Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

“Sweet Land, the musical” proves as memorable & moving as the film October 13, 2017

The program cover from Thursday evening’s performance of “Sweet Land, the musical.”

 

SEATED ONLY ROWS from the intimate stage in an historic Faribault theater, I felt part of the set, part of the scene, part of the story that unfolded before me in “Sweet Land, the musical.”

What a gift to see this St. Paul-based History Theatre performance right here in my community, in the late 1800s Newhall Auditorium on the campus of Shattuck-St. Mary’s School. I appreciate that History Theatre, through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, is touring this show in Greater Minnesota. Even though I live only an hour from the Twin Cities metro, I don’t attend theater there due to cost and, well, the hassle of driving and parking. Tickets for the Faribault performance were only $20.

 

A promo from the “Sweet Land” film website.

 

I walked into Newhall Auditorium with high expectations. Ali Selim’s independent film “Sweet Land,” upon which the musical is based (and rooted in Minnesota writer Will Weaver’s short story, “A Gravestone Made of Wheat”), rates as one of my all-time favorite movies. Filmed in my native southwestern Minnesota prairie, the setting of wide skies and land, naturally draws me in.

But it is the challenges faced by German immigrant Inge Altenberg, come to America in 1920 to marry Norwegian farmer Olaf Torvik, that make this story memorable and especially relevant today. As I listened to character Pastor Sorenson warn, “She (Inge) is not one of us,” I reflected on how we welcome, or don’t welcome, immigrants to Minnesota.

 

Faribault native Ann Michels in the lead role of Inge Altenberg alongside Robert Berdahl as Olaf Torvik on-stage at the History Theatre. While the movie was filmed in the Montevideo area of southwestern Minnesota, the musical sets the story farther north in the Park Rapids/Hubbard County area. Photo courtesy of the History Theatre.

 

I was especially pleased that the History Theatre performance did not deviate from the film storyline, following it right down to the cup of coffee brewed by Inge and which the pastor declared too strong for his liking. Details like these are important because they connect with the audience in a relatable way.

Performers also connected via music. A musician even stroked a cello (or maybe it was a bass; I’m uncertain) to mimic the moo of a cow during a barn scene. Music from a violin, piano and, surprise, an accordion, and more followed the storyline plot from fast-paced and dramatic to soulful and reflective.

I felt the intensity of emotions in Inge as she struggled to learn English, in Pastor Sorenson as his voice boomed suspicion from the pulpit, in Olaf as he battled to hold his feelings in check.

My nearness enhanced my experience, especially during a softball game when actors moved off the stage, so close their gloved hands nearly touched audience members. As the musical progressed, I saw sweat sliding down performers’ faces.

During an apple pie making scene, I almost expected the scent of cinnamon to waft through the theater. While it didn’t, I caught the nuances of the interaction between Inge and her neighbor. When Inge called the pie strudel, Brownie corrected her. “No, apple pie.”

That’s the thing about this story, this film, this musical—seemingly subtle exchanges prompt the audience to think, to ponder whether the coffee someone brews really is too strong or whether it is our reactions that run too strong.

 

FYI: “Sweet Land, the musical” is showing at the Sheldon Theatre in Red Wing at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 14, and at Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center in Worthington at 7 p.m. on Sunday, October 15, closing out the tour to communities in Greater Minnesota.

The lead actress role of Inge is played by Faribault native Ann Michels, who gave an outstanding performance to an appreciative hometown audience. The musical is part of the Fesler-Lampert Performing Arts Series offered at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School. This marks my first time attending a show here and you bet I’ll be back. The Vienna Boys Choir comes to the historic Faribault theater at 7:30 p.m. on November 16.

Special thanks to my husband, Randy, for gifting me with tickets to “Sweet Land” for my birthday.

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Minnesota skylines January 28, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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The Minneapolis skyline as photographed from Interstate 35 in Burnsville.

The Minneapolis skyline as photographed from Interstate 35 in Burnsville. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, June 2015.

