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About Mary Aalgaard

Mary Aalgaard is a freelance writer and blogger. Her words stretch across the globe through her blogs on, which include Play off the Page, inspiration and entertainment reviews; Ride off the Page, a travelog about riding adventures on a Harley-Davidson with The Biker Chef; and Dine off the Page, for chef’s tips, recipes, and restaurant reviews. Mary is also a playwright. Her original drama Coffee Shop Confessions was performed in coffee shops around the Brainerd, MN area in 2012. She works with both children and adults to create original dramas, and is offering theatre classes for kids where they write their own plays and create the set. Contact her at Go. Create. Inspire!

Bill W. and Dr. Bob, a powerful play, at CLC

Quote of the Day:  Listen, I’m an alcoholic and I’ve been sober for five months. I’m about to fall off the wagon, and I need to talk to another drunk. line (but not a direct quote) from Samuel Shem and Janet Surrey’s play Bill W. and Dr. Bob, playing now at Central Lakes Community Performing Arts Center in Brainerd, MN, about the men who started Alcoholics Anonymous, and their wives who founded Al-Anon. The above quote is from the scene that struck me the most. Bill W. is about to take another drink, slip down that dark hole, and possibly never return. He needs to talk to another alcoholic, not to “cure” him, but to share his own story, to talk about what he’s going through, and continue on the path to recovery. One of the men in the post play discussion who is active in AA said, “I can’t tell anyone how to get sober. I can only share how I got sober.” This coming together, sharing of stories, and supporting each other, and working the program has led millions of people on the road to recovery. It has saved lives and relationships and given hope in what feels like a hopeless situation.

Post play discussion of Bill W. and Dr. Bob, playing at Central Lakes College in Brainerd, MN.

Post play discussion of Bill W. and Dr. Bob, playing at Central Lakes College in Brainerd, MN.

This is a very moving play. The actors must dig into their deepest emotional well to portray the brokenness of the alcoholics and the people who love them. During the post play discussion, an older gentleman stood up and announced that he forgot his hearing aid at home, and even though he might have missed some of the dialogue, he felt the emotion of this story and the actors’ portrayal of the characters. At one point he looked at Bri Keran, who played Lois Wilson, and said, “You could have written the book.” The man went on to say that he’d been sober for five decades, and wasn’t sure he wanted to relive those events while watching this play, but his wife brought him to it, and he was glad that he came. Knowing that someone found hope and healing is encouraging for anyone who is in the midst of that struggle.

Alcoholism is an incurable disease that gets a grip on its victims that is hard to uncurl. It affects nearly everyone, the alcoholics, their families, friends, co-workers, neighbors. But, there is hope. When these two men found each other and became the support for one another, they developed a 12-step program to help other people. It can be done, one day at a time. And, for the friends and family, Lois Wilson and Anne Smith started Al-Anon, to give people a place to talk, to get strong, to share their stories, and to know that they’re not alone in their struggles.

Bill W. and Dr. Bob is a play worth seeing, no matter where you are on your journey. Erik Steen both directs and acts in this production as Bill W. He, and the entire cast and crew, give a tremendous performance that is filled with humor, heartache, and hope. Other cast members are Beth Selinger, Bri Keran, Patrick Spradlin, Linda Nichols, and Nicholas Kory. You can see it now at the Dryden Theatre at the Central Lakes College in Brainerd, MN. through Oct 10, 2015. For more details, read the article from The Brainerd Dispatch, or contact the box office, 218-855-8199, or the CLC theatre website. They will be offering a post play discussion after each performance.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: Do you know anyone who is struggling with addiction?

Lakeland Public TV Highlights Children’s Theatre Classes

Logan Gay from Lakeland Public Television featured my theatre classes for kids, held at Central Lakes College, on their Golden Apples segment on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015.

