Small community theaters aim high with big productions
Lake Lillian has an estimated population of 235 people, according to the United States Census Bureau. With 13 area businesses, a main street approximately half a mile long, and the nearest school almost 13 miles away, Lake Lillian is the very definition of a small town.
But starting Sunday, this small town is hosting a full production of "Mary Poppins," which is expected to draw around 100 people for each show at the former Lake Lillian school.
Director Corinne Hable said, "This is the only space in town that holds enough people for the shows. We usually get about 100 people per performance, and we do draw from a lot of the surrounding towns, but each year, I think, we're getting more people to come."
Hable has been a member of the Lake Lillian community for decades, working as the local postmaster. Before she retired, she drove from Hector to Lake Lillian every day during the work week.
"Since I've retired, I moved to Lake Lillian, which is kind of backwards," she laughs, "But then I got kind of bored, so I figured we had a stage here and that's kind of how I got started."
Hable is not new to the world of musical theater.
"I just have always loved theater and music. Music was a major of mine. I do singing and I play church organ and I gave piano lessons for 50 years," Hable said. "When I lived in Hector, I did a lot of musicals, I've done tons and tons. I think I've done every major musical."
With 16 girls, ranging from 8 to 22, Hable's cast is made almost entirely of Lake Lillian residents, with only two actors coming from the nearby town of Olivia. That makes just over 6 percent of the whole town involved in the production, not counting the mothers Hable has helping backstage.
"This is the fourth year we've done children's theater here. We've done 'Annie,' and then we did 'Snow White,' and last year we did 'Cinderella.' I usually count on the same ones every year," Hable said.
Meanwhile, out at the Historic Terrace Mill, a mother-daughter duo have also managed to drum up a guild of actors in their small community.
Lucy Lloyd and her mother, Julie Lloyd, are putting on two shows this summer in Terrace, about 13 miles south of Glenwood. In their recent performance of "The Rockin' Tale of Snow White," they had 32 young actors from all over the state.
"The kids are usually not from this community. We've been doing it for about 19 seasons, so we have several families who have been doing it for years. A lot of the kids were from the Twin Cities and they'd come and stay with their grandparents and be in the show. But the word started spreading and we've been getting more local kids now, like Glenwood, Brooten, Benson," said Julie Lloyd.
"We've even had foreign exchange students participate, like from Australia and Taiwan. So it sounds really fun to say that. And this is the first time that we haven't had any out-of-staters. We've had kids from Los Angeles, New York, Chicago," added Lucy Lloyd.
Last year, the children's theater performance at the Historic Terrace Mill drew crowds of around 550 people for their show "Peter Pan," no small feat in such a small community. Terrace is an unincorporated town, but the population for the entire township of Chippewa Falls, in Pope County, where Terrace is located, is listed at 231.
Both Lucy Lloyd and Julie Lloyd have theater degrees, and their relationship allows them to co-direct with ease.
"We do a lot of tag-teaming with stuff, which helps us cover a lot of things," Lucy said.
When asked about difficulties in putting on full theater productions in small towns, both Hable and the Lloyds did not have much to say.
"We make it work, and these girls are wonderful. They really make the community proud," Hable said.
"Yeah, it's kind of a bare bones production. There's not a lot of spectacle. But we pull off a good show because we focus on the kids and their experience," Julie Lloyd said.
And because the productions focus on the young actors, honing their talents and making sure they are having fun, the shows come to life.
"We're looking forward to doing 'The Jungle Book' in August," said Julie Lloyd. "The kids are already signed up and we'll cast on the first day, so we're pretty much set on all that."
If you go:
"Mary Poppins" will open Sunday, July 29, in Lake Lillian. There will be a dinner at noon, allowing people to have a meal and access to VIP seating before the show at 2 p.m.. On Monday and Tuesday, there will be two additional shows at 7 p.m..
"The Jungle Book" will run Aug. 1-2, and both performances will be at 6:30 p.m. at the Historical Terrace Mill in Terrace.