Gnadt keeps local theatre alive in Garretson

Jamie Hult, BV Journal staff writer

Marcia Gnadt has directed neary every Jesse James Players' production - about 50 since she helped start Garretson's community theatre group in 1985 - including next week's two-night run of the holiday mystery dinner theatre, "The Golden Girls." Jamie Hult/BVJournal

Jamie Hult

Staff writer



rom picking a play and casting the talent to envisioning the set design and costumes, Marcia Gnadt knows a good thing when she sees it. 

It’s this well-honed instinct and the support of those around her that have kept the Jesse James Players in the spotlight 32 years, and Gnadt in the director’s chair.

The Garretson woman, who owns Family, Floors & Furniture with her husband, Woody, has directed nearly every Jesse James production – about 50 plays since she helped start Garretson’s community theatre group in 1985.

You may say the Jesse James Players wouldn’t be around today were it not for Gnadt’s perseverance and talent as the key behind-the-scenes force, from small ensemble shows to big musicals and summer plays at the park. 

Since he began acting with the Players when he was 18 years old, Markell Gnadt has played everything from a hippie to an outlaw to a rainmaker to an army doctor. 

“Originally, my family made me do it,” he said with a laugh. “Now I’m doing it because it’s fun to entertain people.”

He described his mom as a patient director – “not a crack-the-whip type. She lets you develop the character, and you do it your own way. If it weren’t for her, the Jesse James Players wouldn’t exist.” 

While Gnadt admits that having a theatrical family helps – her husband and daughter have been cast and crew over the years, too – she’s developed her own time-tested directorial arsenal, starting with finding the right material.

“You read, read, read to find a play that is appropriate for your actors and actresses and for the community,” she said. “And you need to be positive with the actors and actresses. You’d be surprised, but the more positive you are, the better they perform.”

With 30 to 40 Jesse James members, Gnadt doesn’t agonize over casting. She fills roles from a stable of seasoned veterans, sprinkled with a few novices. 

“I love to see people on stage becoming actors and actresses that never thought they could,” she said. “And it’s nice to have at least one new person in every show.”

She pays particular attention to any visuals that may distract someone in the audience, too.  

“If one thing is off, you focus on that instead of the show. We have a small stage, and that stage has to be appropriately designed. Set and costumes and props are very important,” Gnadt said. 

Many may know the Jesse James Players best for their very first show, “The Legend of Jesse James,” which has become a bit of a legend itself over the years among area community theatre enthusiasts. Working from an original script penned by a local resident, the Players staged the Old West true tale at Garretson’s centennial celebration in 1989 and South Dakota’s 100th birthday bash that same year at Mount Rushmore. 

“We took 30 actors out there and performed. It was very exciting to be on stage there,” Gnadt said. “A lot of Garretson people came in a busload. The audience was packed.”

You might say the Jesse James Players have been around. They’ve performed at the Sioux Empire Fair in Sioux Falls, the Prairie Village Playhouse in Madison, Intermission in Rock Rapids, Iowa, and the Prairie Repertory Theatre in Brandon. 

In addition to “The Legend of Jesse James,” Gnadt has several darlings among the Players’ three-decades-plus of plays – “Calendar Girls” (“One of my very favorite shows”), “Cemetery Club” (“I guess I like the shows that have both humor and emotion”), “110 in the Shade” (a period piece and musical), “M*A*S*H” (“Great – self-explanatory”). 

This spring the Jesse James Players will reprise another favorite, “Steel Magnolias,” with her daughter, Marissa Wollman, as Truvy, the part Gnadt, herself, brought to the Garretson Opera House 18 years ago.

The Players will take a different stage next week with their first dinner theatre, “The Golden Girls,” a murder mystery loosely based on an episode from the hit 1980s TV show. 

“This is an interactive dinner theatre. The audience will be part of the show if they choose to be. It’s going to be a lot of fun. We encourage you to come out, enjoy it and be part of it,” Gnadt said. 

“The Golden Girls” will run two nights – Friday, Dec. 8, and Saturday, Dec. 9 – at 6:30 p.m. at the American Legion in Garretson. Tickets, which include dinner and dessert, are available at Family, Floors & Furniture in Brandon, the Treasure Chest in Garretson, or by calling (605) 321-3758. 

“We really have a lot of fun with our plays, and when they’re over, I can’t wait for the next one,” Gnadt said. “Sometimes it’s a year before we find one, sometimes it’s six months, but it’s always exciting.”



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