April 8, 2009

Last curtain call for Dinner Theatre?

By Tina Foreman
Farmer Staff Writer

The 2009 Dinner Theatre production of WipeOut was the last curtain call for Chuck Simpson and his dinner theatre dream team.
Simpson began directing theatre productions including the Dinner Theatre in 1983 with his first Watford City High School Production, ‘Bye Bye Birdie.’
“I have a background in drama and performing arts so I was a good fit in 1982 when they were looking for a new drama coach,” says Simpson. “I’ve been doing it for a long time, but the students make every year different and keep things fun so it doesn’t seem like it’s been that long.”
With any theatre production there’s a lot of work. But, because the Dinner Theatre is much more than just a theatre production, Simpson had a team of six helpers, Vicky Schaff was there to help with reservations and a little of everything, Monica Liebel was in charge of the meal, Beth Veeder was the choreographer, Jamie Jokela made costumes and sets, Teri Taylor took care of the music and Jan Dodge did all of the programs and advertising.
“Chuck always called us his dream team,” says Liebel. “In the beginning he did more of the work himself, and we started helping out because we believed in the program and wanted to make sure it kept going.”
After more than 15 years together Simpson and his dream team have decided it’s time to call it quits. None of them want to see the Dinner Theatre end, but they’ve decided that it’s time for their group to move on.
“We all enjoy the Dinner Theatre,” says Simpson. “But the time has come for us to go our separate ways and we decided to do that as a group. Life has gotten too busy for us.”
While Simpson and his team are ready to move on, they share one common feeling about the Dinner Theatre. It is hard work and takes a lot of dedication, but it’s all worth it in the end.
“Theatre is very magical and once you get involved it’s easy to find yourself addicted,” comments Jokela. “You watch the kids work so hard throughout practices and then during that final week of rehearsal the magic happens and it is just amazing.  That’s when you really start to see the characters come out in the kids and all of the hard work pays off.”
The group is hopeful that with their help a new director will be found and a new group will form to keep the Dinner Theatre alive for many years to come.
“It was a fun time and we are hopeful that someone else will take it over and keep the Dinner Theatre going,” adds Schaff. “After 17 years with the production, I still think the kids are the best part. Seeing them shine makes all of the work worth it.”
Simpson and his team have agreed to help anyone interested in taking over the Dinner Theatre production by mentoring them for the first year.
“We don’t want to let the Dinner Theatre go, but this group is ready to be done,” says Steve Holen, McKenzie County School District No. 1 superintendent. “We really want the Dinner Theatre to continue so we’re looking for people to step in and take over for Chuck and his team.”
Holen is hopeful that there is someone in the community with drama experience that is willing to help direct the production.
“I know we can’t fill Chuck’s shoes,” says Jokela. “But we really need another director to take his place. Without a director there is no need for any other team members.”
If you’ve never been to the Dinner Theatre you don’t know what you’re missing. And if you’ve been there and enjoyed what you saw, now is the time to think about stepping up and helping out to keep the production going.
“You never know what can happen next, so sometimes you just have to step back and let things happen,” says Dodge. “It takes hard work and dedication to make the Dinner Theatre happen from beginning to end, but the rewards are endless.”
Anyone interested in more information regarding the Dinner Theatre can contact Holen at sholen@watford-city.k12.nd.us or at 701-444-3626.