Vermillion�s history celebrated in musical snapshots

Vermillion��?s history celebrated in musical snapshots By David Lias
Plain Talk The audiences who experienced the four performances of In Every Generation: An Original Musical Photograph, didn't go home until giving a rousing standing ovation to the actors, vocalists, musicians and crew that made the production possible. The musical was presented at 7:30 p.m. July 10, 11 and 13, and at 2:30 p.m. July 12, in the Performing Arts Center of Vermillion High School. Those who witnessed the staging of the musical, designed to share highlights of Vermillion's past in celebration of its sesquicentennial, or 150th anniversary, this year, also learned of the monumental task undertaken by members of the Vermillion Community Theatre. Last March, there was no script and no music. At best, the storyline and tunes were beginning to percolate in the minds of the writing team that composed the original musical. The program handed to audience members notes that the book, music and lyrics of the musical was written by C.G. Miller, a pseudonym that represents the team who crafted last weekend's production: Anthony Burbach, Kurt Hackemer, Steve Miller, Brad Richardson, George Schlenker and Mary Green Vickery. Members of the Vermillion Community Theatre (VCT) admit in a small essay contained in the musical's program that creating the production was a scary and daunting proposition – a bit of high wire act without a net. The realization of this aspect of the sesquicentennial production, combined with a lively script that presented snapshots of both good and bad times from the community's past, made audience members appreciate the story it told even more. The musical didn't quickly become a reality. The VCT gathered together a small team of local musicians, writers and historians that kicked around several ideas before earnestly settling down to put their creative ideas down on paper, in the form of storylines, lyrics and music, beginning last March. The writing team met each Friday for breakfast to formulate its ideas into the final product. The process began by collecting favorite stories from Vermillion's past. Local historians brought the team a wealth of material; the team narrowed that collection down to a list of 10 stories that were the focus of the musical. At one of those meetings, the idea of photographs surfaced. The team realized that the musical was, in fact, similar to a series of photos coming to life, each revealing their stories, secrets and wisdom. The team defined the musical as historical fiction, in other words, the use of creative imagination combined with historical knowledge, giving the creative team both focus and freedom. Songs came next as team members took turns creating melodies and lyrics to bring photographs to life. Throughout this process, the work was continuously shared and reworked. When auditions for the cast were held in mid-May, the basic outlines of the script and the music was nearly finished. After meeting the cast, the writing team crafted its work to fit the individual talents of the actors and vocalists. The VCT credits the cast with amazing patience as the script and songs were edited throughout the long period of rehearsals, with adjustments made right up to the musical's opening night. The "musical photographs" featured in the production told the story of Vermillion's founding as a part of Dakota Territory 150 years ago, and the battle it waged, and lost, to  be named the territorial capital. It also told the story of Vermillion pioneer's zest for life and progress, despite hardships such a the 1881 flood that nearly destroyed the town, fires that ravaged Main Street, and plagues of locusts that destroyed crops. There was genuine excitement when telephones and automobiles came to town, and townsfolk religiously followed local baseball teams and enjoyed the city's many bands. The song that many agreed brought the house down is "Evil is the Drink," that helps recall temperance crusader Carrie Nation's visit to Vermillion in 1910, when she spoke in a 1,500-seat tent erected for a month-long revival meeting. The rousing musical didn't ignore the hard times experienced in Vermillion. The song, "We Gotta Go" recalled Zip and Cloddy Clodfelter's stories about scrounging coal and killing pheasants to survive during the Great Depression. The writers of the musical guided the audience through Vermillion's various adventures by centering on several generations of the fictional Weaver family. Their lives reflect the experiences of those who have called Vermillion home, and are composite creations built from local histories and census records. Many of the roles of the actors were based on real people, including well-known individuals, such as Andrew Lee, William Jayne, Nelson Miner, Alice Bower and Carrie Nation. Other real-life characters, including Thomas Ashard, Septimus Ingham, Emily Pratt and Pearl Fisher, were equally important in defining Vermillion but have faded from historical memory. The VCT is in its eighth season since undergoing a restructing process, and is continuing to grow in the community. It has mounted successful financial campaign, and thanks to the support of businesses and individuals, it has been able to continue producing top quality performances for the community. This year, the VCT launched an "Amp It Up" campaign to replace an aging sound system in the VHS Performing Arts Center. Enough funds were raised this year to allow installation of wiring infrastructure and an intercom system in time for last weekend's performance.

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