Frost Fire Theater, an amphitheater near Walhalla, N.D., has canceled its regular production this summer due to the pandemic, but is presenting a series of four virtual shows that will be accessible online.
The 40-minute, original musical comedy shows can be seen on YouTube from July 25 through Aug. 21. Each show has a theme and runs from Saturday through Friday.
The shows are titled “Grand Ole Country,” July 25-31, “Swing Time,” Aug. 1-7, “Fabulous Fifties,” Aug. 8-14, and “Alumni Concert,” Aug. 15-21.
“It’s our way of keeping summer theater going,” said David Paukert, Michigan, N.D., theater manager.
The series coincides with a pledge drive, “The Show Must Go On,” to help the company through this challenging time and fund theater renovations, he said.
“Frost Fire has always relied on summer theater to get through the year," he said.
Proceeds from the fundraising campaign, with a goal of $70,000, will be used to keep the theater afloat during this season when in-person performances at the amphitheater are not possible, as well as pay for renovations, including new seats, flooring on the stage, carpeting and improvements in bathrooms and walkways, Paukert said.
The Frost Fire Summer Theater finished its 35th season last year, and this fund drive “is a campaign that celebrates what we’ve accomplished, thanking our audience for supporting us, as well as looking forward to the next 35 years of building and growing,” he said. “We hope that this (campaign) will set into place renovations that will improve people’s experience when they come up to see us.”
A cast of eight performers will be joined by four musicians for the productions. The core of the group is made up of actors who were set to perform in this summer’s show, “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do,” which was canceled when COVID-19 struck.
Amy Jo Paukert is directing the virtual shows, assisted by her husband, David Paukert. Cast members are Misti Koop, Lauren Sanner, Katie Germain, Drew Relling, Sam Rath, Alex Stroth and Jordan Thornberg.
Musicians include Amy Jo Paukert, Per Andreassen and Spencer Black.
Those who tune in will hear plenty of popular musical numbers in shows that feature three musical variety genres or themes, ranging from big band to novelty and country music.
“There will be many types of music, and tunes that people will be familiar with," Paukert said.
The first show, “Grand Ole Country,” will include performances of gospel music and tunes such as “Rocky Top,” “Daddy Sang Bass” and “I’ll Fly Away,” as well as a female duet singing “The Tennessee Waltz.”
Another character will perform a Minnie Pearl monologue, according to Paukert who said there’ll be lots of comedy and traditional country music.
The shows will include scenes of a couple sitting in the audience, conversing about whose fault it is that they’re late, for example -- much like one seated nearby might hear as a theater-goer.
Debbie Todhunter and Mark Ellingson will lend funny, familiar and sometimes bittersweet commentary that strings the individual numbers together.
“They’ll be our comedic transitions between many of the numbers,” said Paukert, who wrote the dialogue.
For the Alumni Concert, which closes the season in August, nine Frost Fire alumni will be performing. They are Job Christenson, Wayne Moore, Craig Peterson, Mike Marcotte, Luke Hoplin, Misti Koop, Crystal Cossette Knight, Marlo Teal and Daniella Lima. Some who live at a distance are sending video of their performances, along with memories or experiences of Frost Fire, to be edited into the show, Paukert said.
The alumni show will include photos of Frost Fire performances through the years, from 1984 to the present, he said.
Social distance challenges
Filming for these shows is being done by Twin Tandem Productions, Grand Forks, at the Avalon Theater in Larimore, N.D., and Empire Arts Center, Grand Forks.
“We wanted as professional a video format as possible,” Paukert said.
In producing this new version of a summer theater production, the Paukerts have made adjustments to ensure the safety of performers and for the comfort of the viewers. They kept the cast small and “spread them apart as much as we can (and) we’re aware of the no-touching (restrictions), so the audience is comfortable,” he said.
“The cameras will create that illusion of movement," he said.
These days, there are many virtual performances available online.
“We chose to take it in a slightly different direction," Paukert said.
Paukert also has chosen to look optimistically at the COVID-driven changes. The upside to replacing the in-person performances with virtual shows is “it gives us access to a whole new audience,” he said. “If somebody in Virginia wants to see the show and contribute to Frost Fire, they may be able to tune in.”
Those who wish to view the Frost Fire virtual shows, beginning July 25, are invited to go online to www.frostfirepark.org.