By Julie Krienke
DELANO, MN To accept others despite differences that may exist is the primary lesson of 4 Community Theatre’s annual production each summer.
4 Community Theatre (4CT) will present performances of the musical “Honk!” in the Delano Middle School Auditorium this week.
Performances will take place Wednesday through Saturday, June 23-26 at 7 p.m. An American Sign Language performance will also be shown Sunday, June 27 at 1 p.m.
This musical was produced by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, and is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Ugly Duckling.”
“Honk!” tells the story of Ugly, an unattractive baby duck who embarks on a journey to find his mother.
Ugly was separated from his family when a character named Cat, who was trying to eat him, chased him away from his home. Now, Ugly is lost and must find his way back to his family.
While on his journey home, Ugly undertakes quite an adventure. He saves the life of an attractive swan named Penny, and the two animals fall in love.
However, Penny must leave Ugly and return to her flock to migrate for the winter. Not long after, Ugly’s mother finds him frozen in the snow.
When Ugly finally thaws from the frozen snow, he emerges as a beautiful swan. Ugly reunites with Penny, and the two remain together in his mother’s pond.
“‘Honk!’ is the story of the ugly duckling in modern time,” 4CT President Richard Mickschl of Independence said. “Its story is about Ugly, who is a rather odd duck, and his journey to finding out who he really is.”
A lesson of life and love, “Honk!” is a performance that individuals of all ages can attend.
“‘Honk!’ is a show that all can enjoy,” Diane Johnson, community education director at Delano Public Schools, said. “We wanted a family-friendly show and a show that would involve a number of children in the cast. We also wanted a quality show.”
Johnson became involved in 4CT about a year ago when the Orono Community Education director and 4CT board member, Melanie DeLuca, asked her if she was interested in joining as a partner of 4CT.
“I eagerly jumped on board in order to provide our residents with the opportunity for involvement in community theater,” Johnson said.
“My role as community education director for Delano Public Schools has included being a member of the 4CT board of directors and helping work through the details involved with hosting the show here in Delano,” Johnson said.
Mickschl became involved with the program when he helped construct the set for the performance “Sound of Music” three years ago because one of his daughters was involved in the show.
“I was then asked to join the board and soon after became board president,” Mickschl said. “My duties involve primarily organizing meetings and seeing everyone gets involved.”
“As president, my job for this show started back in August with the selection of the next show and organizing a fundraising event to help defray the cost of our last show,” Mickschl said.
The next task was choosing a director. “Since we like to involve local talent, we decided to go with Barb Roy, the drama teacher at Delano, where this year’s show will be held,” Mickschl said.
Roy, who is also 4CT’s artistic director, presented the idea of doing “Honk!” for the summer performance.
“From the start, she wanted to do “Honk!” because of the large cast and involvement of many ages of actors,” Mickschl said.
Roy was hired in October when the board was deciding between the musicals “Bye Bye Birdie” and “Honk!” The board decided to do “Honk!”
“It was at that time we lost one of our long-time board members Deanna Stevens, known as DeDe,” Mickschl said. “This show is being dedicated to her long-time involvement in 4CT. She is very much missed.”
Over the years, 4CT has organized performances to hits including “The Wizard of Oz,” “Cinderella,” “Annie,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Oliver.”
According to Mickschl, 4CT originated in the communities of the Rockford School District in January 1998 with the first production “Cheaper by the Dozen.”
A group of 10 Rockford Area Schools community members, who were part of the Rockford Area Children First program, hoped to form a community theater that would encompass as many youth members as possible.
“Community theater is a wonderful way to build community, allow people to stretch their creative side through theater, and is a great venue for families to do something together,” Johnson said.
The program has evolved tremendously in the past 11 years, and it now draws participants from the west metro area. According to the program’s website, 4CT wants future generations of the west metro to enjoy quality community theatre.
4CT partners with three area school districts to use local auditoriums and stage productions. The Delano, Rockford, and Orono school districts collaborate to make 4CT run smoothly and effectively.
“It would be challenging for us to mount a production of this scope working alone, so the partnership with Orono and Rockford is a wonderful opportunity to bring community theater to Delano,” Johnson said.
According to Johnson, the communities of Orono, Rockford, and Delano take turns hosting the shows.
“Since this is our summer to host the show, this is going to be the summer when we become more visible to Delano residents, and a number of Delano residents are involved in the production,” Johnson said.
When the program first started, community education in the Rockford school district offered a number of sports programs for youth but few theater and arts activities.
“For the community as a whole, we want to bring more arts opportunities to town,” Johnson said. “We want to provide community members with the opportunity to be involved in community theater on stage, in the orchestra pit, on the tech crew, building sets, helping with costumes and organizing.”
Cast members of all ages are invited to participate in the annual performances. 4CT uses local people as actors, and often multiple family members participate in the shows.
“Both my daughters were involved in last year’s production of “Annie Get Your Gun,” which is very typical for many families involved with the organization,” Mickschl said.
For the performance of “Honk!,” singers, dancers, musicians, actors, designers and technicians were needed to make the show a success.
“There are roles for everyone who wants to be involved,” Johnson said.
According to Mickschl, auditions for the show began in April, and practices started at the beginning of May.
“At this point in the production, I am involved with the set construction, advertising and membership,” Mickschl said. “However, there are many others involved with the production.”
Jack Neveaux is the technical and set designer of the show, and he runs much of the work behind the scenes. Jeannette Graner partakes in a great deal of fundraising and membership for the shows.
According to the website, 4CT offers unique arts and relationship building opportunities.
“4CT’s mission is to build bridges between communities and generations while providing artistic outlets and quality theater experiences for all ages,” Mickschl said. “Our success is evident by the multiple generations and communities involved each year with the summer show.”
A member of the Discovery Arts Council, 4CT is sponsored by the community education departments of the Delano Rockford and Orono School Districts.
“Our board oversees all activities under the sponsorship of the Discovery Arts Council, which manages the fiscal operations,” Mickschl said.
Performances of “Honk!” are made possible by funds that are provided by the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council through a grant from the McKnight Foundation and an appropriation by the Minnesota Legislature.
Obviously, community help is crucial to fund production costs and space needs. Yet, 4CT hopes to keep ticket prices affordable to all community members. As a result, tax deductible contributions to 4CT are encouraged.
To learn more about 4 Community Theatre, visit its website at www.4communitytheatre.org.