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'Steel Magnolias' to be presented at Holmes Theatre, Oct. 28-30

For the first time in two and a half years, community theater is returning to Detroit Lakes' Historic Holmes Theatre. The heartwarming comedy-drama "Steel Magnolias" will be presented in three performances on Oct. 28-30, with an all-female cast.

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Wendy Spry, left, and Sharon Josephson in a scene from a Tuesday, Oct. 19 rehearsal of "Steel Magnolias." The Detroit Lakes community theater production will be presented on Oct. 28-30 at the Historic Holmes Theatre. Spry and Josephson play the roles of Truvy and Claree, respectively. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)

It's been two and a half years since the last local community theater production — an all-female version of "12 Angry Men," titled "12 Passionate Women" — graced the stage of Detroit Lakes' Historic Holmes Theatre. That's about to change.

Starting Thursday, Oct. 28 and continuing through Saturday, Oct. 30, another female-dominated production will be presented on the Holmes Theatre stage. Director Sharon Sinclair is helping her cast of six local women put the finishing touches on a new production of "Steel Magnolias," the heartwarming comedy-drama that was first presented on a Detroit Lakes stage back in 1988.

"We were one of the first community theaters to do this show, anywhere," Sinclair recalled; she herself played the role of M'Lynn in that production.

She added that many other community theater groups in the region, including Fargo-Moorhead, mounted their own versions of the show in subsequent seasons — but Detroit Lakes was the first. In fact, the local production was staged a year before the movie version was released, in 1989.

"One of our group members, (the late) Jeanne Poehler, had seen it in New York and thought it would be a show we could do here in Detroit Lakes," Sinclair said. "So we did."

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And now, more than a quarter of a century later, she's bringing it back, with a couple of first-time local community theater participants alongside four familiar faces from past shows. "It's fun to go back to it with this group of talented ladies," Sinclair said, adding that she invited some of the actresses who participated in the "12 Passionate Women" production in 2019 (which she also directed) to be part of this show as well.

The two youngest cast members, Kalyn Willson and Grace Schulberg, are playing the roles of Annelle and Shelby, respectively. The two young women, both in their early 20s, have both participated in multiple Detroit Lakes High School fall musicals — occasionally, together, as Schulberg graduated in 2016 and Willson, 2018. The two have continued to pursue their love of theater into their college years and beyond.

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Grace Schulberg, left, and Kalyn Willson in a scene from a Tuesday, Oct. 19 rehearsal of "Steel Magnolias" at the Historic Holmes Theatre in Detroit Lakes. The local community theater production will be presented in three live performances at the theater on Oct. 28-30. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)

In fact, Schulberg will be leaving Detroit Lakes as soon as this production is concluded, to try her luck as an actress in Los Angeles. On Nov. 1, she's headed for the West Coast with her partner, Reno Hanson, who is hoping to break into the writing scene out there.

"We're going into the same field, but he wants to be behind the camera, and me, in front of it," Schulberg said with a smile.

But for now, she added, she is loving the opportunity to be back performing live on a stage again, for the first time in roughly two years — after moving back home to Detroit Lakes during the pandemic shutdown, which halted nearly all in-person college instruction opportunities, as well as live theater productions across the country, for more than a year.

"I've definitely missed it," she said of being part of a live production again.

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Shelby, played by Grace Schulberg, center, gets a warm hug from Truvy (Wendy Spry) as Claree (Sharon Josephson) looks on fondly in a scene from "Steel Magnolias." The Detroit Lakes community theater production will be presented live at the Historic Holmes Theatre on Oct. 28-30. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)

Similarly, the pandemic brought Willson back to Detroit Lakes as well, after she left Minnesota following her high school graduation to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA) in New York City.

"I graduated in February 2020," Willson said. Though she had intended to remain in New York to pursue all of the many acting opportunities available there, both on stage and in front of a camera, it was about three weeks after she graduated that those opportunities began to dry up, nearly overnight.

"It was really tough not to leave (New York) on my own terms," she said. "I had a lot of stuff lined up there — but I didn't have a choice. Everything just shut down."

When Willson heard about the production through her mother, hairdresser Shawna Willson, and was recommended for the role by former Holmes Theatre arts outreach director Beth Gilbert, she jumped at the opportunity.

"I was itching to act again," Willson said. "I hadn't been in a live stage production since my senior year in high school."

It hasn't been quite that long for Sheila Welle, Sharon Josephson, Wendy Spry and Kristal Karger, who are playing the roles of M'Lynn, Claree, Truvy and Oiser, respectively. All four of them took part in the Sinclair-directed production in 2019, and were looking forward to participating in a slightly longer-lasting show: "12 Passionate Women" was presented for one night only, and they had just a few weeks of rehearsal, while this production has been several months in the making.

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"We'll be ready," said Karger of the show's Oct. 28 debut. "Rehearsals have been good. We're progressing well."

"This is a strong cast of women and it's been fun to be on stage with them," Welle added. "And it's such a funny, well-written play."

"But it's also really heart-felt," Karger added, noting that she loves how her character, Oiser, "tells it like it is. You just know what you're getting with her. She's tough, but she's also really heartwarming. And she has some great lines."

Welle said her favorite thing about her character, M'Lynn, is "the love she has for her daughter and her friends."

"This show will move you from laughter, to tears, and back again," she added.

"It just feels like you're a fly on the wall in the middle of this group of ladies chatting in a beauty shop," Karger said. "There's just this deep connection, along with all the funny banter."

If you go

What: "Steel Magnolias," a live community theater production.

When: Thursday, Oct. 28, 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Oct. 29, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 29, 2 p.m.

Where: Historic Holmes Theatre, 806 Summit Ave., Detroit Lakes.

How: Tickets are $15 for adults, $7.50 for students, and can be purchased online at dlccc.org/holmes-theatre.html , by phone at 218-844-7469, or in person at the Holmes Box Office, which is open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday as well as for two hours prior to each show.

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