Friday, May 8, 2015

Celebrating 10 Years of Art, Events and Plays at the Edge

When you do something special for 10 years that some thought might never happen, how do you celebrate? If it was an art gallery and theatre for the performing arts you might start with planning the next 10 years, then celebrate for a whole year with even more art, music, plays, classic movies, and fun. That is what 2015 is to the Edge Center in Bigfork. The art gallery will have color and creativity, the stage will host dance, music, school activities, classic movies, and an EdgeWild Player’s production showing segments from 11 of the 30 EdgeWild productions with many of the original cast members albeit all a bit older will be on stage.  The show is titled, "The Best of the Players: The 10-Year Reunion Show.” It is a taste of diversity in the Bigfork arts and entertainment scene since the beginning. Dates and times: Friday May 22nd and Saturday May 23rd at 7PM. plus Sunday May 24th at 2PM. Prices $12 adults, $6 children.

Opening in 2005 and attached to the area’s K-12 Bigfork School, the Edge building itself was a culmination of thousands of volunteer hours from 100s of people and financial supporters going back to 1992. Patricia Feld (below) is now and has been the only Artistic Director for the art activities since long before the building existed. In fact, as Patty says, “It started in the early 80’s when a gentleman named Orbin Holt was installing a phone in our new home near Effie and was curious about the opera music he heard while working. We had a great conversation about performing art that day.”

Edge Center Stage building and stage shown below

“The Best of the Players: The 10-Year Reunion Show” will involve almost 50 actors and singers, plus instrumentalists, and backstage help. Since many of the participants are from the original shows, the reunion will be of both plays and people.It will include parts of "Oklahoma," "The Fiddler on the Roof," “The Fantasticks,” “The Music Man,” “The Bigfork Town Centennial Melodrama,” “Flannel Shirt Shakespeare,” “Life, Breath and; Other Humorous Catastrophes: Six Short Plays by Samuel Beckett,” “The Odd Couple (Female Version),” “A Night on Broadway at the Edge,” “All the King’s Women,” and, from the “Edge of the Wilderness Almanac: The 14’ High Puppets Show” (giant puppets shown below).

Patty continues, “The dream of providing visual and performing arts in our wilderness community came about with the help of untold numbers of people who contributed time and financial help to make the building happen.  This show is a small thank you to them for seeing into the future. Besides being a theatre and art gallery, the Edge provides, most importantly, a learning arts laboratory for the students. The EdgeWild Players are the actors, singers, designers, builders, and crews needed to produce our performances for the stage. There have also been hundreds of other ‘events,’ on stage. Shows and talent with impressive national and international reputations, as well as art gallery exhibits from artists far from Minnesota and near. There are also music lessons, acting and dancing residencies, school plays, ceremonies, classic movies every Thursday evening during the winter months…and a lot more. This is a community venue.”

Though the building has been in operation 10 years this year, EdgeWild Players productions have been happening since 1996, with performances in places like the Bigfork, Marcell, Effie, and Togo City Halls, and Bigfork School Commons. The anniversary being celebrated this year is for an open, operational Edge Center building.  The financing for that story started in 1992 with School District Superintendent, Dan Kaler, and the Blandin Foundation joining forces to create The Edge of the Wilderness Community Center (EWCC).

The EWCC is a non-profit, 501.c.3 umbrella organization with the mission statement of "enhancing opportunities in education, recreation, and the fine arts in the Edge of the Wilderness area." The Edge Board of Directors provides policies and financial governance to the committees. The committees that implement the mission are the EdgeWild Players (locally produced community theatre), Events (performing arts groups from within and outside the community), Gallery (visual arts exhibits), Bigfork High School Alumni Association (alumni liaison and special projects like the Gordon Campbell sports facility), Sports Boosters (promotes school sports), and the Art League (develops visual arts’ skills).

A successful 1996 School Bond Referendum started improvements to the Bigfork School making it “Fine Arts Center ready”…if the money could be raised by the EWCC. So, the non-profit EWCC started applying for grants and funding for the project. In 1998, the EWCC hired an architect to draw a colored rendering of the proposed facility. They also started an educational campaign to let church groups, service clubs, and school groups know how the Edge could benefit the whole area including Effie, Bigfork, Togo and Marcell.

Successful grants were from the Blandin, Archibald Bush, McKnight, and Northland Foundations, as well as the Bigfork Lions Club, the North Itasca Electric Cooperative, Bigfork Valley Hospital, Minnesota Power, Itasca County, and The Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation, among others. Local businesses and individual contributions added to the funds needed to complete the Edge Center. Of course it was not easy. The early Boards of Directors worked incredibly hard to accomplish what seemed to be, at times, an impossible task.

