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History of the BHP




One man's dream of a little theater in the woods took flight.


The BHP began as a dream of Dr. Warren M. (Doc) Lee of the University of South Dakota. His goals were to create high-quality entertainment for people in rural areas and visitors to the Black Hills while providing training and employment opportunities for students and theatre professionals.




Over seven decades of theatre in Custer State Park 


In 1946, Doc Lee moved the company into the abandoned Civilian Conservation Corp buildings (Camp Lodge), which were constructed in 1934. The only remaining Camp Lodge building is the Snack Bar and office located at the head of camp. The original company worked in rustic conditions without modern facilities but performed with the same dedication as today's company members. Audiences trekked to the Playhouse on dirt and gravel roads to experience theatre in beautiful Custer State Park.

Over the years, many of the students and professionals that worked with Doc Lee moved to other locations to lead and work at theatre programs throughout the country. A network of BHP Alums continues to support the Playhouse through generous contributions and network opportunities for young professionals.

Each summer, seasoned theatre professionals from all over the country converge at the Black Hills Playhouse to experience a unique mix of professional theatre and outdoor living in a gorgeous location. Shows are designed and built by professional set, costume, lighting, and sound designers and performed by a mix of polished professionals, academic professionals, and college and graduate students. A small company of interns (approximately 14 per season--part on stage and part behind the scenes as technical workers) works to learn their craft alongside the seasoned professionals. In 2018, company members hailed from 23 states and 2 foreign countries.

In 1998, the BHP was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts grant to form a children's theatre company.  Founded in 1999, the Children's Theatre Company of South Dakota (CTCSD) was created to address two serious voids in the arts in South Dakota:  first, to provide access to quality theatre experiences to rural Midwestern communities and second, to provide professional work opportunities for performing artists.  


In 2010 the company was renamed Dakota Players and became an independent company.  In 2015,  the company reunited with the Black Hills Playhouse with the goal of extending its mission activities throughout the region. Through Dakota Players, the BHP serves children and adults in South Dakota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Iowa, and Minnesota through providing touring theatre programs, camps, and workshops.

Through a long-standing partnership, the University of South Dakota provides the salary and benefits of the Executive Director, makes technical equipment available to enhance production values, and promotes the BHP to students as a professional training opportunity. In return, the BHP promotes USD, provides intensive theatre training for students and professional theatre employment opportunities for select USD faculty each season.


The BHP, through year-round region-wide education programs, works to develop creative and empowered learners through Dakota Players touring theatre education programs, summer camps, and programs for children and adults with disabilities. An off-season company of eight professionals work throughout the year on education initiatives and to prepare and market the season.

The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish & Parks and Custer State Park have also been long-standing partners of the BHP. Each year, park fees help to support infrastructure and environmental needs at the BHP. The BHP, in turn, provides cultural tourism opportunities for locals and visitors to South Dakota and adds to the myriad activities that people enjoy in the Park.

In 2020, the BHP is a robust regional theatre and theatrical service organization. The Black Hills Playhouse, Inc. is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization whose mission is to deliver exceptional theatre programs that engage diverse people and strengthen South Dakota communities. Dedicated patrons and BHP alums have attended and supported operations for decades. We are grateful to all who continue to support Doc Lee's dream.​​​

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 The Black Hills Playhouse

  • Prominent regional theater with deep community roots

  • Rural haven where arts and artists are cherished

  • Professionally managed not-for-profit

  • Provides workforce development for emerging creatives

  • Annual employment for seasoned professional artists

  • 77 years of meaningful relationships with generations of artists and audiences


 The Black Hills Playhouse Alumni Association

  • Formed in 1980 to support and sustain the Black Hills Playhouse in accordance with the purposes and ideals expressed in the words and life of its founder, Dr. Warren M. Lee as follows: 1) to bring to its audiences the best theatre performances possible, and 2) to serve as a training center for talented young theatre people

  • People are members if they have worked for the Playhouse or been a board member.

  • No membership fee.

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