At this call, the approximately 60 cast members at the rehearsal for Black Dirt Theater’s play “Perspective” launch into a rhythmic clapping exercise, which echoes across the Hastings Middle School auditorium.
The show needs such a large cast because it is composed of seven 15-minute plays — comedy, drama, documentary — each of which examine the town of Hastings from a different angle. A different community member wrote each play, and yet another directs each show of the production, which opened Friday and continues Sunday and April 3-5 at the middle school.
In “The Land,” one actor plays the Mississippi River, and others play “north of the river” and “south of the river” in a lighthearted city mouse/country mouse story. “It’s kind of how people change over time,” said Thomas Bonneville, a Hastings graphic designer who wrote the play.
Bonneville also acts in the second play, “The Extreme Outsider,” a science fiction piece in which he plays an alien high council leader.
The third is about an autistic high school student, a powerful piece that attempts to make the audience feel like they, too, are experiencing autism. “This story is the usual goings-on of those in the education system nowadays, amplified tenfold by having autism,” said the play’s director, Andrea Schoening.
“Retirement” focuses on a group of male coffee shop buddies and their Zumba-loving wives, saddled with new responsibilities such as grandchildren and volunteering. “Most retirees find themselves busier than when they held a full-time job,” said author Diane Saed of Hastings, a retired English teacher.
“Gumby” chronicles the life of Roger Moseman, who started manufacturing toys such as Gumby in Hastings in the 1960s. Moseman was known for employing divorcees and widows and paying them well, which gained their loyalty. During the fun documentary, a costumed Gumby pops up throughout the action. “It’s a playful piece about a man and his business and how it brought him to Hastings and what life was like for him here,” said the play’s writer, Lindsey Anderson of Hastings.
“New in Town” is a wry comedy that plays on ideas such as “townie directions” and the way that everyone in town seems to be related.
In “The Bridge,” father and son characters play the new bridge and the old spiral bridge. “It’s like this paternal passing of wisdom,” said the theater’s artistic director, Andy Langenfeld. “It’s like ‘The Lion King’ with a bridge.”
The play includes little snippets of conversation as people drive by, about current topics like unemployment. Langenfeld said they added about a dozen pigeons, played by kids ages 10 to 15, to “fly in and poop on the bridge.” The pigeons are friends of the bridge, and they let them know what’s going on in town.
“Every one of these seven plays has some interesting and surprising writing [and] helps me see things in a new way,” said John Henry of Hastings, who plays a bridge in the final play. “They all produced short plays that they can be very proud of. I just hope our acting does them justice.”
“I like that ‘Perspectives’ focuses on stories that aren’t usually told,” said his son, Tom Henry, who plays opposite him.
Langenfeld said the play’s unique format makes acting accessible for people who might otherwise not be able to fit an acting gig into their schedules.
“We’ve been trying to develop theater as a really good hobby for people,” he said, with “bite-sized creative adventures.”
“Shrinking that time commitment has helped us to explode,” he said.
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance writer.