Locals present new twist on old classicA cast of River Falls Community Theatre members plays the characters of “A Christmas Carol.” Front row, left to right: Chris Olson plays Bob Cratchit, Ben Gabriel plays Tiny Tim, Sandee Blakeley plays Martha Cratchit, Brian Erdrich plays Peter Cratchit, and Gail Upton plays Mrs. Cratchit. Back row, left to right: Michael Norman plays Scrooge, Andy Hanlon plays the ghost of Christmas present, Brenda Gabriel plays Fan, and Joan Molloy plays Fiddler. RFCT presents the production 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Dec. 3-5; and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6 at the UW-River Falls North Auditorium, 410 S. Third St. Tickets cost $9 for adults and $6 for children 12 years old or younger; buy tickets at the door or in advance at the Dish and the Spoon Café, 208 N. Main St.
By: Debbie Griffin, River Falls Journal
Stephen Preisler, of the River Falls Community Theatre, said, “One of the challenges we have in the River Falls Community Theatre is finding a director.”
RFCT typically presents a few productions each year, using an all-volunteer cast, crew and director.
It didn’t take Preisler long to approach his longtime acquaintance, Gorden Hedahl, after hearing he’d retired from UW-River Falls earlier this year.
Hedahl worked 40 years as a professor, director and administrator. He earned degrees in North Dakota and Minnesota before working in Fairbanks, Alaska; at UW-Whitewater; and for 11 years at UW-RF.
He came in as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and before retirement, transitioned to professor of theater and dean emeritus.
“I wanted to finish my career the way I started it,” he said. “Teaching and directing.”
Hedahl taught his last session during a semester of traveling classroom. He traveled internationally with the Wisconsin in Scotland and other programs.
Hedahl said he plans to travel with his wife, River Falls High School teacher Jean Loudon. They went to London, Scotland, Ireland, Turkey and several other places locations in the spring, as well as to Brazil this fall.
“I’m keeping busy in retirement and enjoying it immensely,” he smiled.
The retired theater professor also helped found the local Rotary Club 12 years ago and was selected to be the team leader for its group-study exchange with India. He’ll be traveling there in January.
Preisler caught Hedahl between trips this summer and asked if he’d consider taking the job of RFCT director. He gave Hedahl a copy of the script, an adaption by Christopher Schario of the Charles Dickens story, “A Christmas Carol.”
Hedahl saw an opportunity to stay involved with theater and says, besides that, he really likes Schario’s adaptation of the script.
“I think it’s a very direct telling of the story,” he said.
The cast tells the story to the audience. Hedahl says unlike the modern-movie version starring Jim Carrey with all its special effects, the local play calls on the audience to use its imagination.
The director says for example, all the sound effects are generated live in the theater, not pre-recorded. One example in “A Christmas Carol” is the violin music.
Many of the cast members play multiple roles, and the story appeals to both children and adults. RFCT encourages families to come see the play.
Preisler and Hedahl met 27 years ago when they teamed up for a children’s theater project.
At the time, Preisler worked for the Lake County Children’s Theater; Hedahl worked at UW-Whitewater and was involved in a traveling children’s theater.
The men say both programs are still going today. They agree that this year’s RFCT production of “A Christmas Carol” includes some of the same techniques the two used in their story-theater days.
The audience can expect the show to last about one hour, 15 minutes, with no intermission.
Though Hedahl has much professional experience writing, directing, acting and teaching, this will be his first experience directing community theater. He’s pleased for the opportunity to work with talented local people in a way that still allows him time to enjoy retirement.
Likewise, Preisler said the theater is pleased and excited to have a director with such comprehensive, professional experience. Hedahl has written and produced several original works, including adaptations of themed folk tales.
Preisler, involved with RFCT since he arrived in River Falls three years ago, said locals started it in the early 1990s. It typically presents a fall production, a dessert theater and a one-act play or plays in February, as well as a children’s production in the spring or summer that is sometimes coordinated with an outside troupe.
RFCT actors usually range in age from middle school to the not-so-young and have levels of experience ranging from none to a lot.
Hedahl says about the actors, “It’s a really interesting mix.” And about the play, “I hope people will come and enjoy it.”
Get more information at RFCT’s website: www.pressenter.com/~rfct/ or send an e-mail to email@example.com.