Quote of the Day: Autumn seemed to arrive suddenly that year. The morning of the first September was crisp and golden as an apple. ― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I’m teaching theatre classes for kids again this fall at Central Lakes College (CLC) in Brainerd. I have students from various schools and small towns in our area, including kids who are home-schooled. From the first day of class, they were united. I’ve never seen it happen so fast before. In my workshops, I give them a setting and a very loose outline of what our play will be. It is up to them, as a group, to develop a story line. The first thing they do is think about what character they could be in this setting. This time, I had them get in small groups to work on plot. The title of our play is A Funny Thing Happened on the Way Home from School. In the elementary class, they’re just letting out of regular school. Millie Cottonpoly (my character that started out as a puppet) has been a guest teacher, talking to the kids about dogs, of course (she’s a dog whisperer and trainer), training, safety, and the benefits of having a dog as a pet. The kids get on a bus, driven by Willie Cottonpoly (retired railroad worker) who sets the scene by calling out, “All Aboard the Reading Railroad!” The kids talk about books they like to read, and bump along, until the bus/train breaks down. That’s when all the “funny” things start happening. They have terrific imaginations!

Play off the Page Elementary Theatre Class, Fall 2015

Last Wednesday afternoon, I got a call from Patrick Spradlin, theatre director at CLC, who said, “Lakeland Public Television wants to do a story on your program. Tomorrow.” Oh, well, ok. It will be our second class, certainly not reading for any filming. But, I said, “Yes, have them come to the elementary class.” If nothing else, we’ll impress them with our charm and cute factor. I had the reporter, Logan, interview the kids for the “Golden Apples” segment of Lakeland News. She filmed some of the class, my interactions with them, and gave each child a chance to talk to her into the microphone and see themselves in the little viewfinder on her TV camera. She interviewed me between classes and stuck around to meet the middle school class as well. She filmed them standing behind her for the “teaser.” You won’t see that on the news clip that I post below, but she does have some footage of them as they’re arriving at class.

Mystic Middle School group, waving to the camera of Lakeland Public Television. Play off the Page theatre class, Fall 2015

Mystic Middle School group, waving to the camera of Lakeland Public Television. Play off the Page theatre class, Fall 2015

Mystic Middle School group, waving to the camera of Lakeland Public Television. Play off the Page theatre class, Fall 2015

What a cool experience for these kids. Note their confidence. Note their enthusiasm. They are developing a fun story – TOGETHER. It is an amazing exercise in cooperation and relationship building. And, here’s the biggest news of all. In the middle school class, I have 13 girls and one boy. They were a united team from the start. They’re working together, developing their characters, helping each other develop characters, talking about classroom cliques and middle school mayhem. Their fictional school is Mystical Middle School. (Can you guess what their characters might be like?) My hope is that we are able to pull off their theatrics in our limited amount of time and with limited amount of resources. Watch the clip if you have time. It’s about three minutes long. Logan must have gone right back to the studio and started editing. She did a fantastic job. Love her lead-in line! I’m so proud of all the kids who stepped right up to the microphone and shared their thoughts.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  Have you ever been on TV?

To Kill a Mockingbird on stage at The Guthrie Theater, a review

Quote of the Day:  Most people see what they’re looking for and hear what they’re listening for. Judge Taylor in Harper Lee’s classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird, on stage now at The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, MN. The play adaptation is by Christopher Sergel, the only adaptation that is approved by the author. I heard that in some productions Scout is played by an adult actor who does much of the narration. In this production, and the one I saw at Central Lakes College in Brainerd a few years ago, Scout is played by a child actress. The narration is done by the character Miss Maudie. The story of To Kill a Mockingbird is told through the eyes and voice of Scout Finch, who is about nine-years-old in the play adaptation. The book spans about three years of her life, from ages six to nine. In the 1962 film adaptation, Gregory Peck plays Atticus Finch to perfection, and Mary Badham plays the part of Scout so well that she looked and acted just how I imagined her while reading the book. Little Mary Blair, who starred in the production I saw at The Guthrie Theater, creates the same energy and innocence as the film actor and the person described on the pages of Harper Lee’s famous novel. We are offered the chance to see the world through the eyes of a nine-year-old who adores her father and fights for his honor. We see her trying to make sense of a world that is filled with conflicting and confusing messages, of adults who seem at one time compassionate and gracious, and other times wicked and cruel. She believes in justice and good triumphing over evil, and that the evidence will be obvious to even the hardest heart. In watching the courtroom drama unfold, her ideal views of the world are smashed as the gavel of injustice sounds.

