SPEARFISH — For more than a decade, Ann Froelich, of Spearfish, brought worlds to life onstage, directing the Peanut Butter and Jelly Players, the children’s community theater program at Matthews Opera House.

Froelich, who recently retired from the program after directing it since the 2008 season, thanked everyone involved with all the musicals over the years, in case she didn’t have a chance to include their names in programs or thank them personally. She also thanked all of the casts and crews.

“To the cast and crew, you all did an incredible job! I told you only where to enter and exit. You each developed your characters,” she said. “You answered the five ‘W’ questions, and with the space and equipment we had, you developed your characters.”

She also thanked Matthews Opera House for the opportunity to perform on the stage.

“We have been blessed with a community devoted to our children and devoted to the arts,” Froelich said.

The opera house thanked Froelich for all of her volunteerism through the years.

“Ann’s dedication to the children and the community was an incredible asset to the Matthews during her time as director,” Sian Young, former executive director of Matthews Opera House, said. “She has such respect for what theater and drama can teach kids beyond acting — confidence, public speaking, team work, problem solving, sharing the spotlight, creativity. She believes the kids can do every aspect of the show — design and build the sets, be the actors, work sound and lights — and would work with them to learn these skills.” 

Young said that the opera house is grateful for the continuity to build the program, year after year. 

“She had children with her from grade school until they graduated from high school,” she said of Froelich. “With Ann’s support, we as an organization were able to direct funds and efforts to additional children’s programming. We believe that when children are involved in theater and the arts from a young age, they are more likely to be invested in the arts later in life.”

To honor Froelich’s legacy, the children’s theater program is now named the Froelich Young Actors Guild, which will debut this summer.

Froelich’s thespians have many fond memories of working with her over the years.

Tayler Yahne, who is going into ninth-grade, has been involved with children’s theater for seven years.

“For me it was her passion that I remember the most ... she put in so much time and energy and money in to the shows,” Yahne said, adding, “You could tell she loved what she did. … Ann helped me love acting.”   

AJ Kinney, who is going into eighth-grade, has been part of children’t theater for five years.  

“It was nice to have the same person over and over again,” Kinney said. “Ann always wanted to help people and knew how to solve problems. She was easy to work with and very honest.” 

Froelich remembered that during the first children’s theater production, people asked what she needed and offered whatever it was. She also pointed to how all of the opera house staff assisted in making the productions successful.

“Sian Young faithfully ordered our scripts and rehearsal CDs, show kits, and she plowed through the 13-page contract we got from MTI (Music Theater International). Jayne Rose was devoted to getting our programs correct including the correct size of the credits on the front. And there was Jack Hughes. Thank you for training the kids who so generously agreed or volunteered to run the sound or lights,” Froelich said. She added that over the years, she was also blessed with many talented costumers: Nancy Rumney and Debbie Monroe, as well as artists and set designers, including Laurie Williams-Hayes, Mae Gill, Georgie Streetman, and more.

“The cast and crew drew and submitted suggestions for everything, from the set to costumes,” Froelich said. “They brought in everything from costume pieces to props.”

And she always told the cast and crew that she was not trained in drama; she was an elementary teacher, and she would apologize in advance for treating them all like second-graders, because many of them were well beyond second-grade, she said. 

“My training in theater came from my one class years ago in play production,” she said. “It also came from being stage manager for some awesome directors including Max Merchen, Mike Kane, Michelle Pederson, and others.”

Froelich also named Burt Juhrend, theater professor at BHSU, in her list of those who assisted in teaching her about theater, and Nancy Roberts, music professor at BHSU, who taught a music class “for people like me who wanted to learn what we could about music,” Froelich said.  

“I am grateful for the all all of these people taught me and for all I learned form all of the young people through the years,” she said. “I am grateful for the opportunity I had at Matthews Opera House to learn what I did about theater.” 

The Froelich Young Actors Guild will debut on June 21-23 with two productions: “We Are Monsters,” performed by children in grades 2-6, and “A Lonely Boy’s Guide to Survival (and Werewolves),” performed by children in grades 7-12. For more information, visit matthewsopera.com.

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