MINNESOTA HAS LONG been divided. Rural vs. urban. The area outside the Twin Cities metro is often referred to as Greater Minnesota or Outstate Minnesota. I don’t mind the “greater.” But outstate? Isn’t every inch of land, every single one of our 87 counties, part of the state of Minnesota?

The division of urban and rural is always most noticeable during the legislative session. Or during road construction season.

Silos mark the rural skyline on a farm in the Prior Lake area.

Silos mark the rural skyline on a farm in the Prior Lake area. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Despite our division and differences, we are still Minnesotans. And whether you like the busyness of the city or the quiet of the country, or something in between, you can find your right place in the diverse geography of our state.

The gravel road that runs past my middle brother's rural acreage just north of Lamberton, Minnesota.

Just north of Lamberton, Minnesota, in Redwood County, the county in which I was born. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Follow prairie to the Dakotas and hills to Wisconsin. Angle lakes and canoe winding rivers. Secret yourself away in woods or free your spirit under wide skies. Choose an office cubicle or a tractor cab to box you in. Meander along gravel roads or rush along the interstate.

The downtown Minneapolis skyline, up close.

The downtown Minneapolis skyline, up close. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Whatever your preferred skyline, embrace it. Urban isn’t better than rural and rural isn’t better than urban. Not in the sense of a grand, broad statement. But from a personal perspective, we have our preferences. And that is good. Our state needs balance. And we should respect that.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Meet 52 South Central Minnesota artists during weekend ArTour October 19, 2012

Faribault artist Julie Fakler’s paintings will be displayed in her JMF Studio at 1212 First Ave. N.W., Faribault, along with the textile art of Deb Johnson. Fakler specializes in animal portraits. Her cow painting graces promotional materials for this year’s South Central Minnesota Studio ArTour.

FIFTY-TWO ARTISTS. Twenty-four studios. And all showcased right here in the Faribault-Northfield-Cannon Falls area this weekend during the eighth annual South Central Minnesota Studio ArTour.

If you’ve never taken this studio tour, I’d encourage you to do so as a) You’ll meet a broad spectrum of talented local artists. b) You’ll view incredible art in wood, glass, photography, textiles, painting, ceramics, jewelry and more. c) It’s free, unless you purchase art, which, of course, you should consider doing. d) You’ll visit three charming communities.

I can’t attend this year’s tour. But I have in the past and here are the photos to prove it.

Just look at the talent we have, right here, in Greater Minnesota.

Meg Jensen Witt will showcase her ceramics at Lillart, 101 E. Fifth St., #209, Northfield, along with the paintings of Lilla Johnson. I photographed this example of Witt’s art in 2011.

At Holmquist Pottery, 11780 90th St. E., Northfield, you will find Lucky Rimpila’s glass art, like this photographed last year. Chris and Sue Holmquist will also display their ceramics and Marsha Kitchel will showcase her paintings.

Last year at Sunset Studio, 10754 Farrel Avenue, Northfield, I photographed the ceramics created by Tom Willis. You will find the work of six other artists at Sunset Studio.

During the 2010 ArTour, I visited Somers’ Studio & Gallery, 9775 Dennison Blvd. S., Northfield, where Fred Somers paints on his rural acreage.

In 2010 I photographed this wood block art created by Carla Thompson. This year she will exhibit her painting, along with Julie Free Heart, at Revisions, 101 E. Fifth St., #302, Northfield.

Animal paintings propped on the floor of Julie Fakler’s JMF Studio during the 2010 ArTour.

FYI: The South Central Minnesota Studio ArTour runs from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. on Saturday, October 20, and Sunday, October 21. Select studios will also be open from 4-8 p.m. today.

For details, including studio locations and participating artists, click here to reach the ArTour website.

I photographed this scene from the 2010 ArTour marking a Northfield studio.

Click here to read about my visit to Fred Somers’ gallery/studio during the 2010 tour.

Click here to see Faribault artist Julie Fakler’s studio, one of my stops on the 2010 tour.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Cow image courtesy of Julie Fakler