Lion King

Scar and his faithful hyenas during the 2019 youth theatre production of Disney’s “The Lion King Jr” in July. Photo by Tiffany Kafer

From “Seussical the Musical” in 2005 to a year of Disney’s “The Lion King” and “Chicago” in 2019, Play Inc. Arts’ youth theater program has provided a stage for local youth to display their theatrical talent while performing some of their favorites.

Owned and led by Aaron and Sarah Knudsvig, the organization has grown over the years, and with that growth the need for a bigger space to stage, store and perform has also grown.

“We’ve had hundreds of kids from kindergarteners to seniors over the years,” Aaron said.

Play Inc. has three age groups in the youth theater programs with kids ranging from students just finishing second grade through students who’ve just graduated.

In their 15th season, organizers are now looking to the community for support with their first-ever fundraising initiative, the “15x10 Collective.”

“The 15 is for our 15th season and the 10 is that we’re looking for a 10-year commitment, so then we get $150, for 10 years, which was the budding idea. Taken out monthly, the donation would be less than the cost of a pizza, and with a monthly automatic payment people wouldn’t even have to think about it,” Knudsvig said. “The hope is that with this support we will be able to get a building, and the goal is to get 400 people donating at that level.”

“If we did that we’d have $60,000 annually, which would pay a mortgage and a lot of renovation costs as well as get them paid off within those 10 years, would be the hope,” Knudsvig added.

Payments can be made monthly or annually, either by automatic withdrawal or by check.

A new space for the organization would allow for alternative options for current operations, according to Knudsvig.

“The goal would be to have a space where we can offer some alternative type performances, potentially rehearsals so in the future we wouldn’t have to rent rehearsal space; that’s one negative cost we have,” Knudsvig said. “To be able to have space for some of our smaller plays, with smaller casts, would be great.”

The space would also provide additional storage space for set pieces and wardrobes, as well as space for other art activities.

“We would also like to expand back into the other arts, and with the new space we could do that. We’d like to do studio art classes and other things like that,” Aaron added.

In addition to the youth theater program, Play Inc. Arts also offers theater opportunities for adults, including the most recent performance of “Mary Poppins.” The adult program began with the 2011-2012 season where actors brought “The Sound of Music” to the big stage.

“I’d had a lot of adults asking about it and saying, ‘It’d be great if we had something for adults around here,’ and at the time I had a little bit of free time,” Knudsvig said. “That first year we had a cast of around 45 and the next year, sticking with well-known titles, we did “Fiddler on the Roof” and we had 60.”

The adult productions have around six to eight weeks of rehearsing, three, four or five times a week, depending on the parts, usually beginning in November with auditions and making it to the stage near the end of February or beginning of March at the Performing Arts Center.

This year the adult performance will be “Les Misérables.”

“We’ve done ‘Les Mes’ with the kids before, but never the adults, and I think they are going to be able to bring a little something extra to the stage with it,” Knudsvig said.

“It will be a mostly adult cast, maybe a few high school kids if they’re interested, and there may be a couple kids. I like a cast of about 40, but usually we’ve been bigger than that,” Knudsvig added.

“We were very intentional about choosing ‘Les Mes’ for the community show; we’ve done two Disney shows now back to back, which have been wildly successful. Now we want to switch gears and do a drama, do something that’s not Disney, but that still has that name drawing power,” said Shannon Shogren, Play Inc. Arts music director.

No matter what the play choice, being able to watch the adults over the rehearsal time is a highlight for Knudsvig.

“Watching the adults come out of their shells over time is great, most of the time especially the guys. A lot of times it’s with the dance that some of the dads talk about the foot work related to different sports, football, baseball,” Knudsvig said. “The difference though is the payoff is different than playing sports. You can have the disappointment when you are playing a sport, and you can leave thinking it just sucked, but after a performance you may leave thinking it maybe wasn’t the best but our audiences love everything we do, so you always leave the stage feeling like we won.”

