Three Writers Bring Historic Era of Door County Cherry Picking to Life

(Left to right) Dan Klarer, Chad Luberger, Steve Koehler, Molly Rhode, and Allie Babich star in the first-ever production of “Victory Farm.” Photo by Len Villano.

The excitement radiating from Katie Dahl, Emilie Coulson, and James Valcq is palpable on opening night of American Folklore Theatre’s (AFT) production of Victory Farm. Surrounded by an audience of loved ones, friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers, the three writers take in a breath and enjoy the final product, the result of years of research, interviews, Skype dates, writing sessions, and workshops.

“It took six years,” says Coulson, sipping on coffee just days before the premiere of Victory Farm, “starting with forming ideas to working on it as Katie and I found time – while we were as far away as California and France. In 2010, we worked with James [Valcq] and that’s when it gelled.”

The inception of the play essentially starts further back, “It starts in 1995,” explains Coulson. “That summer [Katie and I] both spent time volunteering at AFT. We hated each other,” she laughs,” in the way 12-year-old girls do.”

“We had a competition for who could be the best AFT volunteer,” laughs Dahl. “An unspoken competition. But then Emilie invited me to go berry-picking and we realized we had a lot of the same interests.”

(Left to right) Emilie Coulson, Katie Dahl, and James Valcq, the writers of “Victory Farm,” are all smiles opening night of the production at American Folklore Theatre. Photo by Carla Dahl.

“And we have been best of friends ever since,” says Coulson.

When the two had a notion to write a play for AFT, “We thought cherries were key,” says Dahl, whose great-great-grandfather owned a Door County cherry orchard and grandmother wrote a memoir, a valuable resource for the two writers.

“It had the logistics,” says Coulson, “like how many pounds of cherries go into a bucket.” Dahl, who was raised in Minnesota, had Door County heritage, while Coulson had the Door County experience of being raised in the setting of their play.

While the play features, “entirely fictional characters,” according to Dahl, “there are definitely threads of little tributes.” The play – heartwarming and humorous – features a historic period in Door County, when German POWs were sent to the cherry orchards during WWII. The cast of six includes a mother and daughter, Edna and Dottie, who must call upon German POWs – Karl, Josef, and Wolfgang – to help with the cherry harvest while Jack, the POWs’ guard, watches on.

“POWs from Germany were sent across the U.S.,” explains Coulson, “but what really stood out about Wisconsin is there are so many people of German heritage here. German POWs connected on a level that I’m sure no one expected. There was this real camaraderie. They called this place Vacation Camp Door County; many of these Germans have fond memories.”

After Coulson and Dahl developed the plot and characters – with some early guidance from AFT playwrights Laurie Flanigan and James Kaplan – Valcq came onboard.

“He has a pretty extensive history of writing for the theatre,” says Dahl. “He’s very smart and insightful as a collaborator and as a critic. He held us to very high standards.”

“What’s cool now, is seeing the characters of the play come to life with the actors,” says Coulson. “We know them so well, we could write a book about each one. It’s so rewarding.”

Victory Farm plays Mondays and Thursdays at 8 pm, Wednesdays at 8:30 pm and Saturdays at 6 pm at the AFT Amphitheater in Peninsula State Park. The show will run until August 25. For more information call 920.854.6117 or visit