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River Falls based acting company tries out first musical

The WayWord Company Players' newest production, "CELLebration" includes the following cast members, front row, from left: Paul Schatz, Olivia Appleton, Ariana Smith, Heidi Marg, Ben Truax and Luke Truax. Middle row: Maddie Perry, Emily Gabriel, Jessica Ferruzza, Valera Minich, Kasey Manche and Sarah Manche. Back row, from left: Christine Bjornstal (crew chief), Kaili Clark, Stephanie Peterson, Dan Vesta, Hayley Vesta, Angela Brown, Emily Gjerde and Natasha Morris. Not pictured are Ben Gabriel and Isaac ...

After a successful first play in September 2011, The WayWord Company Players are set to premier their second show - a musical on April 27, 28 and 29 at Meyer Middle School

Their new production, named "CELLebration," is about the lengths one would go for religious faith.

According to one of the founding members Dan Vesta, the story is about two unlikely best friends - one, a pastor's daughter, and one who is not interested in church.

While living in a place where Christianity is illegal and punishable by death, the characters need to decide, "How far would you go for what you say you believe?"

"It applies to anybody, whatever your belief system," said Vesta.

"The contemporary play's location is not specified, but it is not set in the U.S. We don't have to think about it here as much as other places."

Vesta wrote the music, lyrics and dialogue, as well as directed the production.

"We do original plays for a couple reasons," said Vesta. "One is economical.

"We don't have to pay a fee, and that would be part of our overhead - now we only need to pay for the theatre rental.

"Another reason is we have total control of the product. We don't have to cut anybody; we can develop roles if we need to."

"The last reason," said Vesta, "is the actors can create a new character - there is no template - they get to create something brand new."

Initially conceived seven years ago as a church Christmas program, "CELLebration," sat in the wings until after The WayWord Company Players' first production. "It seemed like the right time. I thought,'yep, that's it, that's what's next,'" said Vesta.

Open auditions were held - most of the cast is made up of kids.

"I was not intending for the cast to be kids, but that is who showed up," said Vesta.

"They are doing a great job - we have a talented group of kids who love theatre."

Vesta feels he has the best seat in the house: "I get to watch the kids sing and act - give life to the characters, create the emotion, the angst and the dilemmas."

Rehearsals began in early February at First Covenant Church of River Falls.

The group has been rehearsing for two and a half hours, twice a week until show week - then they practice every day.

The cast is made of mainly River Falls residents with a few from New Richmond and Hastings, Minn. Six performers from the first WayWord Company Players production are part of the upcoming performance.

The 21 cast members who range in age from 6-years-old to adult, with Vesta being the oldest, include: Olivia Appleton, Angela Brown, Kaili Clark, Jessica Ferruzza, Ben Gabriel, Emily Gabriel, Isaac Gabriel, Emily Gjerde, Kasey Manche, Sarah Manche, Heidi Marg, Valera Minich, Natasha Morris, Maddie Perry, Stephanie Peterson, Paul Schatz, Ariana Smith, Ben Truax, Luke Truax, Dan Vesta and Hayley Vesta.

Shows will be held at Meyer Middle School, 230 N. 9th St., at 7 p.m. on Friday, April 27; and 7 p.m., Saturday, April 28; and 3 p.m. Sunday, April 29. Tickets are $5 at the door, children under six are free.

Follow the word

The WayWord Company Players is a faith-based acting company that performs new, original shows.

The acting company is an independent theatrical group that is not affiliated with any church organization.

Their mission according to Vesta is to, "...put God in an everyday context -- it's not just a Sunday thing, it's a life thing."

"We're here to tell Jesus stories and the relevance of them from a relationship standpoint."

"We want to give people the opportunity to flush out faith. The focus is not on us but on Christ - hopefully it makes some impact," he said.

This is not a moneymaking venture for founders Vesta, Johnny Manche and Kevin Peterson, "It is a work of love - there is no reimbursement."

Any money left over from tickets, after paying for the theatre, is used for things like props.

According to Vesta, the response after their first play in September 2011, was really good.

"Nobody knew what it was going to be like," he said. "We had a great response - some churches asked about doing the play at their church.

The WayWord Company Players are planning more plays in the future - they already have some ideas for the next production.

When tryouts for the next play are announced, anybody can try out - they don't have to hold the same beliefs as the founders, but do have to agree to give the best performance they can.

"We will continue to do original things and provide experiences for people they wouldn't otherwise have," Vesta said about the future of The WayWord Company Players.

For more information about the WayWord Company Players, send an e-mail to Vesta at

Jillian Dexheimer
Jillian Dexheimer has been a copy editor and reporter for the River Falls Journal since 2011. She previously worked for the River Falls Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau. Dexheimer holds a sociology degree from UW-River Falls.
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