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December 26: Early Theater: Community Players in Bismarck

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In September of 1931, a community acting group organized in the city of Bismarck. Sixty people became members at the first meeting, where the group adopted a constitution and elected officers. It cost 50 cents per year to be a member. Their goal was to “provide drama as a means of recreation both for participants and audience.” Members determined that admission fees would be kept low, only enough to cover costs.

These men and women called themselves the Community Players. This seems to be Bismarck’s first local acting group, though it was certainly not the city’s first entanglement with acting. Ten years prior, in 1921, the Bismarck chapter of the American Legion staged a play called “Are you a Mason?” Noted actor and director Sanford Dodge was brought in to direct, and the play was cast “many well-known young people of Bismarck,” all with experience in “dramatic work.” Director Dodge urged the city to consider creating a theatre group, noting there was plenty of talent in the area. He argued that Bismarck could “set the pace for the development of the community player spirit for the Northwest.”

Ten years later, the Bismarck Community Players were possibly ruminating on this advice as the freshly-established group prepared their first show, a series of three one-act plays. Tickets could be purchased from members of the organization or several other community locations. Students could buy discounted tickets at school. The funds raised through all these sales were to be used for a special Christmas pageant.

The play selected for the pageant was “Why the Chimes Rang,” based on a short story in which a boy experiences sacrifice and gives all he can to help people around him. The play was presented free of charge in two shows on Christmas Day. The majority of the Community Players took part in the play. The members also created two sets of scenery, which was highly praised for ingenuity and artistry.

On this date, the Bismarck Tribune reported that the show played to packed houses for each showing.

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker


  • The Bismarck Tribune, September 19, 1931, p2
  • The Bismarck Tribune, September 25, 1931, p6
  • The Bismarck Tribune, November 14, 1931, p3
  • The Bismarck Tribune, November 17, 1931, p5
  • Jamestown Weekly Alert, January 27, 1921, p5
  • The Bismarck Tribune, January 26, 1921, p8
  • The Bismarck Tribune, January 27, 1921, p2
  • 1930 United States Federal Census, Ely, White Pine, Nevada

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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