Wiley and crew headed to ‘World Series’ of theaterClick on the American Association of Community Theatre website and the first page is a sea of black with only one sentence. “Where the stars align,” it reads. There couldn’t be a more auspicious line for play director Cheryl Kramer-Milder, because it echoes something she’s been saying since the County Seat Theater production won the state competition. “We truly believe the stars all lined up for us,” Kramer-Milder said after winning the Minnesota competition. So far, her reading of the stars has been correct.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Click on the American Association of Community Theatre website and the first page is a sea of black with only one sentence. “Where the stars align,” it reads.
There couldn’t be a more auspicious line for play director Cheryl Kramer-Milder, because it echoes something she’s been saying since the County Seat Theater production won the state competition.
“We truly believe the stars all lined up for us,” Kramer-Milder said after winning the Minnesota competition.
So far, her reading of the stars has been correct.
On Sunday, once again, the County Seat Theater’s “Wiley and the Hairy Man” won Best of Festival. Last time it was at the statewide competition in Fergus Falls; this time they were voted best in a 10-show, six-state Region 5 competition. In addition, Kirk Davis as the Hairy Man won a Best Supporting Actor award, and the troupe also won a Best Ensemble award. Other states that were represented at Region 5 included Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and South Dakota.
It’s the kind of show that has simply charmed folks, from audience members to fellow competitors to the judges.
David Metcalf, who directed the other Minnesota play – “Toys for Men” – that made it to regionals, said his crew was “blown away by the quality” of the show.
“We agreed before results were announced, that you were absolutely the right choice to advance,” he wrote in an e-mail to the Cloquet-area theater group after regionals. “You made us instant fans and supporters.”
For those who missed the local performances in March and April, “Wiley and the Hairy Man” tells the tale of how the Hairy Man wants to make young Wiley his next victim and how Wiley and his Mammy outsmart the Hairy Man. Although these three are the only named characters, in this play the chorus members – which morph from trees to creatures to dogs like they’re made of primeval ooze – are on the stage every second, dancing, standing as trees hung with moss, they even provide much of the ambient sounds for the production. The actors become the woods, the cabin, and all the props.
Like ancient fables, Wiley and the Hairy Man is drawn from native folk wisdom, an Alabama folk tale.
“Outwit the Hairy Man three times and he won’t scare you ever again,” Mammy tells Wiley. Trembling, Wiley sets out, prepared to meet the Hairy Man, looks fear in the face and outwits it. The adventures are presented in lyric poetry and mime.
Cast members include Ruthie Zissos as Wiley, Rick Breuer as Mammy, Kirk Davis as Hairy Man and creature chorus members Joel and Jennifer Soukkala, Aleyse Chapin and Kris Nelson.
Comments from the judges – aka adjudicators – were very positive:
“You created a world in which all of the crazy things you did worked!”
“Your Wiley showed the energy and pluck of Mary Martin as Peter Pan.”
“You worked confidently as an ensemble – synchronized movements and atmospheric swamp sounds.”
One even commented on the “clever knothole,” formed when Wiley scrambles up behind the narrator/tree, who obligingly circles thumb and forefinger to provide a knothole for young Wiley to peek through.
Perhaps adjudicator John Viars offered the ultimate complement to the cast and crew of Cloquet’s “Wiley and the Hairy Man” at the regional competition in Kansas last weekend.
“I have never seen a more engaging production of this play,” Viars said, noting that he’s seen the play done lots of times in lots of ways at all levels, from youth to adult.
The cast, crew and supporters of “Wiley and the Hairy Man” will travel to a national competition in Rochester, New York, June 22-26. AACTFest 11 (www.aactfest11.org) is a national theatre event that will bring the best community theatre productions from across the country and the U.S. Armed Services abroad to Rochester. Over 600 people are expected to participate in this American Association of Community Theatre flagship event.
“This is kind of like our World Series,” said cast member Joel Soukkala (the previously mentioned narrator/tree).
“We are so proud of this cast and production. When I saw the piece [in Minnesota], I was enchanted and mesmerized. It is a stunning bit of theatre. We wish them success in Rochester,” said Christine Chernis Brandt, executive director of the Minnesota competition.
If you missed the initial performances, don’t worry. The group will likely have at least one additional local performance before the national competition, but details on that are still unknown. *
Otherwise, a person could always go to Rochester, New York, or perhaps the international AACT competition in Canada after that.
“What better to represent USA … than an American folk tale – so very well told?” Metcalf said.
* Keep an eye on future issues of the Pine Journal for any details of local or regional performances of the play. Anyone who would like to make a donation to help defray travel costs can mail a check to the non-profit County Seat Theater Company, 2035 S. Highway 33, Cloquet, MN 55720.