Living in the Mild Midwest
Summer 1996
Central Square and Terrace

Name that tune.

"Living in the Mild Midwest" was probably the most creative show we ever did. The highlight was "Mild Midwest," a parody of the Escape Club's "Wild Wild West." I racked my brain for weeks for a rhyme to finish the above verse. Meanwhile, I was reading Tom DiCillo's script and notes on making LIVING IN OBLIVION, including the repulsive anecdote deriding some people's puritanical hang-ups about marital fidelity...


Go SHOOT through your skin,
Go SMOKE to stay thin,
While we stay as clean as a...PURITAN!!!!!!!

And darn proud of it.

"Living in the Mild Midwest" included "It's a Darn Good Thing" (from the Debbie Reynolds movie, MY SIX LOVES... karoke arrangement by Bob Morton), "The Open Window" (adapted from Saki's short story), some Burma Shave jingles (and now a word from our sponsor), "Community Effort" (interpretive dance), the "Fight at the Breakfast Table" scene from THE MIRACLE WORKER (Beth and Rebecca would go on to win 2nd place in the open division at the talent show), and a thirty-minute play called "Miss Wilder Teaches School" (if wisdom's ways you wisely seek, five things observe with care... of whom you speak, to whom you speak, and how and when and where). We closed with an a capella arrangement (by yours truly) of "Lean on Me." In the words of Naomi Haynes... it rocked.

Participants (who, alas, seemed to outnumber the audience) included:

Amee Bennett, Carrie Bennett, Bethany Chapman, Rebecca Chapman, Michelle Discher. Naomi Haynes, Alishia Marczak, AshLee Marczak, Codie Marczak, J., Barb Chapman, Joshua Chapman, Linda Wharton

Missing onstage during the first performance was madam director, who was supposed to serve as emcee but alas, was hospitalized with ovarian cancer 10 days before the show.

We hit on a brilliant scheme to advertise our show... Burma Shave jingles! After dark we chalked them on the sidewalks downtown in front of the most popular businesses. The mosquitoes ate us alive and once the girls disappeared for 10 minutes to drive "around the block." Waterama is the second largest water festival in Minnesota and takes place the last full weekend in July. More? No problem.

"Lean on Me."

The kids performed in scooter skirts, white shirts, and red vests handed down from K-Mart. Our low-budget club focuses on the performances rather than production values.

Carrie, Beth and Rebecca rehearse "Mild Midwest"...

... and then perform it at Central Square. The kids took advantage of madam director's hospitalization to design their own make-up.

Love me, love my dog. The Chapman pets have made their way into many Pope County theatricals. Here, Robin takes center stage in our rendition of Saki's "The Open Window." The next moment would have made an even better photo... two people focused on the dog while little Amee in the middle cocks an eyebrow at the audience. "Romance at short notice was her specialty."

Rehearsing "Miss Wilder Teaches School." Clockwise from the kid in the baseball cap are Beth Chapman as Mary P., Rebecca Chapman as Minnie, Naomi Haynes as Nellie, Barb Chapman as Miss Wilder, Carrie Bennett as Laura and Michelle Discher as Ida.

Alishia and Codie Marczak rehearse their disruptiveness as two of the small schoolchildren. The kids weren't able to follow a direction as general as "misbehave and make noise at it so Miss Wilder has a reason to turn around." We had to choreograph specific misconduct like making animal sounds in turn or escalating a shoving match until someone fell noisily off a bench.

"Miss Wilder, if you want that bench rocked, I'll rock it for you!" No one messes with Laura Ingalls' little sister. As for our actresses, not only are they sisters in real life, but Amee played Carrie and Carrie played Laura. Stay with me, kids. John Chapman made the bench. Thump THUMP, thump THUMP!

We debated whether to try and come up with costumes for the play or stick with the uniforms the kids were using for the rest of the variety show.

I've known this was a killer scene since graduate school, where my performance as Helen in an "acting for the camera" class actually got John Whitaker to stop me in the hall at BYU to congratulate me on my performance. This despite the fact that, along with Darwin, I was considered to be the worst actor in the class (that's okay... Sterling called me the worst writer. Maybe it's a gentile thing). It's actually a fairly easy scene to do well because the beat objectives are so clear from moment to moment. Beth's only concern? "Does the water have to be that cold?"

"It's a Darn Good Thing" is a great song for kids to perform. It's repetitive, so an audience can warm to it on the first hearing. It's simple in structure but long, allowing for lots of choreography and staging (a nose goes honk, a hand goes snap, a bird goes tweet, a dog goes woof, a drum goes boom, a bell goes ding). And it's lively but has one slow section that allows for some nice harmony. The director's illness required a last-minute change in parts... the ever-versatile Rebecca had to take over the adult part and Naomi had to fill in to cover one of the sound effects. Beth covered one of the animal parts, of course.

Rehearsing "Community Effort." In 1977/78 I took a P.E. class at Fort Riley Junior High School that included a section on interpretive dance. We were supposed to pick an instrumental song, come up with a theme, and choreograph a number to it. Ridiculous. We portrayed "a storm at sea" to "A Fifth of Beethoven." Ridiculous. The #1 tune was a cliched song choice and we were no storm at sea. "But at least no one else will do any better with this silly assignment," I assured myself. The cheerleaders went last. What could cheerleaders possibly come up with?

I learned something that day about artistic possibility. And human potential. Sherri Bortner, wherever you are, I salute you!

The only specific dance move I remember is the celebratory dance of the citizens at the end. But I think we captured the spirit pretty well.

In June we had a dry-run, so to speak, at the annual "Heritage Days" celebration in Terrace.
"Community Effort" at Terrace.

"It's a Darn Good Thing" at Terrace.