By Nancy Dashwood
DASSEL, COKATO, MN Although Dassel-Cokato’s community theater company, The FungusAmongus Players, is just entering its sophomore season, the majority of cast and crew members involved have logged decades of thespian-related skills.
Plays for the season have been chosen, and the first show, “Finishing School,” is currently in rehearsal.
New season starts off with witty old guys
“Finishing School,” directed by Linda Metcalf, takes the stage Oct. 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, and 21. (Unless stated otherwise, all performances take place at the Dassel History Center.)
“Finishing School” is a comedy, first produced in 2017, according to FungusAmongus Artistic Director David Metcalf.
“I think our production may be its second staging, after its world premiere at Elkhart Civic Theater in Bristol, IN,” he said. “It’s that new. It is a hilarious comedy about two old farts (played by veteran actors Jon Benson and Ron Hungerford) residing at a retirement home, who talk about the joys and quirks of life for the elderly.”
Begin the holiday season with this loving family
“A Visit from St. Nicholas,” directed by Tom Nelson, runs Nov. 30, Dec. 1, 2, 7, 8, and 9.
This production takes the viewer back to Clement Clark Moore’s home Christmas Eve, 1822.
Moore, who penned the famous holiday poem beginning, “‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house,” is portrayed at home, with his family.
Apparently, Moore is worried his innocent poem about the magic of Santa may damage his reputation as a serious professor. His children disagree.
“A Visit from St. Nicholas” is a gentle story of balancing a love of fantasy with protecting one’s personal reputation,” Metcalf explained.
Cure the winter blahs with a fresh, green play, and a mysterious contest show selection
Kurt Schulz will perform the one-man show “Old Herbaceous” Feb. 22, 23, 24, March 1, 2, and 3. In conjunction, other members of the company will perform an as yet unannounced MACTFest entry, which will be directed by David Metcalf.
According to The FungusAmongus Players’ website, “Old Herbaceous” showcases the character of Herbert Pinnegar in his twilight years. Pinnegar is full of memories and tales of a bygone era, and recounts his journey from orphan boy to legendary head gardener “Old Herbaceous.”
Closing the season with “The Impossible Dream”
The classic “Man of LaMancha,” directed by David Metcalf, will take place July 2019.
Metcalf is no stranger to the famous musical, having directed a previous production in 1980, with a community theater project in Howard Lake.
“This story of the mad ‘knight’ Don Quixote, in essence, is reminiscent of the Jesus and Mary Magdalene story in that it reflects the hope and redemption through belief in an impossible dream,” Metcalf said.
The director noted The FungusAmongus Players are in negotiations which would allow them to perform “Man of LaMancha” at the Dassel-Cokato Performing Arts Center (PAC).
Picking stories that matter
People may wonder how The FungusAmongus Players manage to pull off such a variety of different plays. The answer is simple. It takes time, and lots of it.
Metcalf said The FungusAmongus board of directors, which includes himself, Jon Benson (treasurer), Beth Cronk, Barry Mielke, Elisabeth Nelson (chair), Steve Nelson, John Ryan (vice chair), Kurt Schultz, Dawn Schaefer Stumpf, and Becky Hungerford, dedicate themselves to reading scripts “with an eye toward their potential for inclusion in our season.”
As the company’s artistic director, Metcalf makes the final call on which shows will be produced.
“I have always tried to find shows that will appeal to a broad spectrum of interests, age level, and sentiment, with an emphasis on literary merit and educational value,” he said.
“Community theater allows for more flexibility in including actors from a range of ages.” Metcalf continued. “It is gratifying to see younger actors learn dedication, responsibility, and craft from the adults, who, in turn, are inspired by the energy, enthusiasm and often genius of the young’uns.”
Metcalf said the bottom line in choosing a show for production is simple it is all about the quality of the script.
The seasoned director said he looks for scripts which tell an interesting story, evoke both laughter and pathos, are relatable to the audience, evoke some nostalgia or promote universal values, present acting challenges that might advance an actor’s craft, and stories that offer the audience something new, or highlight a new perspective.
A lot of rehearsal in a little time frame
Metcalf indicated the rehearsal process is always quite involved, but tends to follow a pattern.
First, Metcalf said, the cast reads through the play together, noting character traits and relationships and interactions with other characters.
Next, the company breaks down the play into segments, and looks at the arc of dynamics within that section.
The third step is blocking the scenes. (Blocking can be compared to choreography. Blocking determines where, when, and how each character moves around the stage.)
When blocking is complete, Metcalf said he layers in “details of movement, and develops emotional involvement.”
Next comes repetition, until the actors are comfortable moving and delivering dialogue in their character’s shoes.
As characters continue to develop, technical elements such as props, scenery, lighting, audio, music, and special effects are gradually added.
As the opening curtain draws near, the cast and crew perform the play in its entirety, looking for areas in need of “adjustment or opportunities for creative enhancement,” Metcalf said.
As the timer ticks down, the cast and crew refine their pace and timing, and block the curtain call.
Metcalf knows that if The FungusAmongus Players build it, the audiences will come.
“One must understand that we are blessed with a highly sophisticated local theater audience,” he said. “Though rural geographically, our community is tremendously supportive, encouraging, and generous,” Metcalf said. “They understand sincere effort and recognize performance quality.”
How to get show tickets - or get involved
Those interested in obtaining season tickets, individual show tickets, or making a donation may accomplish any or all of that by visiting the company’s website at www.fungusamongusplayers.org. Visitors may also find information about upcoming auditions on the website.