A group of community theater players has stepped into the breach created by Central Lakes College's recent decision to scale back its stage production schedule.
The group founded its own community theater troupe, rounded up funding and hired a familiar face to direct its first production, a musical scheduled for mid-October.
Their efforts were a spontaneous response to CLC's decision this spring to eliminate its summer productions and shift its emphasis from community to academic theater in the coming school year, said Bill Musel, a troupe member.
The On Stage Community Theater Players -- all have been cast in multiple CLC productions over the years -- fear the CLC changes will mean fewer and less important roles for non-student actors and actresses, he said.
"We knew there wouldn't be any summer theater in Brainerd this year," Musel said, "and we got to talking and brainstorming and decided we needed to put a little thing together."
Others involved in the troupe's creation include Joy Larson, Joe Niklaus, Bob Spear, Wendy Vandeputte, Julie Keran, Shayla Paradise and Jenny Sullivan, all of Brainerd, Musel said.
Musel said Brainerd Community Education will act as the group's fiscal agent for now, providing funding for On Stage Community Theater and underwriting its initial production.
A portion of the funding will be used to hire Bob May, a former Brainerd Community College theater director who now lives in Arkansas, to cast and direct "Annie," the group's initial offering Oct. 10-20 at Franklin Junior High School, Musel said.
Bob Dryden, another former CLC theater director, will act as the group's adviser, Musel said, but will not be directly involved in the musical's production.
Musel said that although the troupe's creation was prompted by a lack of summer productions, On Stage was unable to organize fast enough for a June-to-August schedule.
"We don't know anything about it (creating a troupe)," he said with a chuckle. "We are just actors who are still wondering what to do next. We are just pouring our hearts and souls into the effort. What else do you do when you love theater?"
Musel said the response from other community actors and actresses has been positive. He said the troupe will not compete head-on with future CLC or Pequot Lakes Community Theater productions.
"We don't want to conflict with their productions and have been trying to work our dates around CLC's and Pequot Lakes' theater seasons," Musel said. "We don't want to cut anybody's throats or stab any backs, or burn any bridges with CLC or Pequot Lakes.
"We've all acted for both (theater organizations) and want to keep it friendly," he added. "It just sprung from CLC's recent decisions."
The CLC Theatre Department announced the changes in the spring, blaming budgetary considerations for cutting its summer production schedule. Last summer the college produced a half-dozen plays and comedy shows, but until now has depended on box office receipts to underwrite costs.
Thanks to changes embraced by CLC's administration, future productions will be underwritten by the college's budget, which frees the department to focus on experimental rather than popular plays, department officials have said.
The changes also will result in additional roles for CLC theater students, at the expense of community players.
But CLC theater director Patrick Spradlin said the department will continue to cast community actors who are not enrolled in CLC's theater courses.
"Absolutely not," Spradlin said when asked about an enrollment requirement, a concern Musel expressed. "But if the perception lingers that community members' acting opportunities are drying up, let me go on record here as stating unequivocally that CLC will still audition community members, just as in the past, and use community members whenever and however we can."
Spradlin conceded, however, that he "will give a preference to casting students ... but then I have always given a preference to casting students. That hasn't changed."
Spradlin said the new community theater troupe will be a welcome addition to the area entertainment menu, but expressed concern about competing for talent and box office dollars.
"I wish all who are connected with it the best of luck in succeeding," he said.
CLC's 2002-2003 theater season, which includes four productions, opens Oct. 24 with "Macbeth."
On Stage has scheduled its "Annie" auditions for 7 p.m. Aug. 13 for children cast members and Aug. 14 for adults at Mississippi Horizons School. For more information, call 829-4460 or 825-9059.
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