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Brainerd Dispatch

New Theatre Troupe Forms

When the curtain rang down on the final performance of his one-man show ‘Clarence Darrow’ Patrick Spradlin toasted 31 years of theatre instruction and production with his director and long-time friend Beth Selinger. “Well, looks like this is it,” Selinger told him. But was it?

As the two conferred over the weeks that followed Selinger, who was herself retired, reminisced about the theatre company she and husband Dan founded in Randall. Cream of the Crop Theatre had been a passion, a challenge, and a reward. “I’m willing to try it again if you are,” she told Spradlin.

After weeks of careful thought and planning, the two laid the groundwork for a new theatrical producing company. Adding the technical expertise of Curtis Jendro to the mix, the Actors Repertory Theatre was launched in late October. The company’s first production will be ‘It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play,’ performing in the Studio Stage at the Gichi-Ziibi Center for the Arts. Shows are December 7-10 at 7 p.m.

“We came to the realization that we weren’t quite ready for rocking chairs on the porch,” said Spradlin. “There’s more we each want to do, and this seemed the best way to do it.”

The pair were adamant about two principles regarding the formation of the company. “First, we place the strongest emphasis on actors,” said Spradlin. “It’s the first word in the title of the company. Actors are the center of our work, and will remain the focus of our productions.”

The second principle was that the company does not intend to be a competitor with other theatre producing entities in the area. “By that we mean we’re not doing this to detract from anyone else’s work,” explained Selinger. “There are several fine community theatres in the area producing excellent work. The Actors Repertory Theatre offers area actors and audiences one more opportunity to engage in theatre. We’re not a community theatre, we’re a producing agency. We will recruit actors for our productions rather than hold open auditions. We’ll produce work that other companies in the area would probably never produce.”

Spradlin noted the extensive work that had to be done in order to form the company. “We filed articles of incorporation with the state; we obtained tax exempt status from the IRS. We had to clear the name of the company with the secretary of state, establish an address. And then, with Curtis’ help, we set up a website for information and ticketing.”

Actors Repertory Theatre’s first production is ‘It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play.’ Selinger directs a cast of actors that includes Spradlin, Jenny Kiffmeyer, Nicholas Kory, Maren Martin, Rebecca Timmins, and Kevin Yeager. “These are all immensely talented individuals who’ve performed at nearly every area community theatre over many years,” said Selinger.

The play is set in a radio station, with the audience playing the part of the live studio audience. The familiar story of George Bailey, driven to contemplating suicide only to be shown by angel Clarence how his life has enriched so many others, is a staple of Christmastime entertainment. “The audience will probably know the story, but it will be presented as if being broadcast over the radio. The actors play multiple roles, using only their voices to differentiate among them,” according to Selinger. “One really fun part of the show is the production of live sound effects by the actors, using a variety of strange and wonderful objects.”

“Another important part of this company is our commitment to giving back to the community in whatever ways we can,” said Selinger. “We’ve been given so much by the community over the years we’ve worked in theatre, it’s our turn to reciprocate.”

To that end, the company will have drop boxes in the lobby of the theatre and ask that audience members consider bringing a new, unwrapped toy or non-perishable food item for donation. The toys will be given to the Heartland Detachment of the Marine Corps League’s “Toys for Kids” program. The food items will be donated to the Salvation Army Food Shelf Brainerd.

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