Musicals are often billed as fun for the whole family.
With Buffalo Community Theater’s “The Music Man,” that’s true not only for audiences, but for actors and production staff, too.
BCT launched a mission to cast family members, and two families from the Dassel-Cokato area are helping to fill the multi-generational quota.
“BCT wanted to make the conscious effort to put together various generations of the same family,” BCT Administrator and Project Director Zanna Joyce said. She wrote a project grant application with this in mind. The Central MN Arts Board awarded the grant, praising BCT for the unique feature.
“One of the benefits we are able to provide to the community is the aspect of having generations from a family be on stage together, and there is tremendous value in that,” Joyce said.
Dassel’s Heather Halstead plays the lead role of Marian Paroo in the BCT production. In a case of art imitating life, the mom of five also works part-time at the Dassel Public Library. One of Halstead’s daughters, nine-year-old Emmy, joins her onstage as a townsperson.
Halstead did a lot of acting in her teens and early-20s, but then took a break to focus on family. Relocating to Minnesota three years ago, she jumped back in to theater, acting in several shows for BCT and FungusAmongus. “The Music Man” is Emmy Halstead’s first musical.
“I love watching Emmy overcome challenges and learn new things,” her mother said. “Doing your first show, especially a musical, has a huge learning curve — music, choreography, blocking, and all of the technical theater nuances. She has jumped in with both feet and is really thriving.”
The mother-daughter dynamic is also challenged.
“It’s hard to be both mom and performer, because there are long periods of time I’m on stage and have to trust Emmy is going to be where she is supposed to be,” Halstead explained. “Thankfully, Emmy has made many friends who have been helping her out.”
Good friends of the Halsteads, members of the Wendroth family, also popped up on the cast list. Kari Wendroth plays Mrs. Paroo, Marian’s mother in the show. Her son William plays Winthrop Paroo, while her son Parker and aunt Kathy Nelson are townspeople.
Wendroth, a real estate agent and developer, is a former elementary music teacher and high school drama director in Litchfield, with extensive acting and directing experience.
“Getting to support William and play his mother on stage in his first, major musical production has been a gift,” Wendroth said. “It’s been exciting to watch him look me in the eye as his character. We are making memories to last a lifetime and there aren’t many activities on which an entire family can collaborate and experience together.”
Meanwhile, Wendroth describes as Nelson as her biggest supporter, working offstage in every capacity when Wendroth directed high school productions.
“It’s been so fun to have Kathy onstage with us and enjoying this part of the process for the first time,” she said.
Nelson couldn’t agree more. The retired educator is making her theatrical debut a bit later in life, and she loves watching her family perform and making special memories with them.
“There are many different age groups involved in the play, and it’s fun to see how they all pull together,” Nelson shared. “We have indeed become an acting family.”
“The Music Man’s” directing team adds to the multi-generational aspect of the production. Husband-and-wife directing team Greg and Debb Bestland have been in theater together for more than 45 years. Their daughter Michelle Bestland is stage manager.
Greg, a retired pastor, started with BCT a decade ago, and has been an actor and a technician. He also sits on the board of directors.
“We wanted to build the town in ‘The Music Man’ as family members who live in River City, Iowa in 1912,” he said. “This led us to cast families that auditioned together to fill the main roles while others were in as townspeople, and that led to a cast of 54!”
Debb, a teacher at Buffalo High School, marks her seventh Buffalo Community Theater show, continuing, “It allows the whole family to enter into a world of story-making. It provides a chance to focus on an outside event, with all attending working together to advance the show.
“I love getting to know the families as they work with us,” she added. “Students see their parents being directed and taught and they get the chance to model that behavior—that is a really good thing!”
Michelle Bestland, an experienced stage and house manager who works in early childhood special education, also sees the rewards of family teamwork.
“I think that because a theater cast spends a lot of time together working towards a common goal, families can connect over the experience and learn more about the ways that they can create something together,” she said.
“As I run the show, I usually get to know more about my parents as creators and as professionals, as well as how I can assist them,” Michelle described. “It helps me to remember that they are not just my parents and they have many other roles in the world, which I think has strengthened our relationship in the long run.”
Joyce summed up the experience this way: “It’s a great way for families to experience creating art together, although theater productions are ephemeral by nature, the memories created through the process will last a lifetime.”