75 is the magic number

Thursday, October 25, 2012
Larry Untiet, Spencer High School Drama Department director, sits on the set of his 75th production, "Grease," looking at a photo copy of the newspaper article highlighting the opening of the old Spencer High School auditorium 75 years ago. (Photo by Randy M. Cauthron)

Auditorium, Untiet and Thespian Troupe reach milestones

When "Grease" debuts Nov. 2, for three shows, it will mark Spencer High School Drama Department Director Larry Untiet's 75th production, as the venue for the show itself, the original Spencer High School Auditorium celebrates its 75th anniversary.

"That's the reason we chose Grease," Untiet said. "We did it once before in 1999, and it was the largest crowd we ever had. We turned people away every night."

"This one rose right to the top because of the popularity of the show," Untiet said, noting the movie version of the musical is closing in on its 40th anniversary. "We're in good shape with a week to go. The show's coming right along."

When the auditorium first opened in 1937, it was one of the showcase auditoriums of northwest Iowa, featuring ornate light fixtures, decorative woodwork, and a large performing stage area, complete with a fly system for the raising and lowering of scenery, the latest in lighting systems, an orchestra pit, and a large lobby area complete with a permanent box office.

Many updates have been made, particularly in the areas of lighting, seating and various other technical aspects of theatre production.

"I think for the most part -- while there have been new seats on the ground floor added probably 30 or 35 years ago and the lighting system has been changed two or three times to keep up with technology -- the flavor of the theatre has remained pretty much the same," Untiet said.

He continued, "Out front, it's very nice, but what it lacks is wing space off to the sides. And before we got chordless mics, sound was kind of a problem."

The high school auditorium, which was first used in the 1936-37 school year, 20 years after the high school itself was built, has a storied history. During its 75 years of existence, the auditorium has housed a variety of activities, including hundreds of professional and amateur productions in dance, music and theatre, featuring classic comedies, dramas, mysteries, melodramas and Broadway musicals.

Spencer High School has produced 237 theatrical productions in the facility, beginning with the first production ever produced on the stage, "Hi-Ho Doctors," in 1937.

The original cost to build the facility was $132,000. A similar auditorium would cost in the millions to produce today Untiet said.

While Untiet believes the time has come for the high school to consider a new home for the high school's performing arts, he hopes the historic show house remains a landmark in Spencer.

"I would hope to never see it torn down. We have probably reached the time where we need a new auditorium at the high school," Untiet said, citing space and heat and cooling issues. "But I don't think it should ever be torn down."

Theatre directors during that 70-year span have consisted of the following: Dorothy Sunderlin, Dora Jensen, Marcella Colburn, Elinor Miller, Betty Holdcroft, Darlene Galbreath, Mary Berg, Edith Sackett, Doris Glantz, Claire Powell, John Fonkert, Emily Greber, Robert Stidolph, Margarert Burkholder, Floy Akin, Mary Hudson, Stanley Hamilton, Clayton Liggett, Barry Mason, Carol Coburn, and Untiet.

Spencer High School Thespian Troupe No. 1763, an honorary drama organization into which students may only earn their way through participation in speech and drama activities, is also celebrating its 55th year. Director Clayton Leggett established Spencer's Thespian Troupe in 1957. Since that time hundreds and hundreds of Spencer High School drama students have been initiated into the organization, and have continued to maintain the high quality of theatrical excellence that is associated with Spencer High School Drama.

A special "anniversary" shirt featuring a detailed drawing of the original high school auditorium on the front and a complete listing of Untiet's 75 plays on the back has been designed and will be available for sale. Orders for these shirts will be taken at the auditorium during the performances of Grease on Nov. 2-4, on Facebook or by calling Larry Untiet at Spencer High School at 262-1700 ext. 2122.

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  • I am Clayton Liggett's daughter; I live in Carlsbad, California. A Spencer neighbor of mine from the early 60's wrote and told me about this article. I loved that old high school theatre. My brother and I spent many evenings there attempting to entertain ourselves during Dad's play practice. When we were four and six, we played the children in Tea House of the August Moon. I still remember bits and pieces ... oh, the memories. Loved it. I'm so happy to hear that it's still being used.

    -- Posted by Marcia Liggett Garcia on Thu, Oct 25, 2012, at 3:56 PM
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