GREAT to perform "Into The Woods"

Feb. 16, Great River Educational Arts Theater, located in Clearwater, will present the play “Into the Woods.” Auditions for this unique production were held in late December and actual practice began on Jan. 5. As the director, Tom Hanson, said, “It was a very quick production schedule” In total, the cast and crew has built up to around 25 to 30 individuals. The play, a musical, has has an interlacing plot of several well-known fairy tales, including “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Little Red Riding Hood.”
Patricia Dorsher, an avid actress and singer, describes the play: “The first act is the children’s stories, but the second act includes moral issues. It’s all entertainment for children and adults.” Before rehearsal begins on the evening of Tues., Feb. 6, the cast and crew are buzzing in a mass of voices and random conversations. Within moments, the disorder ceases and vocal warm-ups ensue. The set is half-finished and the cast is half-costumed as everyone takes their correct places on stage. Rehearsal commences with a happily bumpy piano piece, played by the director, accompanied by the impressive singing voices of the talented actors.
“I’m in choir,” Mandi Smith, a Tech High School student, said. “And I do lots of musicals.”
In rehearsal, scenes are repeated several times. Timing must be defined and memorization is required. The director’s hands easily flit across the piano keys, while he simultaneously offers tips and praise to the actors.
“It’s lots of hard work,” Michael Weiland, who has made many friends during this production, said. “I have two jobs, this play and two other, plus school.” He admits, though, that his excitement for opening night has already arrived. “It is a good show for all ages,” the sixteen-year old said.
While balancing extracurricular activities, schoolwork and a job is a nuisance to most young people, other individuals nonchalantly include it in their daily routine. For example, John Newstron, a 17-year old Tech High School student, has participated in nearly sixty plays. “I’ve been doing this for about six or seven years,” he said.
Inside the great theater, a sense of privacy is apparent. The small quarters give off a special secluded aura that many people enjoy the most, next to the actual performances, of course.
“It’s a unique place,” Tom Hanson said. “We’re lucky to have so many resources at our disposal.” Tom Hanson is a first-time director at Great. However, he has participated in about thirty-five other productions, many times adding a musical touch of some sort.
“He’s a really good guy,” Heidi Urbanski, 15, said of the director. “He always explains himself. He’s a really good teacher.”
When it comes to fellow cast members, kind words are also of the norm.
“They are all so cool and very fun to be around,” Stephanie Rollings, 14, said.
“[The cast] is so great,” Erika Borden, who would like to go into the theater field, said.
“They are a very talented group,” the director assured. “They really are.”
“Into the woods,” when described by sixteen-year old Jennifer Gunnerson, consists of “fairy tales, but twisted ones.” David Synalla, an adamant actor for five years, fell in love with the eclectic play after hearing its music on CD. Nastasia Foster, 13, enjoys acting in “Into the Woods,” because it’s “all music and fairy tales mingled together.” Jon Legg, 20, describes the play as definitely “non-traditional.”
Luis Maldonado, a student at St. Cloud State, fees that his experience with GREAT has been “very positive.”
“It’s my last play for a while,” He said. “I need to find a job, because I don’t have any money.”
In the end, some of the young performers hold dreams of acting success, and some are happy to have such an interesting hobby. For now, though, the GREAT theater is bringing many people, young and old, together as friends.
“We’re here to stay,” Tom Hanson said.
For ticket information, give the GREAT theater a ring at (320) 558-2823.


THE BIG LAKE LIONESS ANNUAL GARAGE SALE drew plenty of shoppers to Lions Park Saturday morning. The Lioness Club has been serving the Big Lake Community for 31 years. (Photo by Jennifer Edwards).

TREE EXPERT Gina Hugo works for the Sherburne County Soil and Water Conservation District.