Playmill Theatre 50th Anniversary Reunion this month!

Playmill Banner 2I was so hoping to be able to travel up to West Yellowstone to attend the 50th reunion party next week. But I just can’t justify the expense right now. I have had a blast reconnecting with several friends on Facebook and on the phone who I have not talked to since that summer of 1987.

And my friend Suzanne posted her whole scrapbook of photos on facebook. Chimene Benson, daughter in law to Lynn and Fern Benson uploaded precious photos from the Benson Family Photo Album. I grabbed a few of the photos from both ladies, so here they are in a slide show.

Suzannes Father was also one of the original founders of the Playmill and she recently wrote an article for a local paper on the reunion:

Playmill Theatre celebrates 50 years of entertainment

By Suzanne Harris-Severe


“Popcorn!”  “Suckers!”  “Fudge!”

To many Rexburg residents, these words conjure up years of memories of the Playmill Theatre!  The Playmill, located in West Yellowstone, Montana will celebrate fifty years of music, variety, and family entertainment on June 20, 2013.

It all started with a dream.  Roger Harris, had always dreamed of opening a live theatre at the west entrance of Yellowstone National Park.  With three of his friends and Ricks College colleagues, Lee Gifford, Lyle Watson, and Lynn Benson, they embarked on an adventure that they never imagined would turn into a successful and popular venue.    The theatre was named the Westgate Playmill Theatre then.

That first year,  1964, was a difficult one.  The men spent countless hours commuting and preparing the small rented building into a stage, seating, and lights.  They were the cast, crew, box office manager, and directors…usually working 20-hour days. There were only seven Ricks College students in the cast that year. Seating was simply folding chairs.

There were many obstacles and challenges.  Once the power went out and the front row of the audience held candles for light.   Many nights, after the show, the four men would spend hours in a local family diner called Swanson’s.  They would eat dinner, usually the only meal they had time for, and cried on each other’s shoulders wondering how they were going to make it. But despite the challenges, the ‘show must go on!’

Through the first few years, three of the original founders left to pursue other opportunities; leaving Lynn and Fern Benson as the sole owners and operators.

Years later, John and Trudy Bidwell would run the theatre, and then Roger and Heidi Merrill, who currently operate the Playmill.

Through the years, hundreds of college students have experienced being a “Playmill Player” and thousands of people have laughed, cried and sung with the cast on stage.  There are many cast memories of players: falling through the ceiling onto the stage; witnessing bears nearly walking through the open theatre doors; vacuuming up a lot of popcorn; meeting audience members from all over the world; forgetting lines during a show; and in some cases, meeting their future spouses.

For many years, the Playmill was associated with BYU and Ricks College.  Auditions were held at both locations, and many promising drama and music students chosen would then spend a summer in some of the most beautiful country in the world.  Cast members were able to receive college credits upon completion of theatre classes taught during their summer.

In the last fifty years, there have been many shows performed, gallons of soda consumed, pounds of fudge made, and hundreds of songs sung.  Next week, the Playmill Player alumni look forward to a 50-year reunion (June 20-22) at the Playmill.  During the reunion, alumni will see performances, participate in an alumni variety and pre-show, take a midnight drive to Old Faithful, and enjoy a luncheon where they can reminisce and enjoy re-connecting with each other.

This family-oriented theatre has created a wonderful heritage, formed life-long relationships , and have welcomed thousands of audience members into the Playmill family.

So here’s to the four men who fulfilled a dream.  Here’s to those who have continued their legacy.  And here’s to fifty more years of Playmill Theatre entertainment!”

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This short video clip from closing night of Pippin has the finale scene, curtain call, and street greeting which we did after every show.

This summer stock company was founded by a few Theatre Professors from Ricks College and BYU and is still going strong fifty years later. I feel so blessed to have been a part of it for a few months of my life, performing eight shows a week and living the lifestyle of the professional actor before my adult life kicked in and husband, marriage, children, and life took over.

Jenny Hatch

Jenny Hatch in Pippin Costume
Jenny Hatch in Pippin Costume

The shows this summer are spectacular, so check out the playmill site for more information! Click HERE

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