Longtime Barn director stages his last show

One by one, the cast of "Mister Roberts" arrives onstage at The Barn Theatre in Willmar. They munch on pizza for dinner and discuss their lines. Then Dave Dorsey strides onto the stage, clipboard in hand, and things quickly turn business-like. To...

One by one, the cast of "Mister Roberts" arrives onstage at The Barn Theatre in Willmar.

They munch on pizza for dinner and discuss their lines.

Then Dave Dorsey strides onto the stage, clipboard in hand, and things quickly turn business-like.

Tonight they're going to rehearse several scenes, starting with Act One, Scene Five.

"Have props with you -- shoe shining and what-have-you. Then we're going to go to the captain's cabin," Dorsey explains. "Do you have that block? We'll walk through that."


He peers up at the audiovisual booth at the back of the theater.

"Will the backstage mic be on?" he wants to know. "We'll do some experimenting with that."

For Dorsey, 72, this production of "Mister Roberts" has special significance.

The show, which opened Wednesday at The Barn Theatre, is the final act in a 45-year career as a community theater director.

"I think it was time for me to do one more show," he said. "My wife keeps telling me it's my last and I think it'll probably be my last."

"He knows when he's done," agreed his wife, DeeAnna. "This will be it."

Dorsey has been one of the most prolific directors in Willmar community theater. His involvement with The Barn -- including several years as managing director -- spans 45 years. He also taught theater and directed plays for 20 years at Ridgewater College until retiring in 1992.

"I feel like he's synonymous with The Barn," said Doug Wilkowske. "There were others, of course, but he was part of the founding group."


Wilkowske was in the cast and crew for several plays directed by Dorsey and is a past member of The Barn's board of directors.

"It was always a very good experience with Dave. He has a way of making a very good production," he said. "He just brings out the best in people and he makes the production flow...When I think of him, I think of quality. I know the show is going to be high quality."

Dorsey said he's lost count of how many shows he has directed over the years.

He reels off a list of some of them: "Twelve Angry Men." "Of Mice and Men." "Arsenic and Old Lace." "South Pacific." He appeared on stage as the friar in a Barn Theatre production of "Romeo and Juliet" and as a captain in "Damn Yankees."

"I don't know how many I've done," he said. "Some people will know how many they've directed, how many they've been in. I just say, 'I don't know.'"

"Mister Roberts" could have been a daunting choice. The play, set on a cargo ship in the South Pacific during World War II, made its debut on Broadway in the 1950s and won a Tony Award. In 1955 it was made into a movie starring Henry Fonda, William Powell, Jack Lemmon and James Cagney.

Dorsey likes the show for its message of patriotism -- a message he believes is timely and will resonate with local theater-goers.

"We are in an era in which the patriotism we saw in World War II had vanished until lately," he said. "I see (the play) as a non-ending tribute to those who served."


He has assembled a 17-person cast -- 16 men and one woman -- with whom he has been rehearsing since the beginning of August.

"They're really dedicated," Dorsey said. "These guys are great. If I have a bad day, if something's gone wrong with the set, I come to the theater and I'm energized by this cast. I really look forward to it."

To theater-goers, what happens on the stage might look like magic but "there's nothing magical about it," Wilkowske said. "It's just hard work. Dave puts in hours and hours of planning."

The weeks leading up to opening night have been intense, DeeAnna Dorsey agreed.

"We don't do anything else except the show," she said. "Dave has to worry about all the behind-the-scenes things too."

Theater has long played an important role in the Dorsey household. Dave and DeeAnna, who've been married for 46 years, first met each other when they were in a production of "South Pacific" together.

"It's the way Dave and I began our lives together. We've had lots of great experiences," said DeeAnna. She has acted several times on The Barn stage under her husband's direction and is his assistant for "Mister Roberts."

She thinks Dorsey's trademarks are creativity and attention to detail.


"He's an excellent communicator with people," she said.

Bob Saulsbury got his first taste of live theater as a student in one of Dorsey's classes at Ridgewater College. Later, he acted in several Barn productions directed by Dorsey.

"I always enjoyed working with him," Saulsbury said. "He was such a professional. He really knew his craft."

Dorsey understood that in community theater, the actors are mostly amateurs, Saulsbury said.

"He handled the volunteers really well," he said. "Community theater's got to be fun. It can't be another job after your day job."

One of Dorsey's legacies is how he was able to introduce the layperson to the art and craft of theater, Saulsbury said. "He's shown people how to appreciate theater. He'd done a lot for the theater, that's for sure."

These are individuals who work, have families and lead busy lives, DeeAnna Dorsey said.

"This is their contribution to the community. That's the way Dave and I have always looked at it -- it's our contribution to the community," she said. "Now it's time for a new generation of people to pick up and really take hold of this great asset to our community."


Dorsey said he finds himself thinking "more than I thought I would" that this is his last show.

"I'm preoccupied with it and so is DeeAnna," he said. "Opening night becomes very emotional for me, and it's going to be emotional with this cast because I'm going to address 17 people who have virtually given six and a half weeks of their evenings. They're dedicated and committed, and they're volunteers. How can you thank them enough? I can look with fond memories at the show and say, 'I had a part of that.'"

For ticket information call 320-235-9500. The play runs through Sept. 29.

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