The cast of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Cast of To Kill a Mockingbird. Photo by Joan Marcus.

To Kill a Mockingbird is not an easy story to digest. It can leave a sour taste in one’s mouth for man’s inhumanity towards man. You cringe at the language and actions of some of the characters, yet feel hope when others rise to the occasion and exhibit courage under fire, especially when that fire of hate is burning strong in your next door neighbor. Atticus Finch says, “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.” Sometimes, the bravest thing you must do is to go against the majority opinion, to break the code, and to be willing to weather the blows of fear and hatred from your own community. The mob mentality is the easy road. But, “a mob is made up of people,” says Atticus, and people can learn to think for themselves.

Atticus Finch (Baylen Thomas), Jeremy Atticus "Jem" Finch (Noah Deets), Jean Louise "Scout" Finch (Mary Bair) and Charles Baker "Dill" Harris (Isaac Leer). Photo by Joan Marcus.

Atticus Finch (Baylen Thomas), Jeremy Atticus “Jem” Finch (Noah Deets), Jean Louise “Scout” Finch (Mary Bair) and Charles Baker “Dill” Harris (Isaac Leer). Photo by Joan Marcus.


If I give my children only one gift in this life, it is to teach them to think for themselves. Krista and I brought five teenage boys to this play. My two boys had not read the book, nor seen the movie or play. One of the boys had read the book for school, but didn’t necessarily like it, and her two boys had read  part of the book and seen the movie. The courtroom scene kept them riveted. I asked if they were surprised at anything. They said, “No.”  In some ways that makes me feel horribly sad. It means that they have already learned that men can be accused, tried, convicted, and killed in the court of social code, and that all men are not really created equal.  And, that while we have a system of justice in place, it doesn’t always come through for us. In some ways our culture has changed and evolved, and in other ways, it has not. In the discussion following this performance, several actors came back out, and it was young Mary Blair (Scout) who said that we cannot run away from our problems. We can’t hide from our history. The question was posed, “At what age do you expose children to this story?” The kids in the cast seemed to be saying that at a certain age, the kids are ready for those heavy discussions, and that you can’t shield them from the darkness of this world forever. “It’s part of our history,” said Mar. Bruce Bohne, who plays dark-hearted Bob Ewell, said he had to go to that dark place to play such an evil character. He said that he had to face the fact that there really are people like that in this world.

The cast of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Photo by Joan Marcus.

The cast of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Photo by Joan Marcus.

My favorite scene in reading this book, and watching the adaptations, is when Atticus sits in front of the jailhouse, waiting for the mob to arrive. When they do, they are surprised by Scout, Jem, and Dill who question their actions. Scout saves the day by calling Mr. Cunningham out and talking about his son, his “entailment,” and wondering what he’s doing there. It illustrates the biblical quote,”…and a child will lead them.” You can see it in your daily life. People who are harsh with their words and actions often shape up when they notice a child watching and listening to them. No baby is born hating anyone, and no child comes out of the womb fearing for their lives because of what they look like or where their ancestors came from. We learn by observing those around us.

As I sat in the audience, watching the courtroom drama, I realized that none of the actors on stage are the jury. They are the main players, the town folks, the prosecutors, and the defense. Who, then, is the jury? Is it those of us in the audience? I looked around at the audience, and wondered, Who is the intended audience for this story? What is it about this story that caused some people to decide that it should be part of every high school student’s curriculum, while it made others protest saying it should be banned? And, why do we keep going back to it?

