Jan. 12, 1888 started out as a fairly warm day on the prairie.
After several days of sub-zero temperatures, the snow had stopped and the mercury rose to just below freezing. Residents shed their heavy winter clothes and went to school and work on a chilly day.
Within a few hours, however, an arctic cold front swept through, plunging temperatures to 20 below in some places, bringing with it blinding snow that made it impossible to see more than a few inches.
Today, it’s known as the "Schoolchildren’s Blizzard," and it was responsible for the deaths of 235 people across the Great Plains.
Exactly 130 years later, the stories of those who lived through the blizzard are set to come to life in “Snowcatcher,” which will be performed for one night only at Community Players in Beatrice this Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
Co-commissioned by the Lincoln Arts Council and the Midwest Theatre of Scottsbluff, “Snowcatcher” was produced by BLIXT of Lincoln and is both written and performed by Becky Boesen. Boesen plays multiple characters in the show, including 6-year-old Hattie, who is caught in the middle of the blizzard near her Nebraska schoolhouse.
The performance of "Snowcatcher" is a part of Community Player’s one-night-only events, which kicked off last fall with acappella group Tonic Sol-Fa, said Jamie Ulmer, the managing artistic director of Community Players. The theater is bringing in events and artists from out of town to perform at the theater—as the name implies—for one night only.
Community Players has had special performances in the past, Ulmer said, but based on results of surveys the theater performed as a part of strategic planning last year, they discovered that people were interested in exclusive, smaller shows.
“This is the first year for this series,” Ulmer said. “We're kind of gauging the response to it. If the community responds to it, then we will continue to do these events, which I would love to continue. It also lets us bring some entertainment in that maybe the community wouldn't see otherwise.”
In addition to the Thursday night show, elementary school students from Beatrice will have a chance to see the show and talk with Boesen on Friday, Jan. 12, the 130th anniversary of the blizzard.
The show is a great learning tool for children, Ulmer said, because it works on multiple levels. There’s the opportunity to learn some Nebraska history and learn what life was like for people in the 1800s and there’s some adventure, too, as Hattie tries to ride out the storm.
“I remember learning about it in Nebraska history in elementary school,” Ulmer said. “It's kind of stuck with me, which is also why we're partnering with Beatrice Public Schools. So, on Friday, we're going to bring fourth graders in to see the show and Becky will do a talk-back afterwards with them.”
Tickets for the Thursday night show are $15 for adults and $10 for students and can be purchased in person at the Community Players box office between noon and 5:30 p.m. Tickets may also be purchased over the phone by calling 402-228-1801 or online at www.beatricecommunityplayers.com.
This week is a good week for arts and culture in Beatrice, Ulmer said. In addition to “Snowcatcher,” the Beatrice Arts Council is also holding a January Jazz concert at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at the BHS Hevelone Center.
“Don't say there's nothing to do in Beatrice,” Ulmer said.