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Empire Theatre Company opens season with ‘Hands on a Hard Body’ on Saturday at Grand Forks County Fairgrounds

Ten down-on-their-luck Texans compete to win a new truck by keeping at least one hand on it the longest. As the competition goes on, the audience learns about their stories, struggles and dreams in this show that's based on an award-winning documentary.

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The Empire Theatre Company opens its 2022-23 season with "Hands on a Hard Body" on Saturday, Aug. 13 at the Grand Forks County Fairgrounds
Contributed image by Shayla O'Leary
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GRAND FORKS – The Empire Theatre Company opens its 2022-23 season with “Hands on a Hard Body” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 13, at the Grand Forks County Fairgrounds.

The show will also be staged at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 17, 18 and 20, and at 2 p.m. Sundays, Aug. 14 and 21, in the 4H building.

The “hard body” in the show’s title refers to a truck, said Kathy Coudle-King, ETC managing artistic director. The play’s story “literally revolves around a pick-up truck,” which has been provided by the Rydell Cars company, she said.

“We couldn’t get the truck into the Empire, so we are producing this show at the Grand Forks County Fairgrounds, which actually lends itself to the story.”

Co-produced with McFarlane, Inc., the show is directed by Coudle-King, with musical direction by Michelle Henning and choreography by Brooke Hickerson, Ashley Fredricksen, Jessica Allan and AnneMarie Brack.

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The country/rock musical follows the story of 10, down-on-their-luck Texans who — under a scorching sun for days on end and armed with nothing but humor and ambition — fight to keep at least one hand on a brand-new truck in order to win it.

The musical, inspired by the true events captured in an award-winning 1997 documentary of the same name, features country, gospel, rock and traditional musical theater tunes to tell the tale of the contestants and just what winning means for them, said Coudle-King, ETC artistic director.

“The competition goes on for four days as the audience learns about their stories, struggles and dreams,” she said. “(The play) is both funny and poignant with multiple themes to explore. It shines a light on the struggles of ordinary Americans just doing their best to succeed in life.”

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Cast members of "Hand on a Hard Body," in rehearsal at the 4H building at the Grand Forks County Fairgrounds, are (from left): Walter Criswell as "Benny," Alejo Ibarra Pallotti as "Jesus," Emily Johnson as "Janis," Jace Toutenhoofd as "Greg," AnneMarie Brack as "Norma," and Matt Stavens as "Mike Ferris."
Photo by Kathy Coudle-King

Cast members include Mark Diers, Walter Criswell, AnneMarie Brack, Jessica Allan, Ashley Fredricksen, Mario Rydell, Jace Toutenhoofd, Gretchen Kindseth, Alejo Ibarra Pallotti, Emily Johnson, Sophia LeMire, Jace Erickson, Matt Stavens, Alyssa Donacki, Patrick Pearson and Casey Pearson.

The show has never been produced in this region, Coudle-King said. It is family-friendly but with occasional strong language.

Guests should enter the fairgrounds through the main gate at 2300 Gateway Dr., and are encouraged to bring a folding chair, although chairs will be provided. A food truck will be on site, and patrons are encouraged to tailgate at this unique theater event.

Tickets are $25 for general admission; $18 for seniors and students; and $16 for youth ages 12 and younger.

Reserve tickets by going to www.empireartscenter.com or call the Empire Arts Center at (701) 746-5500. Tickets may also be purchased at the door one hour before showtime.

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The production is also supported by the Greater Grand Forks Convention and Visitors Bureau; the City of Grand Forks Arts Re-grant, through the Community Foundation of Grand Forks, East Grand Forks and Region; and the North Dakota Council on the Arts, with funding from the North Dakota Legislature.

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Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at pknudson@gfherald.com or (701) 780-1107.
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