Meet Some of Our
The Medora Musical
with Emily Walter, Lauren Mikeal,
Dana Kleiman and Matt Gilbertson
Lauren Mikeal Weber (center) performs during her second summer at the
Medora Musical in June 2013.
To pick up a play program hundreds of miles from home and realize you know or have met more than a half dozen people on
the production team is astounding. But it's not so uncommon when the connective tissue is the Minnesota State University,
Mankato Department of Theatre & Dance and the location is the Medora Musical.
Of course it all starts at the top of the cast list with Emily Walter, "The Queen of the West," who serves as hostess of the evening.
Then it drops to Lauren Mikeal, a recent double MFA Musical Theatre/MA Music graduate who is in the cast. Turn to the next page
and you find Head Writer Greta Grosch, Assistant Production Manager/Props Tricia Hofeld, Scenic/Props Designer Erica Zaffarano
(who is not an alum but who directed a Highland Summer Theatre Show, Prelude to a Kiss), Master Electrician Dana Kleiman and,
although he is not in the program he is on the stage—Matt Gilbertson, stage crew.
I like to read through show playbills and it's quite unusual to NOT find someone with an MSU, Mankato connection among
the people working on any Minnesota stage production I attend. Sometimes I need to look deep into the box office personnel
or other job, but they're always there. And they're always doing us proud.
The MSU-Medora connection is a long one. Emily, for example, was a Burning Hills Singer—their name for the cast of performers
who make up the company—during her three years at graduate school, 1995-97. During Dana's first year with the Musical
in 2008, singer-dancer Joey Ford also made his appearance. This is the second year for Lauren Mikeal and Matt Gilbertson.
In the earliest part of the summer, Kim Steffen was there but another gig took her away already. Jason Stone learned and shared
his roping skills at the Burning Hills Amphitheatre, later adding some realist Western flair to the MSU production of
Will Rogers Follies. Even Brent Teclaw, a 2001 graduate who tried his hand in New York City before returning to the Twin Cities,
spent his first summer in Medora. And our inimitable scenic designer emeritus, Tom Bliese, has a relationship that goes back years
and years...and years. No doubt the list goes on much farther, but these are just the ones I have on the top of my head.
The town of Medora has a wonderful history that includes residency by the yet-to-become-president Theodore Roosevelt, who
was called "Four Eyes" because of his glasses and high-pitched voice, and is the home to one of the entrances to Theodore Roosevelt
National Park. A great book on the history was written by Rolf Sletten, former son-in-law to Harold Schaefer, who is credited
with rescuing Medora when it fell into disrepair in the 1950s and '60s, who is also current significant other to Emily Walter. During
the Musical months they live in a little cabin, among many others, in an area that was the original town site for Little Missouri,
predecessor/competitor to Medora early on. More can be found about this in Rolf's book.
Today, Medora itself is about four blocks square and includes as many of the original, historical buildings as could be saved.
The Post Office even features a beautiful cottonwood tree that is a remnant of the original settlement, and the Rough Riders Hotel
is a wonderful reminder of Roosevelt and the early town. Included is the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation, which oversees operations,
including the Musical. The Medora Musical Amphitheatre itself is located past the Chateau de Mores, built and named for the
earliest city founder, on a barely two-car-wide road that wanders to the top of the Badlands before plateauing at a parking lot and
the Tjaden Terrace . From here, attendees can take either a winding walkway or a recently added escalator to the
amphitheatre itself. Nestled into a natural shell in the Badlands, it is commonplace—and almost expected—that an elk or two will
make an appearance on the hillside behind the stage where a white horse with rider appears at the end of the show and which is
bathed in warm colorful lights. The show start time has been moved from 8:30 to 7:30 in recent years, but even at summer solstice
time there is sufficient darkness to make those closing minutes spectacular.
As Master Electrician, Dana Kleiman also runs the light board
during performances of the Medora Musical. She also takes the
opportunity to learn new skills and work a part-time job in town.
Although they're there to present a nightly show—that's every night, even on holidays, from June 7-Sept. 7 in 2013—many of the
Minnesota State Mankato people find daytime jobs and/or volunteer opportunities to fill their days. Lauren Mikeal
(MFA Musical Theatre, 2012) worked at the Medora Stables last season, her first, and this year is one of the people who works
with the hundreds of volunteers who make the Medora attraction work. She's in charge of the scheduling, and her supervisors
understand when she needs to do events like the Dickinson Prairie Hills Mall appearance June 23. She works 20-30 hours a week,
she said, in part to help pay for the gas she uses for her daily commute from Belrichard, ND, about 18 miles east on I-90. This
summer her husband, John Weber, has joined her. He's able to work from there for the Taylor Company in North Mankato, and
they pay to fly him back to the main office once a month. She does weekly trainings for new volunteers and moves around
to check on them when they're working.
Dana Kleiman (kly-man) works part-time in the Joe Ferris Store, one of the reclaimed buildings used by original settlers. It's a
gift shop that is also staffed by volunteers. Her time in Medora starts around mid-May, a few weeks before the show opens, and
as Master Electrician she is charged with making sure electronics are working, communicating with the lighting designer
to be sure needed equipment is on hand when he/she arrives with the actors, and helping out where she can. She said she enjoys
continuing to learn, so she can often be found talking with designers and other technicians to get an understanding of their areas of expertise.
Matt Gilbertson volunteers at the Medora Stables, working regular shifts and filling in as needed. Even on what he termed a "day off,"
he helped with a two-hour ride in the morning and worked the Musical that night. In between he planned to clean his room, which
is in the bunkhouse across the tracks from the Bad Lands Motel on the edges of Medora.
Emily Walter is quite busy in her role as "The Queen of the West." She hosted the appearance at Prairie Hills Mall in Dickinson, as
well as her nightly roles in the Musical. One day she was seen picking up boxes at the Rough Riders Hotel and taking the contents
somewhere in her SUV. A natural show person, her smile can be found throughout Medora.
Emily says she comes back every summer, not necessarily for the new show, but for the town and its traditions, for the audiences
and for the people she gets to hang out with every night, without interruption, for three months. Life is good!
* * * * * * * * * * * *
View a video interview with Dana and Matt here.
An earlier interview with Emily, during a visit to Minnesota
State Mankato, can be found here.
When not working during the Medora Musical, you might find Matt Gilbertson riding
a horse, either as a volunteer or a tourist. (Photo by Emily Marboe.)
• Guthrie Theater regular Jim Lichtscheidl
• Bismarck, ND, teacher/director Erin Drevlow
• Globe-trotting activist Chris Bell
• Minnesota State Moorhead chair Craig Ellingson
• Rapid City graphic artist and actor Jeff Smith
• Our man on the road, Corey Krolikowski
• Taking the stage by storm, Jacleen Olson
• Recognize the voice over? That's Brent Teclaw
• Eriq Nelson is The Dude
• Theatre technicians Allen Weeks and Mick Coughlan said.
—Mike Lagerquist, August 2013
If you have questions or comments,
click on Mike's name above.