In 2000, after about $60,000 had been raised in the community, the EWCC signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the ISD #318, establishing that the future building would be owned by District and managed by the EWCC. As Patty Feld, describes it, “Then an anonymous person (Orbin Holt it turned out to be) donated a significant amount to the building fund! He wished his donation to be anonymous until his passing. The amount he donated was gradually increased until the construction was complete! He really enjoyed contributing to the Edge Center, taking pictures of during construction, and called it ‘his legacy’.” It was that influx of community generosity that got large granting organizations to consider also funding the project (some of the contributing organizations logos are shown below).

So what does a group of actors and people with lots of talent do to spread the word about a potential arts center for this area. Well, back in 1996 that was the challenge to the newly formed EdgeWild Players. They hoped that some day they could produce plays in a new venue. What they did was to take shows on the road to let people enjoy. “On the road” meant Togo, Balsam, Effie, Bigfork, Marcell, and Deer River.

The first play produced was “A Thurber Carnival” (program shown above).  The Tony Award winning play is a collection of humorous stories by James Thurber. Stories like “The Night the Bed Fell on my Father,” “If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox,” and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” were taken from Thurber’s work in The New Yorker magazine.  After that, there were 11 more, including "Grease," and "The Dining Room," (programs above), done around this area from 1996 to 2005. We are working on putting the programs for the 12 early plays on the Edge Center web site for anyone to see.

The plays were in any venue that could be found in these towns.  That included a school library, a church/village hall, and the Bigfork VFW building (which is now a restaurant). The VFW play was “Mary, Mary” (program shown above) done in 1998 as a “theater-in-the-round” dinner theater. The Bigfork School hosted plays in its library and later in the Commons area. One of the plays, “Heartwood Echoes” (Program below) in May of 1999 was written by seniors in high school about Bigfork history. “The Importance of Being Earnest”, in March 2000 featured the first professionally designed costumes. “The Miracle Worker” in June 2001 featured the first two-story set.

The Edgewild Players did not stop with home produced theatre.  From outside the area, they presented the Piatigorsky Foundation classical artists, which we still enjoy today, a Guthrie touring show, a Minnesota Opera production, several Minnesota Shakespeare Project productions, and the Living Waters vocal concert from Hibbing.


Through all this, audiences were enthusiastic and everyone involved enjoyed themselves. It takes a lot more than the actors we see on stage to make such performances happen.  It also takes backstage help, designers, carpenters, seamstresses, ticket takers, clean-up crew, and many more. This is all-volunteer work, and there can never be enough of a big “thank you” for such gifts of time and talent. In fact, when you come into the lobby, look at the contributor list, check out some of the names on the seat backs, and remember that someone helped pay for the Yamaha grand piano buy "purchasing" key at a time...and that is just a sampling of the financial contributors not even mentioning the "thousands" of hours of volunteer time contributed to run the Edge over the years. (Early contributor plaque in lobby below).

But, in those early years, generosity towards just a promise was what this "road show" activity had to offer. Remember, “The Fine Arts Center,” as it was called then, needed funding to just get started. So, after each performance one of these volunteers got up in front of the audience and did a speech suggesting how nice it would be to see this and other future performance in a nice comfortable PADDED seat, on a SLOPED floor so everyone could see and hear equally well, in a building with audience conveniences such as sufficient RESTROOMS. In other words, it would be a place designed to HONOR the performing and visual arts. And it would be attached to the school so every student could experience the arts as part of his or her education.  This was a request to “please be generous and help us build it.”  It’s built now, and your generosity is what keeps its programming part of our community.

This reunion show celebrates the entire ten years of the Edge and will have something for everyone’s taste. But keep in mind that it only shows the EdgeWild players productions part of the Edge story talked about here. There has been hundreds of on-stage events from virtually everywhere in the country and beyond, (three events are shown below), gallery exhibitions (also four exhibit photos shown later), Edgewild Players productions (three players productions shown below), plus thousands of students participating in school activities. This is all part of the Edge story, and we are celebrating every aspect of this community space.


Edgewild players productions:

So, for this part of the celebration is concerned, if you are a regular at EdgeWild Players productions, it will be a chance to revisit some of your favorite shows and players.  If you are not a regular, here is a chance to “catch up” in a small way on what has been happening over ten years. In either case it certainly will be an entertaining show. And don't forget the tons of other "happenings" that have taken place here.

Gallery exhibits:

Patty concludes, “I hope this entices you to come and see the show.  We believe it will be a good and entertaining experience for audience members of all ages. And also, these past years could never have happened if it were not for the ‘audience.’  The audience is why we create the art, theatre, music, dance, and film experiences. And I must say this too,” she said smiling.  “Please continue your support as we start our next 10 years. Thanks!”

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