Former Rexburg couple takes over renamed Palace PlayhouseJan 25th, 2016 | By vgrieve | Category: Business news, Pack your bags
By Amanda Beal
Former Rexburg residents John and Trudy Bidwell have chosen to continue feeding their passion for theater by buying the theater previously known as the Mystique Performing Arts and Event Center.
The theater, located in Chubbuck, has had its name changed to the Palace Playhouse, but owners and volunteers assure the public that although the name and ownership have changed, “professional and artfully done musical and theatrical productions will continue to be the mainstay of the Palace Playhouse,” according to a press release.
Trudy Bidwell grew up in Rexburg, and she married John Bidwell in 1977. The couple called Rexburg home from the time they were married until 2009. They currently live in Chubbuck.
They are the former owners of the Playmill Theatre in West Yellowstone, Montana, where they spent 32 summers owning the theater, directing and producing productions there and being employed there as actors. When they weren’t in West Yellowstone, they were in the Rexburg and Rigby area. John Bidwell taught theater at Brigham Young University-Idaho, and Trudy Bidwell taught at Jefferson Elementary in Rigby.
The Bidwells sold the Playmill about 10 years ago, but they remained involved in the theater world. The Bidwells semi-retired and served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
About a year ago, they were invited to direct “Mary Poppins” at the Mystique theater, and their production was a big success. Ellen Loomis, who has been involved with and worked at the Mystique for many years, said the Bidwells fell in love with the family atmosphere of the theater.
John Bidwell said directing “Mary Poppins” was a rewarding experience, and from there, “one thing led to another,” and they purchased the Mystique.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us, but it is a labor of love,” said John Bidwell. “And it’s worth it to be a part of something that brings enjoyment and pleasure to not only the public but the actors.”
The Bidwells took over from Larry Fisher, who was a friend of the original owner, Terry Commons. Fisher took responsibility for the theater in 2013 to help save the building as a theater. Loomis said Fisher, who owns Destinations Inn and Black Swan Inn, didn’t know much about theater. She said Fisher put on some shows in the theater, all the while hoping someone would buy it because he really wasn’t a theater person.
Before Fisher’s ownership, the theater was owned by Commons, who dreamed to build a place where he could do his magic. He put on magic shows in one of the theater’s two chamber areas, but later he started doing musicals in the grand hall. Musicals soon absorbed their attention because musicals take so much effort.
Later, Loomis said the economy surprised Commons.
Commons tried renting the theater out, but when that didn’t work Fisher took it off his hands.
Loomis said those presently involved with the Palace Playhouse aren’t in it for the money.
“We’re just kind of enjoying it,” she said.
Roger Merrill, owner of the Playmill Theatre in West Yellowstone, Montana, said, “The Bidwells’ love of theater kept them coming back year after year. Not for the money, but for the love of theater.”
Loomis said the theater has always been a place that welcomed young talent, and some of the talent that started at the Mystique has now moved on to the professional world — some of their actors are now on Broadway and other professional stages.
“We get to see children come with no focus or place that they fit in,” she said. “They get to feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves.”
Loomis said the theater is able to keep running through ticket sales, sponsors and lots of volunteer work.
John Bidwell said it was his vision to provide a venue where local talent can be shared, a place that provides good, clean entertainment and great food. The Palace Playhouse is a dinner theater that serves meals Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
The first season at Palace Playhouse will feature six shows, and for each there will be an open audition for anyone who wants to participate, both in the community and from surrounding communities. John Bidwell said some people have come a long way to audition.
“We have met the most amazing people here in Chubbuck. There are mixed emotions with any change in life,” Trudy Bidwell said, “but coming to this place has given us a feeling of home back in the theater and with this community.”
“Mary Poppins” will open in about a month, on Feb. 16, followed by “The Music Man,” “Spitfire Grill,” “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” “Over the River and Through the Woods” and “The Last Night of Ballyhoo.”
John Bidwell said the Palace Playhouse can be another avenue for wonderful entertainment for people in the Upper Valley.
“It’s as close to professional as you can get, without being professional,” he said.
He added that it’s a relatively short trip.
For more information or to buy tickets, visit www.palaceplayhouse.com or call 208-238-8001.