GRANITE FALLS - Here's how Congressman Andrew Volstead's hometown is acknowledging the 100th anniversary of his penning the legislation that made prohibition the law of the land.
Tickets for the locally-produced musical, "Over the Barrel: A Prohibition Musical" are good for a free beer (or root beer) at what is believed to be the state's only public house owned by a cooperative. Called the "Bluenose Gopher," the downtown public house is named after the moniker stuck on the late Congressman by his opponents.
The musical makes it debut with a performance at 7 p.m. this Saturday in downtown Granite Falls. A free performance featuring short "snippets" from the musical will be offered at 4 p.m.
Don't be mistaken: This walking theater musical is not about taking a poke at Volstead or his legacy.
Through song, humor and poignant dialogue, an all-female cast of 14 will lead audience members on 150 years of time travel. Audience members will walk to three downtown locations in Granite Falls to watch the production. They will learn about Volstead, but also explore the impact of prohibition throughout time, and look at the how and why we prohibit things, according to Ashley Hanson of PlaceBased Productions.
The musical also examines the rights of women and native people, and the roots of feminism in a context that starts with prohibition.
Hanson's company produces walking theater productions that help rural communities tell their stories. PlaceBased Productions has teamed up with Other Tiger Productions of Minneapolis to produce this musical. The partnership brings on board playwright Jennifer Huang of Minneapolis, who wrote the play, and actor Ricardo Vazquez, who directs it.
There are plenty of surprises waiting for audience members, according to Vazquez and Hanson. "It takes us to directions you would not expect," said Vazquez of the musical.
He said Huang loves to tease an audience with its expectations and then surprise it with so much more.
This production got its start over a year ago, when Hanson and musician and songwriter Brian Laidlaw of PlaceBased Productions hosted a series of circles in Granite Falls to hear stories about prohibition and Volstead from local residents. Huang took those stories and grounds some of the play in that local history, but she also takes a look at all the many ramifications of prohibitions, explained Hanson.
The action in this musical starts in 1919, the year Volstead authored the legislation. The opening act brings audience members to the Bluenose Gopher. Suffragettes are picketing outside and arguing for and against prohibition. This is the year women won the right to vote, noted Hanson.
At the time, one of the strongest arguments for prohibition was a growing public awareness of the impact drinking was having on families.
The actors lead their audience forward in time to 1955, where the scene is a book club. The discussions allude to the birth of the modern feminist movement. It's also the year the Department of the Interior (unsuccessfully) promoted legislation to terminate the trust restrictions on the lands of the Lower Sioux, Upper Sioux and Prairie Island communities.
From there, the actors take the audience forward to 2069 by visiting the historic home of Andrew Volstead, preserved as a museum. There, the audience will hear a fictional conversation between Volstead and his daughter, Laura. The conversations lead to talk of new prohibitions, and sets the stage for a possible revolt, which the audience just might want to join.
Afterward, it's back to the Bluenose Gopher, where audience members can cash in that ticket for a free drink and join in offering their thoughts on the production.
The cast members are all local residents, and hail from New London to Marshall as well as Granite Falls and Montevideo. Vazquez said it's an incredibly talented group of actors and musicians who stepped forward to tell this story, and they have made this a super fun experience.
Following this Saturday's opening, the play will be produced July 26 and 27, Aug. 8 and 9, Sept. 12 and 13 and Oct. 4 and 5. A grant from the Minnesota Historical Society to the Granite Falls Historical Society helped fund some of the research into Volstead and his legacy. Funding from the Southern Minnesota Arts Council is making the musical possible.
Tickets may be purchased at the Bluenose Gopher Public House or online at https://overthebarrel.bpt.me