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John Lamb, Published August 19 2010

Troupe’s Trollwood visit focuses on water

If you go

More than most other theater sites, Trollwood Performing Arts School understands the power of water.

When it moved from its former north Fargo location to the group’s current home in south Moorhead, the organization cited a need to grow, especially away from the seasonally flooding Red River.

Overlooking the Red River from a safer distance than at its previous home, the Trollwood stage is the perfect setting for In the Heart of the Beast Puppet & Mask Theatre’s “Water, Water Everywhere.”

More than just a stage production set for tonight and tomorrow afternoon, “Water, Water Everywhere,” is really a community workshop and opportunity for people to talk about water issues.

This is the Minneapolis-based company’s fourth “water residency” around Minnesota, and each one is a little different, says Sandy Spieler, HOTB artistic director.

HOTB has partnered with Trollwood’s fundraising arm, FutureBuilders, the Plains Art Museum, RiverKeepers and the Historical & Cultural Society of Clay County to bring the troupe to Moorhead. The event is funded by the Minnesota Arts and Heritage Fund set up by the Minnesota State Legislature.

Water has been a semi-regular theme for the 36-year-old HOTB troupe, Spieler says. But in recent years it wanted to do something different, so a “water circus” was created to tour up and down the Mississippi River all the way to New Orleans.

In Fargo-Moorhead, a community where flood-fighting is often the top water issue, the theme tended to be emotional.

“It’s been really interesting to hear the different points of view,” Spieler says about the flood fights. “One of the most striking things is people explaining to me how the town comes together in this unity of force.”

Early Tuesday evening, however, Spieler wanted to see more adult members of the community come to work on the project. She said Trollwood’s association with youngsters may have kept adults at bay.

Not all of them.

Angela Cant of Moorhead was there with her 8-year-old daughter, Eliza, and 7-year-old son, Jackson. While she didn’t necessarily think she’d get involved herself, she signed on as one of eight people needed to maneuver the giant water puppet.

“It’s kind of a team effort. I didn’t think that would be the case, but it’s fun to do something with the kids,” Cant says. “As summer winds down, it’s harder to find things to do.”

Cant says it’s been a great opportunity to do something different.

“It’s a theater company from Minneapolis. What a treat to work with them,” Cant says. “And it’s free. It’s crazy there aren’t more people here.”

Cant also appreciates getting kids talking about ecology and water issues and that troupe members showed participants how to make props from household objects.

While animal costumes were brought in by the troupe, company manager Paul Robinson says the group uses things like plastic bags and newspaper to make paper-mâché props like the 4-foot face for the water puppet, which turned around becomes a bowl, a symbol for sharing water.

Robinson and Spieler brought four other HOTB troupe members to town as well as an intern from a California theater company. They’ve also “adopted” Seth Eberle, a 20-year-old North Dakota State University student.

Eberle just returned from a summer internship at another puppet troupe, Bread and Puppet in Vermont. When he heard HOTB would be in town, he signed on.

“It’s been great, helping me understand the creative process,” Eberle says, adding that he learned how to walk on stilts to play a mosquito.

More than 80 members of the F-M community have been involved with about 60 performing onstage. Volunteers range from a 60-year-old woman making props in the shop beneath the stage to a six-month-old baby on stage for the “Everyday People” segment which shows how important water is to a family.

The performances open with a prayer for the water by Prairie Rose Seminole and end with a community prayer for the water.

“I hope people behold water with a new reverence and how each of us is part of the water and how it impacts us forever,” Spieler says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533