If the ability to improvise is a skill of the best actors, then the 42 young people who take the stage at Bernie Aaker Auditorium later this week have had the training of a lifetime.
The actors in Litchfield Community Youth Theatre’s production of “Frozen Jr.” have adapted to almost constant changes since they began rehearsal in late February, including the most basic of questions — would the show go on?
Like almost everything else in the era of COVID-19, safety and health guidelines created a menagerie of concerns and question marks. But the show will, indeed, go on.
The musical will have a four-show run, with performances slated for 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and a 2 p.m. Sunday show.
“I think it’s going to turn out great,” director Heidi Thoma said last week. “We just need to keep everybody healthy for a few more days, and it will be just fine.”
Thoma brings a wealth of directorial experience to LCYT, having been director of high school musicals at Yellow Medicine East and Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City in the past. She also has directed Litchfield High School’s one-act play for the past five years. In addition, Thoma has assisted with numerous Litchfield Community Theatre summer musicals, as well as LCYT shows.
She was tapped to direct “Frozen Jr.” last spring when a family emergency made the scheduled director unavailable. Of course, the show didn’t happen last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Thoma returned to finish the job this year, but it wasn’t quite like picking up where they left off. Some of the cast had changed, and many of the dance numbers were reworked.
“Some of the stuff we had (for props) but some is new,” she said. “Most of the kids came back, most of the leads, but we’ve had to do some shuffling.”
Among the leads are Thoma’s daughter, Megan, a senior at LHS, who plays “Elsa.” Her stage sister “Anna” is played by Grace Lindell. The two main characters age on stage with “Young Anna” played by Adeline Nelson and “Young Elsa” played by Viola Pennertz. Meanwhile, the role of “Middle Anna” is filled by Abby Thoma, and “Middle Elsa” by Raigan Miller.
Filling roles and figuring out props was just the start of the directorial challenges for this year’s show. Thoma and other assistants, including producer Louise Brooks, had to navigate the health requirements throughout the rehearsal schedule. Early rehearsals saw all cast members having to wear face masks, and later, restrictions were loosened to allow actors to use face shields.
Neither are ideal when trying to get young actors to project their voices to an audience.
“I’ll sit down and I’ll sing with them, and we’re getting some good sound with the masks on,” Thoma said. “We talked about pronunciation, we talked about opening their mouths. We have got to have that. They have worked on it.”
She also worked at spacing the actors on stage. Not the kind of “blocking” that a director might normally do to ensure a good scene, but a social distance kind of spacing.
“All the dances are set up the same, where they’re six feet by six feet apart,” Thoma said. “That’s how the dances are.”
“She has dots all over the stage,” Brooks interjected with a chuckle, explaining the stickers Thoma put down so cast members knew where they needed to be in big dance numbers.
“So, I say, go to a green dot, go to a pink dot … and they go to the dot,” Thoma said. “Actually, it has worked well. You don’t have the intimacy of some of the other staging, but on the other side, it was a lot easier.”
Rescheduling and canceling rehearsals due to scheduling conflicts at the auditorium, working with only half of the cast at a time, and working around illnesses have all been part of the job of getting “Frozen Jr.” to stage. It wasn’t until just a couple of weeks ago that the cast did their first full run-through of the show.
But as they’ve worked through the show recently, Thoma said, it has begun to come together well, and she has been impressed by the hard work put in by the young cast. And for her, the show is about more than what will happen on stage when the lights go up.
“Do I want a great performance? Of course,” Thoma said. “But I was told that this year it was more important that they had an enjoyable experience. And that’s what you’re going to see is the kids enjoying it.
“It’s been a joy for me, and you can see the kids just enjoy being back on stage,” she said.
Alexander Medina had heard of Albert Einstein.
He even knew Einstein’s famed Theory of Relativity.
But neither Medina nor his social studies classmate Joel Isaac Aguirre knew that the renowned physicist had an issue with socks.
Oh, the Madness of March.
The research that helped Medina and Aguirre uncover Einstein’s dislike for socks’ propensity to develop uncomfortable holes in them played a key role in the duo’s winning the American History March Madness championship — an annual competition in Bill King’s seventh-grade social studies classroom at Litchfield Middle School.
The video presentation that Medina and Aguirre assembled about Einstein helped them win six head-to-head contests against other seventh-graders, including the championship matchup against Lincoln Dille’s presentation about abolitionist and author Harriet Beecher Stowe.
“I really like American history,” Medina said, “and (March Madness) is a fun way to, like, compete and learn at the same time.”
This was the eighth year that King has staged American History March Madness with his seventh-grade social studies classes. He started it as a way to spark interest in historical figures and to give students experience in researching and presenting information.
Since its inception, it has become an academic event that students look forward to when they entered seventh grade.
