NEW LONDON — After 100 years there’s bound to be more than a few quirky stories about day-to-day events and everyday characters from most rural Minnesota towns to generate a belly laugh or two.
In an original comedy written and directed by Maria Novak, the events and characters based on the last 100 years of New London are in the spotlight during a two-day performance on the stage of the New London Little Theatre, which was built 100 years ago.
The show features local music, storytellers and the original play, “100 Years Ago Today,” that’s presented in a radio-style variety show.
This will be the first in-person show featured at the Little Theatre following the COVID-19 shutdown. The event also serves as the grand reopening of the theater, which had a facelift during the pandemic including construction of a permanent bar that features classic and craft cocktails served by the Village Spirit Cocktail Co-op.
Tickets for the 7 p.m. in-person show June 18 and 19 are $15.
The show can also be viewed from home during a livestreamed performance. Tickets for the virtual show are $10.
Novak, a local musician and art teacher with the New London-Spicer School District, said the stories were gleaned from information published weekly in the Lakes Area Review newspaper that provides snippets of life from New London’s history from 10, 25, 50, 75 and 100 years ago.
Novak admits she took some liberty with those facts to juice up the fun factor in the script.
“I wanted stories that were charming, fun and light-hearted,” she said. “I think people are going to really enjoy it.”
Novak got the idea for writing the script because of her habit of reading the newspaper’s “This Week in Lakes History” columns out loud to her co-workers in her “best Minnesota accent.”
After getting a tutorial on how the Lakes Area Review reporter selects blurbs from the microfiche files at the Kandiyohi County Historical Society Museum in Willmar, Novak started searching for stories to bring to life.
“I dug through a lot of things,” she said. “It took hours.”
She also used the expertise of Dan Leite, a sixth-generation New Londonite whose vast knowledge of the town’s history and collection of historical community memorabilia provided additional details.
The play is in three acts with three specific themes of weather events, visitors who came to town and relationships between neighbors, said Novak.
The newspaper tidbits include some “absurd, hilarious things” from the past that begs the question, “why was this news?” said Novak with a laugh.
There’s a snippet about a woman who put on a concert in town while bemoaning how “jazz music was ruining our youth” and stories about people pulling pranks on each other, said Novak.
The stories extend beyond the New London boundaries, with a look at bank robberies during a time when “criminals were on the run in the Midwest,” said Novak. “We start with one thing and it leads to another and another.”
According to her research, Novak said the Little Theatre was built by the city for about $5,000. Construction of the concrete building began in 1920 and was finished sometime in 1921. Over the years it’s been used for a variety of purposes, including a community meeting space, basketball gym, movie theater and performance stage.
The theater is continuing to evolve while maintaining a vital role in the community.
With the help of grants from the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council, volunteers and members of the Little Theatre board of directors refurbished the interior during the pandemic and purchased new equipment to enhance the theater’s ability to serve as a live performance and recording space.