Northern Sky Theater: Past, Present and Future
Remember the popular 1990s game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, based on the premise that any two people on earth are six or fewer acquaintance links apart? Holly Feldman, director of development and public relations for Northern Sky Theater, used that idea during a presentation to the Door County Historical Society to relate how the theater company – through its predecessors, the Heritage Ensemble and American Folklore Theatre (AFT) – is directly connected to one of America’s most revered playwrights, Eugene O’Neill, with stops at Harvard, Cornell and UW-Madison. (It’s a true story, but you’d have to hear Feldman explain it.)
“Trouper” that she is, Feldman ignored a failing microphone and equipment that refused to show photos to tell the audience what Northern Sky is up to this summer. She assured the audience that the theater company has a long-term agreement with Peninsula State Park and will continue to perform there, June through August, as long as crowds continue to attend. Her announcement that the ongoing Constellation Campaign will fund some improvements at the park theater – including flush toilets – garnered cheers.
Two of the three shows on stage in the park this summer carry on Northern Sky’s mission of focusing on Wisconsin history. The new show, We Like It Where?, written by Northern Sky cast member Corrie Beula Kovaks and her husband, Stephen, tells the true story of the little town of Winneconne, Wisconsin, which was left off the state highway map in 1967. There was a dot, but no name.
In an era before smartphones, it was a tragedy for a town that depended on tourism. When Gov. Warren Knowles (played by Doug Mancheski) refuses the town’s request to reprint the maps, the townspeople take the matter into their own hands in drastic fashion. (Toll bridges in and out are just part of the plot.) The play marks the return to the stage of Doc Heide and Jeff Herbst, who share the role of a company executive.
Others in the cast of 10 include Corrie Beula Kovacs as the governor’s wife; Lachrisa Grandberry as a fiery restaurant owner who really stirs things up; Bill Theisen as the village president; Alex Campea as the publisher of the local newspaper; Emily Brandt and Jamie Mercado as Winneconne natives who come up with a great idea; and Isaiah Spetz, a 2017 Sevastopol graduate, who plays two roles, including Paul Hassett, the governor’s chief of staff. On opening night, a woman appeared backstage to announce, “I didn’t expect to see my Uncle Paul on stage!” Feldman quipped that, after the news spread, “The whole town got on a bus and came to see the show.” (Winneconne is small, but more than one bus would be required.)
Dairy Heirs, last season’s smash hit written by Joel Kopischke, Eva Nimmer and Alissa Rhode, is a tribute to Wisconsin farmers. Doug Clemons and Corrie Beula Kovacs play Gabe and Elsie Frederiks, a brother and sister in bitter conflict over the future of the family farm after the unexpected death of their father. Alex Campea and Chase Stoger appear as “twin” farmhands, JT and TJ Blatschke. Molly Rhode is Gabe’s long-ago love, and Lachrisa Grandberry is his Hollywood agent. Lola appears as a sensitive, speaking cow, whose comments, unfortunately, can be heard only by her keeper, JT. The show is hilarious, and all ends well, but the problems of maintaining a family farm ring true to many in the audience.
Windjammers, which first appeared on the park stage in 2013, is a nod to Wisconsin’s great sailing history. Clay Zambo and Robin Share wrote the story of a three-masted schooner that sets sail on the Great Lakes in 1876 with a brand-new captain (Doug Clemons); a gruff, old sea hand (Doug Mancheski); a superstitious deck hand (Chase Stoger); a young boy away from home for the first time (Hayden Hoffman, a veteran of Gibraltar High School musicals); and Mari Duckler, Mikayla Locke, Lachrisa Granberry and Jamie Mercado as the young women who follow the fleet. See the show to find out why it’s never performed on Fridays!
Feldman ended her presentation with a few words about the new Northern Sky Creative Center that’s nearing completion in the woods at the corner of County Roads A and F. It will be the permanent home for all of the company’s activities (which are now located in seven rented spaces around the county) and a 248-seat theater for fall, winter and spring productions.
For years, Northern Sky’s Christmas show, Home for the Holidays, has played in various locations around the county. When it closed on New Year’s Eve, the crew had to pack up sound and lighting equipment and sometimes fold and stack chairs. As the final 2018 show ended, Dave Alley, Northern Sky’s technical director and lighting designer said, “Just think, all we’ll have to do next year is turn out the lights!”
The ongoing Constellation Campaign is within 6.4 percent of its original $7.8 million goal.
“Whether $500,000 seems like a little or a lot,” Feldman said, “it is critical to complete the original plan.”
The Gould Theater in the new Northern Sky Creative Center will open Aug. 30 with the world premiere of Dad’s Season Tickets, a show set in 1996, with the book, music and lyrics (a most unusual trifecta accomplishment) by Matt Zembrowski, a former AFT musician, performer and playwright. As in Shakespeare’s King Lear, Frank Kosinski must decide which of his three daughters is most worthy to inherit his estate – in Frank’s case, his Packer season tickets. The play, supported by the Packers Foundation, will run through Oct. 26. How better to celebrate autumn in Door County?
If you’d like a free tour of the new campus, call Feldman at 920.854.6117, ext. 105. In the meantime, see you under the stars!