King said that as he prepared to launch American History March Madness, he did a Google search for the most influential people in American history. That initial year saw famous people like Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Amelia Earhart, Hellen Keller and Martin Luther King Jr. Since then, King has expanded the field to include inventors and more recent historical figures like Apple computer co-founder Steve Jobs and Microsoft’s Bill Gates, as well as recent American soldiers such as Pat Tillman and Chris Kyle.
Students pair up or work individually, selecting their historical figure via a blind draw. They then have about three weeks to research their subject and produce a video that’s between 2 minutes and 2 minutes and 30 seconds long.
From there, the students and their videos are put into a 64-player bracket, where they’re pitted in head-to-head matchups against fellow students, with the winner determined by a vote of their classmates. Those contests reduce the field from 64 famous people to one eventual winner.
Medina said he felt fortunate when he and Aguirre drew Albert Einstein’s name. At least he was a figure he knew something about, though their research brought other interesting facts to light – like that quirky dislike of socks. Of course, they included other more significant facts about Einstein, like his Theory of Relativity or, e=mc2 (energy equals mass times the speed of light squared), and his regret that a letter he wrote to then-President Franklin Roosevelt played a role in the atomic bombs dropped on two Japanese cities in World War II.
Medina and Aguirre wove video footage and still photos of Einstein, his papers and inventions under the narrative they wrote from their research — a combination that made them March Madness champions.
Unlike his finals opponents, Dille said he didn’t know much about the subject he drew. But he wound up learning a lot through his research about Harriet Beecher Stowe’s work to end slavery, and her writing of the book “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” which played a role in the start of the Civil War.
“I thought other videos were going to be greater than mine,” Dille said. “I didn’t know much about her before I started, but my video turned out, and I guess it was better than some others.”
The students said they enjoyed the competition, and they also saw American History March Madness as an “efficient” way to learn a little bit about many famous Americans.
“I personally think it was a fun way to compete and learn at the same time,” Medina said.
It was a sad day for Hutchinson area green thumbs last July when Dundee Nursery and Floral closed its doors. The news was a surprise to Tracy Droessler, owner of Stockmen’s Greenhouse and Garden Center in Litchfield.
“When I heard that Dundee had closed I was absolutely shocked,” Droessler said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
As the saying goes, when one door closes, another opens. Droessler saw the need for a nursery in Hutchinson and was in contact with Tammy Field, the longtime manager of Dundee. With Field’s help, Droessler worked with the owners of Dundee to purchase the building, and in February the sale was final.
Stockmen’s Greenhouse and Garden Center at 1150 State Highway 7 E. in Hutchinson will officially open its doors Tuesday, just in time for the upcoming planting season. Its spring hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. You can also check out Stockmen’s on Facebook and Instagram, or visit stockmensgreenhouse.com.
“It will be eight weeks from the time we bought it to (opening), and it went from empty to everything you see,” Droessler said.
It’s been a whirlwind since last August, when Droessler began talking to the former Dundee owners. But answering the door when opportunity knocks is how Droessler got into the nursery business to begin with. She’s an accountant by trade but decided to follow a different passion when she purchased Stockmen’s in Litchfield in 2017.
“I worked in a greenhouse when I was in high school and loved it, and that’s what I always wanted to do,” Droessler said. “I went to school for accounting and I had the opportunity to do that and did that until I could save up enough money to buy my own (greenhouse). … Everything just came together in 2017. I’ve gotten a horticulture degree in a hands-on way rather than through schooling.”
One of the people who has helped Droessler along way is Field, so the two had already developed a strong rapport that will continue with Field managing the Hutchinson business. When Droessler expressed interest in purchasing Dundee, it was good news for Field and the people she had been hearing from in the community who were missing their local nursery.
“Tracy is a very proactive person and community-oriented, and it was very exciting that she was going to take over,” Field said. “It’s a great addition to the community.”
“People have called and asked if it’s true (Stockmen’s is opening),” Field added. “People I know in the community are like, ‘Really, is it going to happen?’ They’re very excited. It’s a big enough town, we deserve to have a nursery in this town, and Tracy’s ownership is going to be a benefit to the whole community.”
Customers can expect lots of vegetables, herbs, annual and perennial flowers, trees and shrubs, as well as garden accents at the new store. Other services offered by Stockmen’s include a cemetery service, custom and business planting, a bare root program as well as a seasonal program in which customers receive a fresh planter delivery with each new season.
Although Stockmen’s in Hutchinson has only had a couple months to prepare, the manager and new owner said they’re ready and excited to show the community their new business. Ordering usually happens in August, but Droessler and Field ordered in January and were grateful for the flexible vendors, as well as the wonderful gardening community that’s helped them get ready for this week’s opening.
“We’ve had a good team of folks here,” Droessler said. “Some folks came back from Dundee who were employees at Dundee. We’ve had people from Litchfield come down to make this happen, everybody’s pitching in on one team and just trying to get it all going.”