Just six years after its opening, the YWCA put on a production guaranteed to grab the attention of the Sioux Falls Community – The Womanless Wedding. The two-hour-long play took place at the Coliseum on April 21-22, 1927, with tickets sold for 50-75 cents. The production was breaking records as soon as it was announced, with the most tickets sold on opening day for an amateur production. It was expected to be the funniest play ever performed in Sioux Falls. After two nights of sold-out shows, it was named one of the most successful amateur productions in Sioux Falls history. The YWCA was able to raise $641.84 to be used to send girls to the YWCA summer camp.
The play showcased a wedding in which many eccentric guests were in attendance. As the play progressed, the character’s shenanigans became more and more ridiculous. The unique part of this play was that all characters were played by men. Almost 80 of Sioux Falls’ most prominent businessmen and civic leaders played roles in this play, with more than half of them portraying women. The men wore full evening gowns, heels, jewels, furs, and full faces of makeup. Most of the characters had no lines to memorize and only two rehearsals. The actors were expected to walk down the aisle and sing or complete a stunt. Once the wedding started, the actors were free to improvise to whatever extent they wanted.
One of the exciting aspects of this event was the mysterious identity of the groom. In the lead-up to the play, the YWCA announced every actor except for the groom, choosing to call him “the great unknown.” Although 75 other men were confirmed to be playing roles in the production, the Sioux Falls community only cared about who the mystery man was. The suspense of the identity of “the great unknown” grew and grew as advertisements and posters were distributed to promote the play. On the play’s opening night, people were on the edge of their seats, waiting for the actor to walk down the aisle. The crowd gave a standing ovation when it discovered that Carl Quigley– a local businessman– would be playing the man of the evening. Quigley was to marry bride A.A. McDonald– the superintendent of the Sioux Falls schools.
While the men were the stars of the show, the women did all of the hard work. The production company recommended that the YWCA assign members to four committees: decorating, advertising, costumes, and cast. Ladies in these committees were responsible for creating the props, making posters, contacting possible cast members, making costumes, and much more.
The production company for this show was Sympson Levie Producing Company of Bardstown, Kentucky. The company had previously produced shows in Canton, Yankton, Watertown, and many other South Dakota cities, and they had all been big successes. Because it was such a large production, the company decided to send in a director to help in the show’s production. Since the actors were all men, the YWCA specifically requested a female director who would uphold the organization’s values. The production company assigned the task to Lucile Becker, a college-aged staff member. Lucile did a fantastic job and was given raving reviews about her performance.
As it was put by many of the viewers, “It cannot be described. It must be witnessed.” The Womanless Wedding is an iconic example of the YWCA’s values of community, dedication, and, most of all, empowerment. Rather than following the traditions of men doing the heavy-lifting and women taking the stage, the women of the 1927 YWCA took the opportunity to showcase their abilities in production rather than acting.
At EmBe, we encourage all women to follow their paths just as these women did. In the next 100 years, we hope to continue honoring our values and empowering all women to find their place – on stage or behind the scenes.