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Paddling through history

NEW LONDON -- Actors who were so young they could not even read and veteran performers who easily belted out a song were some of the volunteers who auditioned for a role in a play that will be presented this summer on the shores of New London's M...

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Deon Haider, of Sauk Rapids, auditions for a role in the New London sesquicentennial play as directors Ashley Hanson and Andrew Gaylord listen. The play will be performed July 19 on the shore of the Mill Pond as the audience paddles canoes or rides bikes from scene to scene. (CAROLYN LANGE | TRIBUNE)

NEW LONDON - Actors who were so young they could not even read and veteran performers who easily belted out a song were some of the volunteers who auditioned for a role in a play that will be presented this summer on the shores of New London’s Mill Pond.
The audience will be watching from canoes and kayaks.
The unique “paddling theater” musical presentation will tell the story of how New London was founded and depict some of the characters who have been part of the community for the last 150 years.
Known as the “City on the Pond,” it’s only fitting that the sesquicentennial play is performed on the Mill Pond.
“People should come expecting theater but not any kind of theater they’ve ever seen before,” said Andrew Gaylord, who along with Ashley Hanson is writing the script and original music for the play. Gaylord and Hanson, from PlaceBase Productions, are also directing the performance.
Rehearsals begin Sunday.
Auditions this week netted about 35 performers and the primary characters have been cast.
But Hanson said there’s a need for more people to fill in minor roles in the crowd and chorus. She said individuals or families who want to participate in the community event should come at 6:30 p.m. Sunday to the Little Theater.
Local musicians are also needed to pre-record music that will be played during the one-day, one-time performance during the New London Water Days celebration in mid-July.
Hanson and Gaylord have been crafting the story for several months in a process that included learning about the history of New London from books and listening to the stories of people with long memories.
“We gathered stories from quite a few local story collectors, and we pulled together a number of materials around the history of New London,” Gaylord said.
Since hosting several story-swap sessions over the winter, they have been writing and editing the script, which includes some homespun humor gleaned from stories from locals.
“We’ve been sitting in a dark room, putting those stories together in a way that will be compelling for the audience,” Gaylord said, drawing a chuckle from Hanson.
“We’re in our next-to-final-draft of the script, but we really wait until we see who our players are before we put the finishing touches on how each of the scenes works,” Hanson said.
There will be six scenes in the play, with each scene located at a different location on the shore of the Mill Pond, which wraps around New London.
The two have spent time canoeing the shoreline to find the right backdrop for each scene of the play.
“It’s a personally tailored script,” Gaylord said. “It’s not a script that just any community could perform since it’s written specifically for these places in New London.”
The audience will be invited to bring their own non-motorized watercraft to paddle from scene to scene. Prizes will be given for the best decorated canoe or kayak.
Those who are squeamish about being on the water can bike or walk to the scenes.
“Our audience will either be in canoes or on bicycles or some other form of human-powered transit moving from one place to another to take in just a whole load of different stories about the history of New London and celebrate this sesquicentennial,” Gaylord said.
“It’s up to the audience to figure out how they are going to get from one place to the next,” he said.
The audience will travel together to see the progressive play, which will last 1 ½ to two hours, Hanson said.
When the first scene is done, the audience will follow a map or take a cue from the cast on where to see the next scene.
The play will be presented at 1 p.m. July 19.
“It’s a one-time experience,” Hanson said.

VOLUNTEER


Roles in the Mill Pond paddling theater are still available.
Learn more 6:30 p.m. Sunday at the New London Little Theater at 24 Central Ave. East. Contact Ashley Hanson at 952-486-0533 for more information or to schedule another time.
Rehearsals will be held on weekends and occasional weeknights, with flexible times to accommodate volunteers’ schedules.

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New London sesquicentennial
Stella and Jasper Nordin, siblings who live in New London, audition for a role in the New London sesquicentennial play as directors Ashley Hanson and Andrew Gaylord encourage them to enunciate. (CAROLYN LANGE | TRIBUNE)

Related Topics: THEATERHISTORYFESTIVAL
Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at clange@wctrib.com or 320-894-9750
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