I liked how James Youmans designed the set to be representational of the street where Scout grew up. We see the front porch of the Radley house, the swing where Scout does her thinking, and we hear the creak of the screen door. We don’t need bells and whistles and high tech effects to pay attention to this story. To Kill a Mockingbird is a beloved story. Scout Finch is a character we admire for her charm, wit, and her way of questioning the code. We feel for her and with her as she discovers the ugly side of life. Perhaps some of us reread passages (or the whole novel), watch favorite scenes, or attend the current productions because we want to experience again what it’s like to see the world through a child’s perspective. You can do that again at The Guthrie Theater. Because the themes are quite heavy and the attack scene a little scary, I wouldn’t bring young children to this play. The child actors are 10-years-old or older. The director double cast the kids’ roles, and the adult actors said that has been an excellent experience for them. Each actor gives the characters something unique.

We brought five teenage boys to see To Kill a Mockingbird at The Guthrie Theater. Thumbs up and a head nod from all of them. They enjoyed watching the show, and we had a great day out with our boys (plus one guest).

We brought five teenage boys to see To Kill a Mockingbird at The Guthrie Theater. Thumbs up and a head nod from all of them. They enjoyed watching the show, and we had a great day out with our boys (plus one guest). Photo by kind Guthrie patrons who took our photo, chatted a bit about the excellent Guthrie Theater, ended up sitting behind us during the show, and tapped me on the shoulder on the way out to say, “I loved it.” Thanks, it was nice meeting you!

Apologies: I failed to mention that the children are double cast in this production at The Guthrie Theater. I certainly meant to. In fact, during the talk back discussion, Baylen Thomas who plays Atticus said that having two sets of kids rehearse separately was an excellent experience for him as an actor. I’m sure both sets of kids added their own unique nuances to their characters. This review is from my viewing on Sunday, September 20, 2015, at the matinee performance. To see more photos from Stacia Rice’s (Miss Maudie) opening night, visit the Guthrie Theater Facebook page.

Isadora Swan and Mary Blair, double cast as Scout in The Guthrie Theater's production of To Kill a Mockingbird. Photo from Guthrie Theatre facebook page, Stacia Rice's (Miss Maudie) photos.

Isadora Swan and Mary Blair, double cast as Scout in The Guthrie Theater’s production of To Kill a Mockingbird. Photo from Guthrie Theatre facebook page, Stacia Rice’s (Miss Maudie) photos.

To Kill a Mockingbird is playing at The Guthrie Theater now through October 25, 2015. To see a complete list of cast and crew, please visit the Guthrie Theater website.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: Who do you think is the intended audience for this story? Why do people keep coming back to it?

Akeelah and the Bee is a Shining Star at Children’s Theatre in Minneapolis

Quote of the Day: Music wasn’t made for color, nor were words. Dr. Larabee explaining that music, words, art are for anyone, and it doesn’t matter what your cultural background, in Akeelah and the Bee, playing now at The Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis, MN through October 11, 2015. And, it is B R I L L I A N T brilliant. The Children’s Theatre Company commissioned playwright Cheryl West to write a stage adaptation of the 2006 film. She makes a few changes to the script, the most notable is that it is set in Chicago instead of L.A. like in the movie. Wright explains in an interview printed in the program for this production: Chicago is a very vertical city, full of apartment buildings where people live in close proximity to each other. It’s congested, clamourous, and chaotic…Akeelah…doesn’t feel safe. Like Akeelah, West felt that chaos, but also the love and care of adults surrounding her. Neighbors, teachers, mentors who said through their actions and their care, “I see you.” It takes a village to raise up a child. Being a good speller isn’t enough to get you to the Scripp’s National Spelling Bee, you need your team to cheer you on, to build you up, to teach and encourage. Sometimes, they let you down. Sometimes, you let yourself down. And, yet, there is a still, small voice saying, “You can do it,” and if you listen, you might hear it from others as well.

