â�?�?Strollersâ�?�? set for annual vaudeville review By Randy Dockendorf
Yankton Media, Inc. VERMILLION — As a master of ceremonies for this year's "Strollers" show, Chris Healy is coming home. Healy, a Yankton native, will join Gettysburg senior Alex Smith as MCs for the annual University of South Dakota vaudeville show. With Slagle Auditorium under renovation on the Vermillion campus, this year's 86th annual production is moving to Dakota Theatre in Yankton. For Healy, that presents a unique opportunity when the curtain rises for the April 16-18 shows at 7 p.m. "I will be on-stage and entertaining in front of my family and friends," he said. "It will be a very special night for me. It's the only time (Strollers) has ever been held outside Vermillion, and it's being held in my hometown." "Strollers" consists of four Greek casts and one independent cast. The casts compete for a large trophy, with each cast following a theme. The show features singing, dancing and comedy routines. As an MC, Healy will host the evening and keep the crowd entertained between acts. The line-up of students known as "Strollers" perform skits called "Tweeners" between acts. While Healy grew up in Yankton, Strollers will mark his first time on the Dakota Theatre stage. "I had been to various shows at Dakota Theatre when I was growing up, but I have never performed there," he said. Strollers initially sought to keep the show in Vermillion for a number of reasons, Healy said. He cited the logistics, the fan base and the desire to remain in the same community that had hosted Strollers since 1924. But when other options failed, Healy recommended taking the show to Yankton. He toured Dakota Theatre with Chuck Lambertz, executive director of the Lewis and Clark Theatre Company. Healy got a feel for the 1902 theater and liked what he saw. The major adjustment for this year's Strollers will be the smaller venue. Whereas Dakota Theatre can hold 590 for a show, Strollers has drawn 800 to 1,000 for its Friday shows and 1,400 to 2,000 for its Saturday shows. Because of Dakota Theatre's smaller size, a third show has been added for this year's Strollers. However, that isn't a major change from past years, when a Thursday dress rehearsal was held. "The biggest change will be the closeness of the crowd to the (Dakota Theatre) stage," Healy said. "Slagle is a much larger venue, so the way the crowd will be involved will be different (at Yankton). But we're looking forward to the intimate show. It's an ideal environment." Strollers president Steve Cotton of Wagner said the smaller venue will actually work well. "I think it's going to be a great show. It's a lot more personal. People are going to be able to hear a lot better," he said. "They can sit in the back of Slagle and it's still a fun show, but it's a lot harder to hear. With Dakota Theatre, you can sit in the back of the balcony and hear really well." The one disadvantage to the Yankton move has been the inability to practice on the stage until the week of performances, Cotton said. However, Strollers has booked the theater for four nights of rehearsals, he said. In the meantime, casts are holding rehearsals everywhere from the DakotaDome to the National Guard Armory to Vermillion High School, as well as the fraternity and sorority houses, he added. The cast directors decide on a theme and begin choreographing in the fall to early winter. The Strollers casts have been working on the show since January, rehearsing as many as 50 hours a week, Cotton said. The show, normally held in late February or early March, was scheduled this year for mid-April because of Dakota Theatre's bookings, he said. "The show is really coming down to crunch time. The casts have really come far along," he said. "This year, they ended up with an extra four to six weeks, so it helped perfect the show." Strollers will provide a single backdrop for the entire show, Cotton said. However, each cast can individualize its show with its own costumes and props. Casts are allotted a time slot of 15 minutes to perform and are judged on six aspects of the show. Choreography counts for 25 percent, plot 25 percent, humor 20 percent, costumes 15 percent and overall effect 15 percent. Honorary judges, chosen from campus and local businesses, award first, second and third places to casts based on the Saturday night performance. Awards are also given for best band, costume and backdrop. The Strollers have been campus entertainers since 1924, making it the longest running student organization in South Dakota. "Anyone who has attended USD during the past 85 years knows about the Strollers show. It's so unique," Healy said. "Every school has a homecoming… but USD is the only school in the United States with Strollers. It's very special to the University." Cotton said he attended Strollers since he was 13 and always wanted to be in the show. "It's probably one of the most beneficial things I have done at college," he said. "It has taught me organizational skills and professional performance. I am less shy about getting on-stage and doing things like public speaking." An effort was made to keep Strollers going this year rather than take a one-year hiatus, Cotton said. The proceeds from Strollers go to charities and help finance the following year's show, he said. Maintaining this year's show was also important for keeping alive the Strollers tradition, Healy said. "It means a lot to the seniors, to go out there and compete for something they hope to win. They want to make the most of their senior year," he said. "And the newer members learn they need to be involved in putting on the show and carry on the tradition for years to come. Every time you take a year off, you lose a little bit of what you had." Healy also receives e-mails from Strollers alumni about keeping the show alive. "(Alumni) say how special it was for them, and they share their stories," he said. "I have met so many people on campus that I never would have had the chance to meet if it weren't for Strollers. It's a great USD tradition." The show is adult entertainment, geared toward ages 18 and older, and carries a PG-13 rating, Healy said. Dakota Theatre box office manager Janelle Wieseler said blocks of tickets have been reserved for the approximately 150 cast members, their families and friends. Remaining tickets will go on sale to the general public. The tickets cost $10 at the door, and those interested in tickets can stop at the theater or contact the box office at (605) 665-4711 from noon-5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Should Slagle Auditorium's renovation not be completed by next year's Strollers, Cotton said he would gladly bring the show back to Dakota Theatre. In the meantime, he encourages area residents to attend this year's show in Yankton. "We hope there is a spark of interest so people in Yankton check it out and see what they think," he said. "It's a great experience."