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Brave Community Theatre marks 50 years

How has a community theater thrived for 50 years in a town of less than 3,000?

BCT first casting.jpg
Casting of the first show at Brave Community Theatre in Spring Valley, Minn. in 1972.
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SPRING VALLEY, MINN. — Deb Neville established Brave Community Theatre in Spring Valley with a $250 donation.

Neville said she hoped at the time the company would last about five years.

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It was a longshot, but back then $250 went a bit further than it does today. Brave Community Theatre is marking its 50th anniversary this month with a production of “The Wizard of Oz .”

Although $250 had about $1,7750 buying power 50 years ago, that still isn’t much money to launch a theater company let alone sustain any operation for half a century.

In a town that no longer has a movie theater, Neville credits the community and volunteers for sustaining the company from show to show and year to year.

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“It’s the tenacity of the small town,” she said.

Southeast Minnesota is a hub of theater companies with 30 different companies operating in the Southeast Minnesota Arts Council area. However, that wasn’t the case when Brave was founded, Neville said.

“Fifty years ago, there wasn’t this much theater in the area,” she said.

The company debuted in 1972 with a performance of “A Roaring ‘20s Scrapbook” in a former Vaudeville Theater building turned movie theater in Spring Valley.

Other businesses have come and gone in that building since then, Neville said.

Almost Maine at Chatfield 02.JPG
Gabrielle Ronnenberg, left, and Abby Biermann, right, of Brave Community Theatre in Spring Valley, practice their scene in "Almost Maine" at the Potter Auditorium at the Chatfield Center for the arts Sept. 20, 2021. Seven community theaters are collaborating to present the show in Chatfield Sept. 24-25.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin

BCT shows are now performed at the Spring Valley Community Center.

What’s the key to 50 years of longevity?

“Isn’t that the mystery?” Neville said.

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Involvement from the tenacious small town might have something to do with that.

One of Neville’s favorite productions, “Night of January 16th” featured known community members. A police officer was cast in the role of a police officer and a district court judge filled the role of a judge in the production.

“A lot of it is that it’s such a grassroots thing,” Neville said.

Some of the company’s largest crowds attended BCT’s “Paint Your Wagon” in 1981.

Almost Maine at Chatfield 01.JPG
Megan Hammon, board member of Brave Community Theatre in Spring Valley, spreads her arms as she stands on stage at the Potter Auditorium at the Chatfield Center for the arts Sept. 20, 2021 before rehearsal of "Almost Maine." Seven community theaters are collaborating to present the show in Chatfield Sept. 24-25. John Molseed / Post Bulletin

“We maxed out the fire code limit of about 400 people over four nights,” Neville said.

The show featured a large cast and a chorus, Neville said. Area business owners and community leaders in the show drew their friends and family, she added.

“It was just, ‘gosh, we have to go see these people,’” Neville said.

The show opened to a crowd of more than 100 and grew from there, she added.

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To continue bringing new people to BCT, one of the theater’s board positions goes to a member of Kingsland Schools drama club.

That’s not to say the company hasn’t had struggles.

In 1993, as BCT prepared to put on a production of “Fiddler on the Roof,” cast members pitched in to buy their scripts for the show.

Neville was also concerned about the company’s future when she moved to Rochester in 2000. However, she has maintained her involvement, continues to direct shows and serve terms on the board.

Through 50 years of history, the theater has given experience to people working professionally now.

Todd Copeman went on to found Apple Blossom Theatre in La Crescent, Illinois and Gary Johnson, heads the Monroe Theatre Guild in Monroe, Wisconsin.

“So many people have been involved over the years, you can’t really measure the effect it’s had not just here but elsewhere over the years,” Neville said. “I’m sure that’s true for all the theaters that have been around but for a small town, that’s particularly noteworthy.”

If you go

What: Brave Community Theatre presents "The Wizard of Oz"

Where: Spring Valley Community Center, Spring Valley, Minn.

When: 7 p.m., Wed., Aug. 17 through Sat., Aug. 20

John Molseed joined the Post Bulletin in 2018. He covers arts, culture, entertainment, nature and other fun stories he's surprised he gets paid to cover. When he's not writing articles about Southeast Minnesota artists and musicians, he's either picking banjo, brewing beer, biking or looking for other hobbies that begin with the letter "b." Readers can reach John at 507-285-7713 or jmolseed@postbulletin.com.
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