Akeelah and the Bee, playing at the Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis, MN. Photo by Dan Norman

Akeelah and the Bee, playing at the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis, MN. Photo by Dan Norman

The entire production team for Akeelah and the Bee did an outstanding job of bringing this story to life on the stage. All the actors are wonderful, putting all their energy and emotion into their complex characters. Set Designer, Alexander V. Nichols, has created a spectacular set of rotating “pillars” that at one angle appear to be an apartment building. Then, with a turn, they are the inside of Dr. Larabee’s home, the walls becoming an extensive library. With another twist and change of lighting, you are in another place like the school, or the national spelling bee. They also do a “live” camera scene during the Bee.

20150906_130845The story of Akeelah and the Bee is inspiring and heart-warming, just the type of story that is told best on the stage of the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis. They know how to portray real emotions that both children and adults can relate to. This is a play for anyone ages 8 and older, and you don’t have to bring a kid to enjoy it! I attended the show with my friend Krista and her 8-year-old twin daughters. We arrived early and enjoyed a meal at our favorite Mexican restaurant just a couple blocks away, looked at some art at the MIA, and celebrated my birthday!



It was a very stripey day.

This world premiere runs in Minneapolis from September 1 – October 11, 2015 before moving to Arena Stage in Washington D.C., November 13 – December 27, 2015.  As part of CTC’s commitment to programming for ages two through eighteen, Akeelah and the Bee is recommended for grades 3+. For more information, visit us online at or call the Ticket Office at 612.874.0400. Media Partner KSTP-TV.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: Have you ever participated in a spelling bee? Did you win? What are your academic strengths?

Theatre Workshops for kids, Fall 2015

I am offering Theatre Workshops for kids in the Brainerd lakes area again this fall, thanks to the support of the Central Lakes College Community Theatre program, director Patrick Spradlin and Jean Beckmann. Classes will be held on Thursdays, after school, starting September 17 with a performance on the last day, November 12, 6:30 pm for both groups. This program is exciting and fun, and the kids get a chance to work together to  create a play. I am always amazed by their openness and creativity. What a wonderful experience for all of us!

Childrens Theatre Work-Shops

Mary Aalgaard and her company, Play off the Page, along with the support of the Central Lakes College Theatre have partnered once again and are offering  theatre work-shops for children in grades 1-4 & grades 5-8. The work-shops will take place at CLC in the Chalberg & Dryden Theatres. 

The subject for the work-shops is:

“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way Home From School”

What might happen on a bus ride that turns into a train wreck, or when curious students stray off their usual path?  Could they find themselves in some other time and place? Students will create an original script under the guidance of playwright Mary Aalgaard.

Grades 1-4

Class meets from 4 – 5 p.m.
Non-refundable registration fee $65
Note: No class over MEA break
Final performance:
November 12 @ 6:30 p.m.

Grades 5-8

Class meets from 5:30-7:00 p.m.
Non-refundable registration fee $75
Note: No class over MEA Break
Final performance:
November 12 @ 6:30 p.m.

Register by phone: 218-855-8253

* Pre-registration is required

* Space is limited

*Registration deadline – September 15, 2015

For questions regarding these work-shops, contact Mary Aalgaard

Phone: 218-232-6069




Go. Create. Inspire!

Laura Radniecki’s Photography E-book and Course

Quote of the Day: When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence. Ansel Adams

Laura Radniecki, Love Your Camera author and photographer

Laura Radniecki is a photographer here in the Brainerd Lakes Area. She has written an ebook and made an online course called Love Your Camera to help people make better use of the DSLR cameras and take better photos. I took her course a few years ago, in person, and learned so much. She helped me understand the settings and create better shots. She also encouraged me to get a new lens, the 50mm, which offered more creative shots and was good for more indoor shots. Since then, I have had several of my photos printed in magazines to go along with the articles I submit as a freelance writer. She is offering a giveaway and special introductory prices on her ebook and course. The following is an interview with the author and photographer.

Hi Laura, Welcome to Play off the Page. How long have you been working professionally as a photographer?

​Hi Mary! I’ve been working as a professional photographer since 2009.

