By Jennifer Von Ohlen
There is much talk around Dassel and Cokato and on social media concerning the Dassel-Cokato Community Education department and its DC Community Theater program.
One of the rumors that has sprung up is that community education chose to discontinue its theater program.
This is not true.
Rather, the FungusAmongus Players have decided to separate themselves from the community education department.
FungusAmongus Player Ron Hungerford stated that the FungusAmongus Players “plan to operate as an independent organization and pursue artistic programs outside the umbrella of DC Community Ed.”
Hungerford said this decision had been in development for about two years, and “having decided it was time,” Hungerford represented the FungusAmongus Players in a meeting with community education director Perry Thinesen, community education program coordinator Abigail Lang, and theater production coordinator Deborah Moen May 12 to announce their decision.
“FungusAmongus informed us [May 12] that they were going to strike out on their own, and they want to continue a cordial relationship with the community education and school district moving forward, as long as there was opportunity. Abbey and I agreed it was a really good idea,” Thinesen stated.
Up until that point, community education had every intention of working with community theater, and were even in the process of planning the winter production.
“We were full steam ahead in community theater until the meeting on [May 12] when they told us they wanted to pursue other artistic opportunities,” said Lang.
Thinesen added that members of community theater had expressed interest to him for the past few years in becoming independent, asking questions about what it would take, but there had never been any confirmation that it was going to happen.
While the possibility of community education one day creating a separate community theater program is not off the table, Thinesen said it has no interest in competing with the FungusAmongus Players.
“We want to see them succeed,” he stated. “Both FungusAmongus and community education left open the possibility for future collaboration. So, I don’t think we necessarily would want to create something that would compete with FungusAmongus. In terms of the other things that we do with theater [such as Prairie Fire Children’s Theatre], those will continue and perhaps even enhance more than [what] we used to offer.”
“At [the May 12] meeting, they discussed their desire to be the core theater group within the Dassel-Cokato community area,” said Lang.
“We want to support that, not compete with it,” added Thinesen.
Questions have also surfaced regarding the 2017 community summer musical, “The Pirates of Penzance.” Lang confirmed the musical will not take place due to the resignation of the theatrical director and the inability to find a replacement in the lateness of the season.
The cancellation is not related to FungusAmongus’ decision to become independent.
“Community education fully supports the theater, and will continue to offer opportunities as they present themselves,” Lang commented.
FungusAmongus and community theater
As discussion of FungusAmongus’ decision to go off on its own circulates, some citizens have questioned what FungusAmongus has to do with the community theater program.
Hungerford explained that FungusAmongus and DC community theater are the same, but the group takes on the name the FungusAmongus Players when entering a competitive atmosphere, such as the Minnesota Association of Community Theaters Festival.
Theatrical director David Metcalf explained that the distinction was made by community education eight years ago, when the community theater group first expressed its desire to enter theater competition.
He stated, “We were told that our local productions [such as the summer musicals and noncompetitive winter plays] would still be funded by community ed, who retained all revenue from the local performances, but that as soon as the competition cycle began, we would be considered a completely separate entity, not entitled to, nor eligible for any financial assistance from community ed or the school district by law.”
Because of this, FungusAmongus has had to collect its own funds for competition expenses through grants, fundraisers, and donations.
“For our community’s generosity we are extremely grateful, and we hope we have represented Dassel and Cokato well on a national level,” said Metcalf. “In leaving the umbrella of community education, we are simply making the distinction of separateness permanent. The Dassel Area Historical Society has graciously welcomed us under their wing and will now act as our non-profit fiscal agent.”
“I wish nothing but the best for both the FungusAmongus and the DC Community Ed as they go their separate ways,” Moen commented.