By Starrla Cray
WATERTOWN, MN “The show must go on” is a phrase that rings true of the summer youth theatre program in Watertown, now in its 22nd year.
This year’s show, “The Wall,” will be presented in the Watertown Performing Arts Center Friday, July 30 and Saturday, July 31 at 7 p.m., and Sunday, Aug. 1 at 2 p.m.
General admission tickets are $5, and children 3 and under are free.
The script is an original story, written by director Cara Sandquist. All music and lyrics were written by music director Katie Condon.
“Last year, when I was in Africa, I had a dream about the kind of plot I wanted for this year’s play,” Sandquist said. “It was kind of crazy. That has never happened to me before.”
The play is about working together, getting along with others, and building community spirit.
Sandquist also envisioned the costume design, which features a modern, decorated style.
“We have a group of milk maids, and instead of using traditional Dutch costumes, we’re having aprons with silk flowers,” Sandquist said.
Condon was also involved in the play’s development.
“She came up with more of the setting and more clearly defined the characters,” Sandquist said.
Condon has been involved in summer theatre since it began 22 years ago.
“Katie was 13 years old the first year,” said her mother, Becky. “When she got wind that this was happening, she was the first one in line.”
Sandquist also has a long history she acted for six years, served as a student director for three years, and was assistant director for three years.
“I owe a lot to summer theatre,” she said, adding that the program has become an icon in Watertown.
Lenore Larson was the program’s founder, director, and inspiration.
“She was just amazing,” Becky said. “Everyone adored her and did their best for her.”
After the first two years, Larson started writing her own plays, in order to give each student a speaking part.
The show is sponsored by the Watertown-Mayer Community Education program, and the cast is made up of about 40 youth, ages 9 to 16.
“The writing is done specifically to ensure that there are not really starring roles, but rather that each child has a speaking part and a singing part,” Becky said.
Another characteristic of Larson’s plays was the positive messages they portrayed.
About six years ago, Larson became ill, but “as sick as she was, she never missed the play,” Becky said.
When she passed away in 2007, Condon and Sandquist weren’t about to let summer theatre disappear.
They got together with other participants and worked hard to keep the tradition alive. Assistant directors include Abbey Arthur, Lauren Salonek, Zach Sandquist, Lyndzi Durkin, and Liz Vouk.
Sandquist recently completed her first year as band director for Springfield High School, and Condon works for the Macphail Center for Music in Minneapolis. Despite busy schedules, Condon and Sandquist said the summer theatre experience is well worth the effort.
Theatre can help children “come out of their shells,” Sandquist said.
“There are some kids who are drawn to the stage naturally, and then there are those who like being involved, but don’t want to speak up as much,” she said.
This year’s cast is a particularly young group, according to Becky.
“This presents extra challenges and rewards that the directors and assistant directors welcome, because it gives them the satisfaction of introducing new children to the joys of being onstage,” she said.
The children practice Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon. Then, after lunch, many of them return to work on the set.
Having an air-conditioned performing arts center has been a big benefit, Becky said.
“The first 19 years, they practiced in the old auditorium,” she said. “On hot days, the makeup would literally just run off their faces.”
Now, the cool air is “just luxury for them,” Becky added.
The summer theatre program is supported with a $5,000 grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (MRAC).
Cast and crew
Many people are involved in making summer theatre in Watertown a success. Some of them are as follows:
Cara Sandquist, artistic director
Katie Condon, music director and composer
Abbey Arthur, Zach Sandquist, Lyndzi Durkin, Lauren Salonek, and Liz Vouk, student directors
Zach Sandquist and Reese Kling, musicians
Kyle Hoffman and Jamison VanOosbree, technicians