowstone sent its shock waves up to Billings. I fully expected the ceiling to crash down on top of me at any moment. While I worked at the Pioneer Playhouse, Dale came up to Billings from Lucas, Kansas to see me and attended one of the shows.
Two recent trips took us through Billings, and we both tried to remember where the Playhouse had been. We wanted to see if it were still in existence. Neither of us, however, could remember its location.
Recently, when surfing the net, I entered the term “Pioneer Playhouse” to see if I could discover anything about it. I turned up the obituary of Frederick Knoll Miller who was the managing director of the theater during its entire life. Miller, it seems, had written a history of the Pioneer Playhouse. Amazon just happened to list sources of a few copies of the book.
My copy arrived in my mailbox last Friday.
There in the photos was a picture of me as a young aspiring actress.
There was the photo of the young man who starred in the first show, BORN YESTERDAY, and who took me on a tour of Billings and showed me the bluff above the city. He was only there at the theater for one show before leaving for Germany.
Each of the shows from that summer was listed with the cast members. I was a maid in one show, the loud, blowsy wife of a contractor in another. Mr. Miller remembered that I bleached my brown hair to a brassy blonde in order to play that role. I also taught myself to smoke for that role. I must have written a thank you note to the Millers after that summer because a section of my letter was included in the chapter on that particular season, stating that “blondes truly did have more fun.”
It is easy to forget that everything that happens to a person becomes a part of that person’s “Personal Legend” to quote Paulo Coelho from his beautiful book, THE ALCHEMIST. Once a person has experienced something, nothing can take that away. It is a part of that person’s history forever.
Although my pleasure in these memories is tinged a bit with nostalgia, I’m so very grateful for that summer, for those encounters with those actors. I’m grateful for the effort that Frederick Knoll Miller made to capture the life and history of the Pioneer Playhouse. In doing so, he left behind his book that makes that experience come alive again for me.