By Stephen Wiblemo
DASSEL,COKATO, MN Community theatre has long been a part of the Dassel-Cokato area arts scene, and even after about 23 years of shows, it is still churning out great productions like the upcoming show “Nice People Dancing to Good Country Music.”
The road hasn’t always been smooth for DC Community Theatre since its inception back in 1975, but through it all the arts have survived and are thriving today because of the work of many dedicated people.
According to documents provided by Dassel-Cokato Arts Association Executive Director Colleen Compton, it was 1975 when the organization began “under a joint powers agreement between the City of Cokato, Village of Dassel, and ISD#466.”
The first program named itself The Village Players, and was governed by a board of representatives from the three governing bodies, area churches, service organizations, and senior citizens.
The point of the community theatre organization then was the same as it is today, to “provide a wide range of educational, recreational, social, and cultural opportunities for the community.”
The Village Players performed shows in the winter or summer, sometimes both, from 1975 to 1992, and used the Dassel Elementary Auditorium as its stage.
The shows were guided by a variety of directors from people like Dave and Linda Metcalf, to Jon Benson, Lyle Heinitz, Cathy Stanley, and Mike Ackerman.
For 18 years The Village Players performed shows at Dassel Elementary, but after 1992’s summer performance of “Annie,” directed by Benson, The Village Players would never perform at Dassel Elementary again.
According to Compton, they stopped doing performances because of issues with space at the school.
The DC Community Theatre program went in hibernation for 14 years from 1993 to 2005, but awoke in the summer of 2006 to christen its new home at the Performing Arts Center in the DC High School.
The first show to grace the stage of the newly constructed PAC was “Seussical the Musical,” directed by Dave Metcalf.
Since starting back up, Metcalf has been the resident director for DC Community Theatre, helping with three summer shows at the PAC, as well as three smaller winter shows.
The smaller shows require less space, and have therefore been performed at the Dassel History Center and Ergot Museum. The group that performs here has been dubbed The Fungus Amongus Players by Metcalf.
Despite the decade-long break, community theatre in DC has enjoyed a healthy revival in the past five years, and that has come as a pleasure to the many people who enjoy working on the shows.
“It is definitely an asset to the community,” Tom Nelson said. Nelson is a DC graduate who performed shows as a student, and has since been a dedicated member of the community theatre program.
“We have a good group of talented people out here,” he said. “Everyone. Not just those on stage, but also those directing, making sets, and running tech. Basically, what the shows allow us to do is showcase everyone’s talents.”
Brie Colt, who got her first taste of community theatre this summer as a member of the cast for “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” is back again for the winter production.
She and her family had just moved to the area, and were happy to be involved in the program as a way to meet new friends.
“In order to start to get to know people and get into the community, we (she and her husband) decided to audition for ‘Joseph’,” Colt said. “It is one of our favorite shows. We met some people, and met Dave (Metcalf), and he asked me to come out and do this show.”
The organization continues to draw in young talent, too. The upcoming winter production includes at least four members, who were also part of the DC High School one act play this past winter that received a star rating in the Class A state showcase.
One of those members is Krissy Rootes, who not only enjoys community theatre, but feels it is teaching her valuable life lessons.
“Besides just enjoying it and meeting friends, it really helps me balance everything, and learn how to deal with stress,” she said. “I know that I have so much homework to do before I go to practice for four hours, and it helps me learn how to set a schedule for myself to make sure everything gets done.”
While the people involved are a big reason for the revival of DC community theatre, they wouldn’t be able to do it without the wonderful resources at their disposal.
Community theatre is happy to have a friend in the Dassel-Cokato Community Education program, which serves as a fiscal agent.
Participants in community theatre are also very appreciative of the two venues they have to work with in the PAC, and Dassel History Center and Ergot Museum.
“We really are lucky to have the PAC for big musicals, but for smaller productions, we are lucky to have the Ergot,” Nelson said. “It is a great place.”
Winter production on stage at Ergot Museum
The DC community theatre’s winter production of Lee Blessing’s “Nice People Dancing to Good Country Music” will be performed at the Dassel History Center and Ergot Museum, which the players feel is a perfect fit for the show.
“I think this is definitely a more appropriate play to have in this environment,” Colt said. “The dynamics and acoustics in (the Ergot) are better for more of a quaint, conversational thing, rather than trying to project and sing.
“When we have a big performance like ‘Joseph,’ where there are 100 people involved, it is nicer to have the big stage, and big dressing rooms. This only has five people on stage, so the quainter environment makes for a quainter play.”
The story of the show revolves around Eve June, a Minnesota woman who is going through major changes in her life.
She just left her husband and son a year ago after meeting a man named Jim Stools in an airport. Stools owns a bar down in Houston, and after hitting it off well together, Eve decides to go with him to work at his bar.
“She was sick of being the boring housewife, and wanted a little more adventure,” Colt said, who plays Eve in the show. “She changes the bar, and gives it a woman’s touch.”
Jim is played by Jeff Carpenter.
A year after moving to Houston, Eve is visited by her son, Jayson, played by Cody Harmening, who comes to live with her over the summer.
Jayson’s mom gets him a job working at the bar, but he isn’t a big fan of Jim, and enjoys stirring up trouble.
“Jayson doesn’t exactly like the fact his mom left to live with this hick in Houston, so he causes mayhem for Jim,” Harmening said. “I kind of like the part, it’s fun.”
Later on, Eve receives another guest, her niece Catherine, played by Rootes.
It seems Catherine’s dream of becoming a nun has hit a roadblock, after she was asked to leave the nunnery due to a strange syndrome she developed.
“My character has wanted to be a nun all her life, but after she goes to stay at a nunnery for awhile, she finds out she isn’t quite cut out for it,” Rootes said.
While visiting her aunt, though, Catherine catches the eye of a young bar patron named Roy, played by Nelson.
“He is dull, and not that bright, and he’s boring,” Nelson said. “It really takes some time for things to get through his head, but he figures if he can just ask her out, he can then marry her. He doesn’t have much of a plan.”
Roy’s crush quickly becomes obvious to Catherine and Eve, so Eve feels it is her duty to offer some good advice about men.
What follows is a quaint, personal show performed in an intimate setting that will give the audience the feeling they are right there in Texas sitting on a stool by the characters.