“You have this shared experience with all these people that you really get to know very well, that you didn’t know before, and it’s of a moment and in four days it will all be gone. You start with a blank slate, an empty stage, then you end performances, you leave and go all different sorts of directions, but they can all go away thinking, ‘we did that,’” Knudsvig said.

For Play Inc. Arts and community members involved in the shows as cast members to be able to be on stage, it has taken support for the community which not only is appreciated by the organization, but by those involved as well.

“Play Inc’s longevity and success is directly related to the integrity and selflessness of it’s board members and volunteers,” said Little League Players assistant director Angie Gregerson. “I am so blessed that my children have the opportunity to grow up within this incredible organization.”

“Our biggest support from the community has been ticket sales, but we know to that there are businesses out there that would be willing to support us, as well as individuals,” Knudsvig said. “We are so thankful for the community members that come out and watch our shows, pay for tickets and support us — it really is what keeps it going.”

For more information on Play Inc. Arts or to make a donation, visit www.playinconline.org/blog.

Bios

Name: Aaron Knudsvig

Position: President

Years with Play Inc. Arts: All of them (currently on the 15th season).

Favorite show of Play Inc. Arts: Personal favorite we’ve done would be Children of Eden. The show I think was presented and performed the best would be Beauty and the Beast or Mary Poppins.

What is your favorite part of theatre season with the kids? That’s tough. I probably like the planning stages best because anything is possible at that point. You let your imagination just go wherever. Once rehearsals start, there’s a reality that can limit that. The actual performances, as fun as they can be, to me, aren’t nearly as fun as the process to put them together.

A future show you hope to do? I like more obscure shows. There’s nothing wrong with Disney, but there are hundreds of shows that people would love if they would give the unknown a try. Two that I’d like to perform in if ever given the chance would be Sunday in the Park With George and Big Fish. One that would be so much fun to direct because of the huge challenge would be Sweeney Todd.

Name: Sarah Knudsvig

Position: Director of Little League Players & Play Inc. Arts Administration.

Years with Play Inc. Arts: 15 years.

Favorite show of Play Inc.: Tough call, but I loved Children of Eden performed by the Yaebo Players in 2007. It was so wonderful to have some younger students join with the high school kids as the animals to board Noah’s Ark.

What is your favorite part of theatre season with the kids? The whole thing! I love the energy and excitement of my elementary students working hard to bring a show to it’s feet in only 11 rehearsals.

A future show you hope to do? I would love for Play Inc. Arts to produce Newsies.

Name: Jared Faust

Position: Junior Theatre Troupe Director.

Years with Play Inc. Arts: Three as a director, seven as an actor.

Favorite show of Play Inc. Arts: The Producers.

What is your favorite part of theatre season with the kids? The growth throughout the entire process is incredibly satisfying. Starting with their excited faces early in the rehearsal process to watching how proud they are of everything they’ve accomplished at the end.

A future show you hope to do: There are so many amazing shows! Hunchback of Notre Dame is high on my list of something I’d like to do as are a lot of the classics like Music Man and Guys and Dolls.

Name: Angela Gregerson

Position: Company Carpenter, Assistant director for Little League Players and occasional Director for non-musicals.

Years with Play Inc. Arts: Fall 2013.

Favorite show of Play Inc.: I have too many favorites to narrow it down.

What is your favorite part of theatre season with the kids? Oh my gosh, teaching them followed by the way their faces are so proud of what they have worked so hard to create. And of course the hours I get to spend with my Play Inc. family.

A future show you hope to do: Anything the board says, “Hey you think you can handle this one?”

Name: Shannon Shogren

Position: Play Inc Arts Board Member, Summer Youth Theatre Junior Troupe Music Director, Community Musical Production Music Director.

Years with Play Inc. Arts: All but Year One.

Favorite show of Play Inc.: (community) The Producers, (Summer Youth Theatre) The Lion King Jr.

What is your favorite part of theatre season with the kids? Seeing how far they step up their game for performances.

A future show you hope to do: (community) Sweeney Todd, (Summer Youth Theatre) Bugsy Malone Jr. (the music is so fun!)

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