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Let's Play! Rainy Butte continues New England theater

Adrien Kathrein, Rainy Butte president, right, and Shannay Witte, vice president, consider the improvements the group hopes to make to New England's Memorial Hall with future productions, including a new sound booth and improved lighting. The group produces a show every fall. Brandon L. Summers / The Dickinson Press1 / 2
Adrien Kathrein, right, and Shannay Witte, Rainy Butte board members, admire the original footlights of the Memorial Hall stage in New England. It is one of the things the group hopes to upgrade in the future. Brandon L. Summers / The Dickinson Press2 / 2

NEW ENGLAND—The play's the thing! And every fall, New England enjoys a true theatrical experience while continuing on the legacy of one of their oldest buildings, Memorial Hall.

For four years, New England has had a theater group, which, two years ago, formed into an independent club: Rainy Butte Productions.

"Prior to that we put on dinner theaters as a fundraiser to get the elevator that we have here in the Memorial Hall," Adrien Kathrein, Rainy Butte president, said. "Before that it was done under the Memorial Hall committee. And then there was a bunch of us that just decided we didn't want to quit, so we formed our own group."

Memorial Hall was almost forgotten, Shannay Witte, Rainy Butte vice president, said.

"There were periods of time when this building did not get used very much," Witte said. "It was starting to decay. We formed a committee in town, the Memorial Hall Renovation Committee, and did lots to this building. The kitchen, the room downstairs, the carpets. Lots of projects."

Rainy Butte's first show, "Pistols & Posies," was a gangster-themed comedy. Their most recent effort was "Spookhouse," a monster-themed comedy.

With launching their own theater group came challenges, Kathrein said.

"We had to build our own board and manage our own money and coordinate the meal and the show and everything," she said. "We had different leadership responsibilities we never had before. It was an adjustment."

For Kathrein, becoming a theater produce was a newly discovered passion.

"I did a couple of plays in high school, I did a lot of singing, but it's relatively new," she said.

Kathrein's first role was as "a crazy old nun" who was "somewhat confused and demented" in the production, "Murder Can Be Habit Forming."

She enjoys the roles as much as providing an evening of entertainment to the community.

"It's awesome!" she said. "The more people laugh the more goofy we are."

Kathrein has also grown more confident in the role of group leader.

"It's just making sure that everyone in the group feels valuable and everyone has an ability to be as involved as they want to be, and making sure the issues and frustrations are dealt with appropriately," she said.

In only a few years, the group has grown. Starting with about 12 people for first show, they have since expanded to 19.

"We have more people and more people interested in being involved," Kathrein said. "For those of us who have been involved more for the last four years, it gives us the ability to take on some different roles like directing or meal prep, other roles than just being in the show."

The group includes all ages, from youth to senior.

"It's hard to get everyone together in the same timeframe because the more people you get the more difficult it is to meet their schedule, and work out practices and meetings, but it is great," Kathrein said. "Acting abilities are different with age."

Memorial Hall has an interesting history.

"I don't know if it's the oldest building in town, but I would bet it's close," Kathrein said.

Rainy Butte plans to continue improvements to the building, including an upgraded sound booth, stage lights, and permanently placed drop mics.

"We want to maintain the historic quality of the building," Kathrein said. "Doing it here is great because we get to use that to our benefit. So many people use the Memorial Hall and it's easy to find. But it's maintaining that with what we want to add to it, making sure we don't change it so much so it doesn't hold its heritage.

Making it happen only takes time and the right people.

"Our treasurer, he's fairly familiar with theater and sound and light and what's required as far as the space we need," she said.

Kathrein holds the historic building in highest regard.

"It's very versatile," she said. "It has a nice floor and it's pretty open, and when we get it all decorated it sure looks great."

Also an ambition for the group, Witte said, is providing a legacy for the town's children.

"We want to start a program for the kids up in the high school," she said. "If we start that program, when they come back and live here, which we certainly hope they do, they can do this. We can keep this going and keep it alive. It's so neat."

Kathrein enjoys being able to both continue Memorial Hall's history and restore a community tradition.

"I know there was always a drama program in New England. Exactly how it was, I'm not sure," she said. "But I know drama was a big part because there was a drama program at the school and there was lots of talent shows they hosted up here. It's not like starting new, it's like bringing it back."

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