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Original musical 'Wetland Adventures' in DL this month

In honor of Earth Week, the Historic Holmes Theatre is hosting three performances of the original musical play, "Wetland Adventures," on April 20-21.

Written by Detroit Lakes area playwright Carol Ann Hough, "Wetland Adventures" is a timeless tale of wisdom and wonder. Audience members will learn about aquatic animals, wetland ecosystems and human relationships.

This local, original play is also going to feature an American Indian storyteller, flute player and performances by a local drum group.

In addition, the majority of the actors in the play are area students, and in keeping with the play's environmental awareness theme, all of the costume and set pieces are made from recycled materials.

Dave Goebel, the play's director, said he was attracted to the show because he felt it was "a very worthwhile project to teach children in our area about the importance of wetlands and the environment."

It also presented a bit of a different challenge for Goebel, a veteran of multiple Frazee-Vergas High School musicals (1975-2005) and six Playhouse 412 community theater productions (1985-2006).

"It's been an interesting challenge, and learning experience, working with elementary age kids," he said, noting that the cast, with the exception of adults Blayne Ohman (who plays "Grandfather") and Alex Decoteau ("Voice from the Past"), the ensemble is comprised entirely of children between the ages of 8-13.

"These 15 children are from Rossman and Roosevelt (DL elementary schools), Detroit Lakes Middle School, Holy Rosary School, Lake Park-Audubon and Frazee-Vergas," Goebel said, noting the regional makeup of the cast.

Much like its predecessor, "Orchard Adventures," the play "Wetland Adventures" begins with a present-day discussion that takes place between a child and grandparent. As the discussion continues, the scene shifts to the wetlands that surround them, and the creatures that inhabit it take center stage.

Though the creatures talk, sing and dance, they are actually based on real-life animals, including the painted turtle, whirligig beetle, dragonfly, mosquito, damselfly, water snake and green-winged teal duck.

"This is the second in a series of five plays that Carol is writing to be produced on this stage," Goebel noted.

Hough is also being mentored in her playwriting efforts by Detroit Lakes resident Mary Otto, who has directed many local plays and musicals, as well as co-writing a local production, "Holmes Spun Theatre" -- which was the inaugural production of the Historic Holmes Theatre when the facility opened in 2002.

"I am mentoring Carol Ann through a program with the Rehabilitation Consulting and Services, a division of North Dakota Vocational Rehabilitation Services," Otto said. "I was hired through them to mentor Carol in the area of her vocation, which is theater and playwriting.

"What I do is to help her create or develop an individual employment plan based on her interests and capabilities," Otto said. "Because of my theater background and the fact that I have written some plays locally, they felt I was a suitable mentor for her."

Otto said another part of the reason she was approached to be Hough's mentor was because she had been one of her teachers at Detroit Lakes High School, and had an established rapport with her.

"I've known her family for years," Otto said. "I'm honored to be her career coach right now. It's been a very powerful experience for me."

Some of the activities they have worked on together is to form a career plan for Hough that includes concrete goals and objectives, as well as ways to improve her grant writing skills, to access funding opportunities for future productions.

"We talk about her goals, and what sort of steps she needs to take to make them happen," Otto said.

While Hough is currently working on a children's play series, Otto said she also writes plays for more mature audiences, and has been recognized for her work by VSA Arts of Minnesota, among others.

Otto said she hopes to continue her professional association with Hough in the future, even after the mentorship is officially over.

Goebel was approached to be the director of the play by Carol's sister, Julie, and father, Merle Hough.

"Julie and her brother, Tom Herbst, both had me as a teacher (at Frazee), and knew I directed plays," Goebel said. "Julie and her father stopped by my house and asked me (to consider directing the play), so I said I'd come to some meetings."

It didn't take long for him to say yes, Goebel added.

"This is such an important issue -- keeping wetlands and our environment in as much balance as possible -- not just here and now, but in the future," he said.

The story also relates to the past, by having part of the narrative for the play spoken in the native Ojibwe language. This portion of the narrative will be provided by Detroit Lakes Ojibwe instructor Alex Decoteau -- who agreed to take part in the production despite the imminent arrival of the newest member of his family (his wife is expecting a baby).

Though the production team has been meeting since last fall, rehearsals for "Wetland Adventures" began in mid-March, Goebel said.

Though the play is environmentally oriented, Goebel said, it provides lessons about human relationships as well.

"It starts out with a grandfather talking to his grandson about contemporary issues, then evolves into a discussion of the creatures in the pond and how they cope with their struggles," he said. "It becomes a lesson not only in the environment, but in life and how we deal with other people."

Performances are scheduled for 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Friday, April 20, and 7 p.m. Saturday, April 21. On Friday, there will be a 30-minute environmental education activity in the theater ballroom, both prior to and following each performance.

This activity is intended to give the students from area schools an opportunity to experience a "hands-on" learning activity that would allow them to learn more about the creatures highlighted in the play.

Kelly Blackledge, a ranger at the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge, will be leading both activity sessions. Space at this learning activity is limited to 75 students per session, so early sign-up is encouraged.

Also, the Saturday evening performance -- which is geared more toward adults and the general public -- will be preceded by an organic buffet sponsored by Native Harvest, starting at 6 p.m.

Cost for the dinner and show is $12 for adults and $6 for students. Cost for the show only is $6 and $4, respectively. Space is limited for the dinner, so be sure to call the Holmes Theatre Box Office at 218-844-7469 to reserve your tickets as soon as possible.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454