Michael Shann’s career in theatre has taken him all over the world, but there is one place he always returns to. “I always tried to keep my ties with Spearfish and Black Hills State University,” he said.

Shann, a 1970 graduate of education with a drama and history emphasis, started his career on the BHSU stage. Next week, he will be the guest director for BHSU’s first production of the season, Swimming in the Shallows by Adam Bock. Shann has previously conducted workshops for BHSU theatre classes; however, this is his first time as a guest director for the theatre program. “We talked about doing a production last year but it didn’t work out,”Shann said of his work with Albert Juhrend, BHSU associate professor of theatre.

Shann brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to BHSU theatre students. He has spent time in New York City as a stage manager and theatre director. For more than 20 years, he worked with the Walt Disney Company, managing major Disney projects throughout the United States and Japan. In 2002, he began working as the executive producer of events for the Young Presidents’ Organization, a global group of young presidents and CEOs with more than 17,000 members in 100 countries. Shann organized educational networking events in 30 countries.  In 2009, he moved to Minneapolis to be closer to his grandchildren and to Spearfish.

 “I try to make it back to Spearfish nearly every year,” he said.

Shann is excited to be directing a new, up-and-coming production at BHSU. BHSU’s production of Swimming in the Shallows will be the fourth performance of the play and the first time it’s been performed outside either of the coasts. The comedy follows a group of friends from Rhode Island as they try to answer life’s most thought-provoking questions, and some questions you may not have known you had including can love ever exist between man and shark?

Shann got the script from graduate school friends that are in the Drama League, a non-profit arts advocacy and education organization with a goal of promoting young directors and playwrights. Shann contacted his friends and said he was looking for something fresh. “They sent me a few scripts including Swimming in the Shallows by Adam Bock,”Shann said. “It is a great play for college students. It is a silly, yet contemporary, comedy.”

The play opens Thursday, Oct. 11 at 7:30p.m. in the Pangburn Hall Laboratory Theatre and runs through Saturday, Oct.13. Tickets are free to all BHSU students, faculty and staff who show a Buzz Card, $8 for community members, and $6 for seniors. “We are then taking it on tour to the Matthews Opera House,” Shann said. There will be encore performances Nov. 8 and 9 at the Spearfish downtown theatre. The Matthews Opera House will then have two performances of its production Over the River and Through the Woods directed by Jon Steven Wiley at the BHSU theatre Nov. 1 and 2. “We are trying to get the community out to see some of our college performances and the college students out to see some of the community productions,” Shann said. “We are really trying to make more of a connection between the community and BHSU.”

Two BHSU students and one University graduate are also in the community’s production of Over the River and Through the Woods. Elysia Pederson is the assistant director, and Melissa Barnard and BHSU graduate Jake Roman are both in the show.

With less than a week before opening night, Shann said rehearsals have been going great and the students are ready to take the stage. “There is some very good talent here.”  

The talent of these students will be reviewed on Friday night by a judge from the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, a national program involving 18,000 students from colleges and universities nationwide which has served as a catalyst in improving the quality of college theater in the United States. The judge could choose up to two BHSU students to compete in the regional festival in January. Those students may then be eligible for an Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship, a scholarship given to outstanding student performers who wish to pursue further education.

Last year, two BHSU theatre students competed in the regional festival in Ames, Iowa, according to Juhrend. Max Downs and Alexa Syverson were among 64 semifinalists in the Irene Ryan Acting Competition.There were nearly 300 nominees competing.

“It is great that the BHSU theatre program is involved in a nationwide competition. It helps students build confidence,”Shann said.