The North Dakota man was the father of the community theater boom in rural America

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Arvold had gained a worldwide reputation and was a good friend of many national figures in the entertainment industry, but his main focus was on the development and culture of theater in rural communities, particularly in North Dakota. Thanks to Arvold’s creative spirit, entrepreneurial skills, hard work and enthusiastic support and encouragement, “hundreds of communities in North Dakota have started their own theater businesses.”

It was Arvold’s belief that “there are literally millions of people in rural communities whose abilities, which existed in various ways, have been hidden, simply because they never had the opportunity. to express their talents ”. To solve this problem, Arnold developed what he called the “Little Country Theater” (LTC) in 1914. Through its existence, he encouraged rural people to write, produce and act in their own communities.

By doing this, he believed it would help rural people “find each other.” Arvold felt that most rural people lead rather mundane lives and that working on theatrical projects would give them purpose, bring communities together and actually help them solve some of their problems.

Alfred Gilmeiden Arnold was born January 15, 1882 in Whitewater, Wisconsin, to Louis and Caroline “Carrie” (Erickson) Arvold. Whitewater, a town of almost 4000 inhabitants, was able to provide various forms of entertainment, and young Arvold was fascinated by almost all of it. He loved theater, opera and ballet and had a special affinity for the circus.

Arnold G. Arvold as seen in the NDAC yearbook of 1909. Special at the Forum

Arnold G. Arvold as seen in the NDAC yearbook of 1909. Special at the Forum

One observation he made at an early age was that performers had the ability to boost people’s morale. The lives of many of the patrons of these performances may have been filled with daily chores and heartaches, but while the performers were the center of their attention, most of the crowd were entertained.

Arvold graduated from Whitewater High School in 1901, then enrolled at the University of Wisconsin where he became active in theatrical productions. At that time, the University of Wisconsin was a very progressive institution and it emphasized the philosophy that university professors should apply their research to improve “the health, quality of life, environment and agriculture for all. citizens of the state ”. This philosophy was emphasized by both university president and Governor Bob LaFollette, and it was called the “Wisconsin Idea”.

This philosophy has obviously had a lasting impact on Arvold. He received his bachelor’s degree in 1905 and was hired to be a high school English teacher in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. During his stay, Arvold developed a highly regarded theater program at the school where he taught, became a renowned Chautauqua speaker, fell in love with the woman he later married, and became involved in them. Masons and Republican politics.

Meanwhile, Fargo’s NDAC continued to grow, and college president John Worst gave his approval for the founding of the Dramatic Club in January 1907 and appointed Professor Edward Keene president to oversee the club. The enthusiastic club members decided to put on the play “Captain Racket”, which was performed at the Grand Theater in downtown Fargo on June 6th.

It became evident that many students wanted to have drama activities on campus, but the college had no one to lead or supervise these activities within the faculty. Keene was already busy with many other tasks and could not continue in this role. He was the head of the mechanical arts program and was also responsible for overseeing the military training program, the engineering club, and the Alpha Mu social fraternity (later the Theta Chi).

The worst believed that NDAC was an excellent institution “for training good farmers and teachers”, but “he wanted to make farming life into a business, to be envied, and knew that one way to do it was to involve students in Arts”. He felt that offering drama classes and theater-related activities would be one of the keys to achieving this.

To fill the Drama Instructor position, the administration was looking for someone who was creative, innovative, committed, trustworthy, who had a track record of delivering drama programs, and who had talent. good communication skills. Although Arvold only has a bachelor’s degree, the fact that he accomplished incredible things with Eau Claire’s theatrical arts program convinced the NDAC administration that he was the man for the job.

Arvold was offered the post of Oratory / Speech and English Teacher at NDAC. Arvold accepted the offer, and after handing in his resignation from Eau Claire High School and his part-time job as a telegraph editor for the Eau Claire Daily Leader newspaper, he arrived in Fargo in September 1907.

Arnold G. Arvold's office was located in the Old Main circular watchtower.  Special at the Forum

Arnold G. Arvold’s office was located in the Old Main circular watchtower. Special at the Forum

“For his office, Arvold chose a circular room in the Old Main Watchtower. In addition to teaching his classes, Arvold took over the supervision of the Drama Club and renamed it Edwin Booth Dramatic Club, which was the name of the drama club at the University of Wisconsin. He limited membership to 15 students. To qualify, students had to be upper-class students with at least a C average, and they also had to commit to performing in plays – with a major role in at least one play.

The first play directed by Arvold was “The Professor’s Plight”, and it was staged at the Fargo Opera House in February 1908. Arvold’s next big project was the promotion of what he was doing. called the Cyclone Circus, which took place on March 7, 1908. The circus consisted of a parade through downtown Fargo, consisting of floats, a marching band, and cars of college faculty members. This was followed by entertainment at the Armory which included tumblers, wrestling matches, a Dixie quartet, a German band, and numerous shows. The whole event was considered a “huge success”.

1908 was an exciting political year for Arvold. President Theodore Roosevelt refused to run for another term as a Republican candidate and his vice president, William Howard Taft, was the front runner. However, one of his serious challengers was Bob LaFollette, who had served as governor of Arvold in Wisconsin. When Taft became the official candidate after the primary elections, Arvold enthusiastically supported him. Newspapers reported that in October Arvold was giving campaign speeches for Taft and other Republican candidates.

On March 4, 1909, the night of Taft’s presidential inauguration, a banquet called The Big Feed was held on campus, with Arvold as toastmaster and general manager. Five hundred people, “including citizens of Fargo, attended the banquet.

In 1910, Arvold began his high school series titled The Citizen’s Lecture Course. About six times a year, he brought renowned artists and lecturers to campus. Due to Arvold’s enthusiastic and compelling appeal, he was able to convince these people to share their wisdom and talent with NDAC students and faculty.

The story of Alfred G. Arvold will continue next week.

“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your comments, corrections or column suggestions to Eriksmoens at [email protected]


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