MARSHALL - In just a week, the theater department of Southwest Minnesota State?University will be setting an example for the world.
The Southwest Minnesota State University theater department is presenting the premiere of "Pine Creek Parish" a verse play with music written by Barton Sutter and Marya Hart at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 30, Nov. 1 and Nov. 5-6 and 2 p.m. Oct. 31 and Nov. 7 in the SMSU Fine Arts Theatre.
Sutter, a 1972 SMSU alumnus, said the show was sparked by memories of events and people that have haunted him since he was a kid.
Photo by Cindy Votruba
Above: Bob Schwoch, left, and Kelsey Moe perform a song during a rehearsal of “Pine Creek Parish.”?The play is set to debut during the Marshall ‘10 Festival weekend on Oct. 30. Below: Josh Johnson is one of the members of the five-person cast.
"The play tells the story of a childhood in a tiny Minnesota town, jammed with colorful characters, up near the Canadian border," Sutter said. "At the deepest level, I suppose, the show explores the paradox that everyone dies, and yet the dead stay with us, linger on as memories, as encouraging ghosts who sustain use throughout our lives."
Those who are bringing that story to life said it's thrilling to be part of a world premiere of a play, but on the same note, it can be a little daunting.
"It's a little nerve-wracking, but I'm excited for it," said Josh Johnson. "This is definitely the biggest stage I've been on. It's definitely a fun process."
"It's exciting and difficult because you don't have an example to look at," said Emma Larson. "We're setting the example."
"I won't get this opportunity ever to work on a world-premiere play with the playwright and the composer," said Amy Giesler.
Sutter and his brother Ross were invited to participate in the 2010 Marshall Festival as he completed the script. It occurred to him that he might offer the play too, he said, as the Festival has a long history of ranging beyond straight literary readings.
"I suppose I might of have held the play back hoping for a premiere with a large non-profit or commercial theater, but productions are far harder to come by than most people realize," Sutter said.
And besides, the SMSU theater department was enthusiastic about doing the show, Sutter said.
Though it's small, the SMSU theater department has always been strong, Sutter said, so he was confident it would do a good job.
"But as I came to know Nadine Schmidt, who's directing the show, I got downright excited," Sutter said. "'Pine Creek Parish' is poetic drama, and she's an expert on verse-speaking. Her interpretation of the script is superb. Doing a premiere is a real challenge, but it also give the department bragging rights. From my point of view, there are genuine advantages to a university premiere - a fine facility, for one thing, and almost two months of rehearsal time. A commercial theater might only have two or three weeks."
Sutter and Hart were present at the show's auditions, and Sutter worked with the actors for a couple of days.
"He explained where he was coming from with the poems and the process of putting them into this play, which made it personal." Giesler said.
Giesler said she's tackled verse before with Shakespeare, but "Pine Creek?Parish"?is a little different.
"This is a lot shorter lines and more shared lines,"?Giesler said. "So you have to trust who you're on stage with. Nadine is always there to help and she's so knowledgeable about verse and she makes it easy for us to understand and perform it."
"It wasn't really difficult," Larson said. "I?think it was written easier than people thought it would be. It's different than what I've normally done."
Larson gets the added challenge of being a 12-year-old boy in the show.
"It was hard to pick up on because I'm really 'girly,'"?Larson said. "So learning to be the opposite is completely challenging."
And as they work with the script, the actors said they can see what Sutter and Hart were trying to convey with the words and music. Johnson said it will hit a lot of familiar chords with people.
"I really enjoy it has a lot of imagery about growing up in rural Minnesota," Johnson said. It's something he can relate to as well since he, his father and his grandfather all grew up in rural Minnesota.
"It really echoes with this region,"?Giesler said.
The actors in the show will walk away with the experience of raising a new play from scratch, Sutter said, working with a live playwright and composer, which is still unusual at the university level.
"They'll have acquired rare skills with the language, having performed a contemporary verse play, and I hope they'll still remember a few of my best lines when they're 60," Sutter said. "Most important of all, though, they should acquire confidence in making art from the materials in their own region so they don't have to look to New York and Los Angeles as the source of all things bright and beautiful."