The Rendezvous Region often has a lot to boast about in terms of summer events. This year has brought every event to a standstill as COVID-19 makes them impossible to hold. One of the biggest attractions of the summer for the area is the Frost Fire Summer Theatre production and, in true theater fashion, the show will go on.
Long time directors David and Amy Paukert were tasked with the unique challenge this year to bring the Frost Fire Summer Theatre to the audience that has loved it for 35 years. The Paukerts got involved with theater when they were young, participating in school plays and summer theater programs. This was how the two found their way to the Frost Fire Summer Theatre.
“We first were actors in shows beginning in1989 and eventually took on the roles of directing. We directed shows for Dick and Judith Johnson from 1992 through 2014 and then retired,” Dave Paukert explained. “But when Frost Fire was purchased by the Pembina Gorge Foundation, we were asked to return and help them with the theater through their transitional period. So that’s what we have been doing for the past four years.”
The summer of 2020 was not only suppose to include a great musical production but also a much needed pledge drive. “The Show Must Go On!” pledge drive celebrates the 35 years that the Frost Fire Summer Theatre has been bringing quality musical theater entertainment to the region.
“With our patrons’ continued trust and support we hope to make the next 35 years of Frost Fire Summer Theatre even brighter,” Paukert said.
With the pledge drive underway, bringing a show to the audience was going to be difficult as COVID-19 closed down the entertainment industry across the nation. The challenge of finding a way to bring actors and their performances together with the audience that loves them led many theatrical productions to find creative ways to do just that.
“Many have done this through some type of virtual show,” Amy said. “David came up with the idea of doing a series of four virtual shows along with a pledge drive to celebrate our first 35 years of musical theater and mark the beginning of our next 35 years.”
Patrons of the arts can contribute to “The Show Must Go On” pledge drive in many ways. Paukert explained that it is really just like buying a ticket or two to the show. The financial support raised through this campaign will help Frost Fire get through this difficult time and assure its future success as it marks the beginning of its next 35 years.
“Pledge dollars will also help Frost Fire purchase new audience seating, stage flooring, along with more user-friendly bathrooms and walkways to and from the theater,” Paukert shared.
When the decision was made to cancel the summer theater musical due to the health and safety risks brought on by COVID-19, the entire production crew were deeply saddened, but they knew it was the right decision for them. With a cast and crew just a few short weeks away from starting rehearsals, the talented group of actors and musicians switched gears and came up with an exciting new plan. The dedicated cast includes: Drew Relling, Sam Rath, Alex Stroth, Jordan Thornberg, Misti Koop, Lauren Sanner, and Katie Germain. The musicians for this year’s special show has Spencer Black on bass, Per Andreassen on guitar, Amy Jo Paukert tickling the keys of her piano, and Sara Larson bringing the sound.
“If our audience can’t come to Frost Fire, then we’ll bring Frost Fire to our audience. That’s when the “Just 4 You-tube” Virtual Entertainment Series was born,” Paukert said.
The directors modeled the virtual shows after some that they had seen online. The most important aspect for the Paukerts as they began the process of taking live theater virtual was to ensure that the audience would still have the feel of a real theatrical experience.
“We decided to film it in a real performance space in costume using a professional videographer rather than just homemade videos.”
This brought on another challenge - how to make the production seamless in its viewing. The first step was rehearsal with the cast and stage production. Paukert shared that the rehearsals were extremly challenging as it was difficult to find a location to even practice because of COVID-19. Luckily, one of the cast members, Misti Koop, made her home available to the production. The rehearsals took place outside when possible, and all involved kept in mind social distancing. To make the rehearsals as safe as possible for all involved, even with a cast of less than 10 people, rehearsals were scheduled with groups of three or four to limit contact as much as possible.
“Staging a virtual show with social distancing is very different from a regular theater production. In this situation the camera will help create the illusion of movement and the closeness of the actors to one another,” Paukert explained.
The virtual shows cover a variety of genres of music and entertainment that the Paukerts knew their Frost Fire audiences would enjoy. The “Just 4 You-tube” series includes four fun-filled weeks of music and comedy airing July 25 through August 21 on YouTube. Each forty-minute show celebrates a different genre or era of music and comedy including “Grand Ole Country”, “Swing Time” and the “Fabulous Fifties”.
“The fourth show in the series is a special ‘Alumni Concert’ featuring some of our most notable performers since Frost Fire began in 1985. The music and comedy is very nostalgic and will be very familiar to our audience,” Paukert said.
The Frost Fire Alumni Concert will showcase “some of the many outstanding performers on the Frost Fire stage over the years”. Paukert notes that some of these alumni have even gone on to do theater professionally and perform in regional theaters around the country. The Alumni Concert will include many familiar faces: Job Christenson, Misti Koop, Wayne Moore, Marlo (Miller) Teal, Michael Marcotte, Daniella Lima, Craig Petersen, Crystal Cossette Knight and Luke Hoplin.
“We will also be featuring a video history of shows that have been performed at Frost Fire beginning with our first show in 1985 through 2019,” Paukert stated.
The 2020 Frost Fire Sumer Theatre will go on, and with the pledge drive making it possible to make updates and renovations, the future of the theater looks bright. The dedication to the theater and continuation of the experience that is the Pembina Gorge means that by the 2021 season, guests will have just as much - if not more - to look forward to when attending the show.
“Frost Fire is truly a unique experience in that it is an outdoor theater set in a beautiful location – the Pembina Gorge. People not only come to see the show but also to enjoy the scenery. We have also been very fortunate to have some extremely talented actors and musicians be a part of our productions over the years,” Paukert stated.
The Just for You-tube show can be accessed by visitingwww.frostfirepark.org. Information will be provided to access all four shows. It will also be available to view from the Frost Fire Summer Theatre Facebook page and IGTV instagram.
“The shows are free to view, but we hope that you will consider supporting us through your pledge contribution as well,” Paukert said.
For those interested in donating to “The Show Must Go On!” pledge drive, it can be accessed by going online to www.frostfirepark.org. There will also also be a mailing campaign where many former Frost Fire patrons will be receiving pledge information and a return pledge voucher. If anyone is unable to pledge online or through the voucher program, they are invited to call Frost Fire directly at (701)549-3600.