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What's beyond the Black Hills Playhouse theater? There's one way to find out: Volunteer to help spruce up the dormitories.

It’s all well and good to see a play during the summer at the Black Hills Playhouse in Custer State Park, but to get a “backstage pass,” you have to work for it.

My husband and I took the challenge last spring, volunteering for BHP Room Service. We adopted one of the playhouse’s well-used dorm rooms and “transformed” it with paint, new mattresses, rugs and decoupaged dressers.

Working in the chill of a Black Hills spring alongside nine other groups of volunteers was strangely peaceful, accompanied only by the rustle of the pines, an occasional buffalo and a whole lot of quiet. We brought our lunch, breathed in the air and worked methodically.

It's a very different atmosphere than on performance days during the summer season, which have their own kind of creative energy. Working in the woods in empty cabins, I imagined what it would be like to be in a theater company, then had a couple of flashbacks to summer camp.

Some of the workers obviously had more construction skills than others (we didn’t replace drywall and spray on new texture like the guys on the floor above us), but all the results were impressive. Dingy rooms turned bright. Holes in the wall were filled. Old flooring was removed.

Yes, after 30 years of being lived in by college students, those rooms were starting to show their age. But by the time the cast and crew arrived in May, they were thrilled with their new digs.

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The volunteers made 35 of the 50 rooms a little more comfortable for the cast and crew. But that leaves 15 rooms needing some loving care.

So for the second year, the playhouse is offering an opportunity that’s difficult to pass up, especially if you’re a fan of HGTV home makeover programs, love live theater or just wish that you, too, could go back to summer camp.

You can check out potential projects from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6. Jason Reuter of the playhouse staff will be on hand to show the rooms and answer questions. You can make your list for what needs to be done — fresh paint, repairs or new furniture — then spend the winter making plans.

For the do-it-yourselfer, handyman or wannabe interior designer, it’s a dream come true. It’s also a mighty fine excuse to take a couple of drives through Custer State Park next spring. And it’s the closest I’ll ever get to the stage.

Getting there

From Rapid City, head south on Highway 16. Take the first Rockerville exit; turn left on S. Rockerville Road. Continue to stop sign; turn left on Highway 40. Take an immediate right onto Playhouse Road; continue to stop sign. Turn left onto Iron Mountain Road. Take another immediate right onto S. Playhouse Road. The playhouse will be on the left, just past Center Lake. Another route is to head south on Highway 79. Just past Hermosa, turn right on Highway 36, which becomes 16A. Turn right onto Highway 87 (Needles Highway). Continue for approximately 3 miles. Turn right onto S. Playhouse Road (there will be a large sign). The playhouse will be on the right after about 1/2 mile.

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Contact Deanna Darr at 394-8416 or deanna.darr@rapidcityjournal.com

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