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County Seat Theater celebrates 30 years with free community event Saturday

Regina Roemhildt, music director for the County Seat Theater's summer youth program, channels her inner cowgirl along with numerous children from this summer’s productions of “Go West” during Monday’s Labor Day parade. The County Seat Theater Company is celebrating 30 years this year. Jana Peterson/Pine Journal

The County Seat Theater Company has been serving up quality community theater to Carlton County for 30 years. To celebrate this special occasion, the theater group will host a free community event Saturday, Sept. 9, featuring a free community picnic and open house from 5:30-7 p.m., followed by a free concert by the Northeast Timberland Band starting at 7 p.m.

"This is another huge accomplishment for us," said general manager Joel Soukkala. "We never thought 30 years ago when the theater started as a fundraiser for Carlton High School band uniforms that we would have accomplished so many things."

In October 1987 the County Seat Theater Company opened with its first production of Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple" and continued to perform using the Carlton High School facility for 13 years. During those years the season grew to include Children's Theater, holiday and summer shows, in addition to the established fall production. In September 1999, the theater group performed its first production in a little church in Atkinson Township. In January 2001 the company was able to purchase the church, and it became The Old Country Church Theater.

Nine successful seasons after their first show at the church, County Seat Theater Company experienced growing pains. Crowding and accessibility issues were forcing the theater to begin thinking about plans to possibly add on to the old church.

In 2007, they discovered a building in Cloquet with a very large "For Sale" sign in front of it. The location was perfect, the size was great, the condition was excellent. The board of directors made the decision to at least try to become the new owners of this great new space. After a six-month and a very aggressive capital campaign, it was possible for CST to make a nice sized down payment on the building and even have enough to begin renovations. They took possession in January 2008, began major renovations and produced their first show, the big musical "Sweet Charity," by April in their new home, the Encore! Performing Arts Center and Gallery.

The County Seat Theater Company has been producing top notch theater in Carlton County since 1987, progressing to a national award winning theater! The Arts Center includes a space for local artists to showcase their work and provides the community with a full season of plays, concerts and events. They are a major arts presence and remain as the only full-season theater in all of Carlton County.

In 2012, County Seat Theater Company was invited to perform at the World's Festival of Children's Performing Arts in Toyama, Japan, representing the United States. Also during that year they hired a full-time general manager to run the day-to-day operations and continue to grow and keep the theater strong. Throughout the years they have participated in numerous festivals around the country, hosted state theater festivals and were selected by the American Association of Community Theatres to produce a World Premiere in October 2018.

"We have a lot to be proud of and so many people and businesses to be thankful for," says Soukkala, adding, "We love sharing this with our community!"

Saturday's event promises to be another excellent evening out for anyone who choses to go. The Northeast Timberland Band has been making music in the Twin Ports since 2013. While the focus is on bluegrass/folk/country rock, NTB enjoys performing music across many genres.

The open house will also include raffles, prize drawings, a slide presentation, the gallery will be open and behind-the-scenes tours of the facility at 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. led by Soukkala. Get a sneak peek behind the scenes with a tour of the costume shop, green room and backstage.

The anniversary event at the Encore! Performing Arts Center in Cloquet is free and open to everyone; however, patrons are asked to call the theater at 218-878-0071 to RSVP for the concert as seating is limited.

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