Matthews Opera House dedicates stairwell to honor Louise Smock

October 24, 2021
Courtesy of Alex Portal, Black Hills Pioneer

When performers at the Matthews Opera House enter through the stage door, they will notice a new sign gracing the entrance to the back stairwell.

On Wednesday, October 20, the structure was dedicated in honor of Louise Smock, a long-time resident of Spearfish and a key figure in the history and success of the Matthews Opera House. 

“My mother loved theatre,” said Hoodie Smock, Louise’s daughter. “She loved that it could bring people in and incite a passion. She loved the fearlessness of people who just wanted to be in a show. She loved the Matthews.”

Hoodie Smock represented her mother at the dedication and said she learned about the event from Matthews Board Member Julie Walkins.

“We wanted to make sure Louise’s legacy was honored,” said Walkins. “She was not only a major donor but also instrumental in raising the funds for the construction of the stairwell many years ago. Her contributions as an actor, director, and volunteer at the Matthews over the past several decades helped lay the foundation for the success of the organization today.”

Louise Smock moved to Spearfish in the 50s after the death of her husband in the Korean War. The newly single mother went to college at Black Hills State University where she threw herself in theatre. A dancer and actress, she was excited to join a group of college students who wanted to revitalize the currently deserted Matthews Opera House by performing melodramas.

“Some of my earliest memories are of my mother performing melodramas at the Matthews,” Hoodie remembers fondly. As a young girl, Hoodie said she would often spend time in the back of the Matthews theater, watching the group rehearse. Louise would often play “the vamp,” a role Hoodie said her mother deeply enjoyed.

“My mother always said that playing bad people is more interesting than good people,” Hoodie added, laughing.

After graduating from BHSU, Louise took teaching jobs around the world, moving with her daughter to Guam, Japan, and South America.

“But we always came back to Spearfish,” Hoodie said. ”And mother would always move right into doing whatever was happening at the Matthews.”

When it became evident the Matthews was in need of restoration, Louise was on the frontlines, championing the cause. One specific issue she noticed was the stage door staircase — a rickety, metal structure that Hoodie said would often sway with the wind. 

“It was almost like a carnival ride,” Hoodie said. “I think my mother realized very quickly that it was a dangerous liability for the Matthews.”

Louise made financial contributions and organized a “Vintage Fashion Show” to raise the rest of the funds for the new stairwell. The fashion show featured clothes from previous decades, and a script, written by Louise, telling the story of the clothing and the people who wore them.

While there is debate about the exact year the stairwell was built, the efforts of Louise and others came to fruition sometime in the 1980s. The Matthews performers finally had a safe, dry, and secure entrance to the back of the theatre. 

Throughout her life, Louise donated much of her time and skills to the Matthews Opera House. She directed, built sets, did stage make-up, ran lights, volunteered, and even served on the board.

But as Hoodie tells it, her passion was acting — digging into a character and really becoming the person on stage.

“My mother loved rehearsals more than she loved performances,” Hoodie said. “She had so much fun developing the characters, playing around with them–and working to get a cast of people merged into beautiful synchronicity. And I think she was right–there is something about the process of putting together a play that is really so incredible.”

Louise’s passion for theater was also deeply influential for Hoodie, who followed in her mother’s footsteps and spent many years acting professionally on the East Coast. 

When Hoodie moved back to Spearfish in 2009, she also got involved with the Matthews and volunteered alongside her mother until Louise’s passing in 2011. 

The Smock legacy continued with Hoodie who has also served on the Matthews board, been a stage actor and director, and was part of the organization’s Community Theater Committee up until this year. 

When asked how she thinks Louise would respond to Smock Tower being named in her honor, Hoodie smiled and said, “She probably would have wanted to emphasize that it was a group effort.”

“She never wanted anything to be about her–she just had a love of theater. She wanted to have fun. And she wanted to bring people in. She treasured this place because she saw the potential.”

But Hoodie is honored to know her mother’s legacy and the Matthews have now been bound together in this special way. 

“I think it’s wonderful. I’m very proud of my mother. She was strong, she was dynamic, she was funny,” Hoodie said. “She loved the energy the Matthews had and she was just glad to be a part of that energy.”

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