Traveling Shows

 (Reference: The Story of a County, pgs. 444-445)

In the early years, some of the most pretentious buildings seen in new villages, and often one of the first built, was the “opera house” — a place where people gathered to enjoy live entertainment. Some of the communities had different names for their halls. Probably one of the most magnificent of its time and one that still stands to this day is Odeon Hall, located in Belview on Main Street.

Odeon Hall is one of the best preserved examples of an early 20th-century building type of wood frame performing arts hall, and also represents the community’s desire to bring culture to the region. The building was designed by A. Pottratz and constructed in 1901 for $3,500 after Belview lobbied the Minnesota Legislature to exceed the legal limit of bond sales for its construction. The simplified Queen Anne building has a barrel-vault, pressed-tin ceiling, along with other unique features. This multifunctional performance hall has been used for touring vaudeville troupes, local talent shows, motion pictures, band concerts, and even basketball games. Still in use today, Odeon Hall features a stage curtain with early 20th-century advertising.

The most elaborate of the traveling shows came under the names Lyceum and Chautauqua. Lyceums usually were presented in the winter in the village opera houses and halls, and Chautauquas toured during the summers, setting up tents for performances. Otherwise there was little difference.

Each had a variety of acts — lectures, plays, music, art, gymnastics — were usually sponsored by a community group, and stayed from one to 10 days. They traveled by wagon in the earlier days, and later gauged their appearances by railroad timetables. Very influential people occasionally joined the circuit; William Jennings Bryan, a leading politician in the 1890s, and well known orator and lecturer, appeared in Redwood Falls in 1911.

An unusual act in the 1930s, was performed on stage at the New Dream Theater in Redwood Falls. A performer gulped beer from a glass while holding it in his teeth and then ate the glass. The act must have drawn quite a crowd, but the entertainment value is questionable. This type of performance took place at the close of an era of live entertainment, of traveling shows that reached their popularity height in the pre-WWI period and went out with the movies. By the end of WWII, only stage programs at county fairs bore a resemblance to those shows that had previously entertained two generations of Redwood County citizens.