I began my career while living on Oahu, Hawaii with my husband who was finishing up his Active Duty Marine Corps contract. I have a nursing bachelor’s degree, but while we were on Oahu, I bought my first DSLR camera to take photos of the paradise landscapes there. My passion was born and soon, I was scouring the internet and practicing with anyone who would stand in front of my camera. I learned everything I could possibly learn and I started to photograph families on base, and homecomings when the Marines would return from deployment. ​When we moved back to Minnesota in late 2009 after Matt’s contract was finished, I officially started my photography business, and have been photographing professionally ever since!

What are some favorite locations where you’ve done photo shoots?

​I love photographing at the ocean, because I find a special magic present there. Maybe that’s because it was one of my first subjects too as I learned about photography in 2009.

In Minnesota though, I love photographing at our gorgeous local resorts. Living in the Brainerd Lakes Area, we are blessed with incredible resorts that have a wide variety of settings throughout them. Each venue is unique and I welcome any opportunity to photograph at each one.​

Do you ever feel like you “play off the page” as a photographer?

​I like to say that my style of photography is Celebratory Storytelling and I consider myself a photographer with a classic, authentic style. That means I don’t usually incorporate an edgy, modern vibe to my photography, because to me, it’s important that my work be timeless. I want the photos I create to be as beautiful and powerful in 50 years as they are now.

That said, I love to capture motion in my images, as well as genuine emotions. I want to tell the story of my client’s lives, and in order to do that, I welcome aspects of real life into the session.

Will you still be offering your courses for people who live in the area to meet with you in person?

​As of right now, I don’t have any plans for future in-person workshops. Now that I have finished creating my online course and e-book, my efforts will be poured into their promotion in the months ahead. I also have plans to expand and grow my blog, and write about issues that are on my heart. ​
Many people are taking photos with their smartphones these days. What are the benefits of using a “real” camera?
​There’s a saying that I wholeheartedly agree with, and it goes something like this: “The best camera is the one you have with you.” Our smartphones give us a unique and powerful opportunity to document our lives in ways we never could before. Spontaneous moments are able to be captured that would have been missed before.However, the capabilities of our smartphones cameras are greatly inferior to DSLRs and other more elaborate cameras. Some of the areas where smartphones might struggle with are shooting in low light, accurate focusing and being able to capture clear, non-blurry photos. Without getting too technical, DSLRs and other elaborate cameras allow us the ability to create images with certain looks like blurry backgrounds, and we are able to capture clear photos because we can manipulate settings like aperture and shutter speed to achieve desires results.So while I’m a huge advocate for using whatever camera you have with you, I believe there is a huge advantage to using a DSLR camera, and I know the images are better because of it. ​

I can attest to that, Laura. I found myself feeling frustrated for not bringing my DSLR camera on a recent trip. While I could capture many moments, and appreciated the smaller lightweight phone, I missed my nice camera and the shots I could have gotten with it!
What advice do you have for people who want to self-publish their books?​
I think the biggest hurdle to self-publishing a book is just starting. I had the idea for my photography e-book for a year or two before I actually did anything about it, and made any progress.I began by outlining what the book would include, and filled in as many details and ideas as I could.Then, I began writing. I didn’t worry about the formatting or how “pretty” it looked until later.

I’ve written several other e-books since I wrote my photography e-book, and for these most recent books, I actually types them in Google Docs. I wasn’t sure how I’d like that, but I really found it awesome and convenient. I could open my work on any computer as long as I had the internet, and the auto-save feature in Google Docs was PRICELESS!

Plus, it’s free! :)​

LOVE YOUR CAMERA_1Laura is currently offering a giveaway of her e-book and course on her website,Laura Radniecki Images. You can also get some photography tips, or set up a photo shoot for your special occasion. I had Laura take my oldest son’s senior photos, four years ago, and I’ve already booked her for my next graduate. She really listened to us and paid attention to my boy’s personality as she took some wonderful shots that reflected him, our family, and our lives.
Thanks, Laura. It’s always a pleasure working with you. I hope your course and e-book are a hit! You can find Mary at her website Play off the Page, for more reviews, chef’s tips, and more! Mary works as a freelance writer and piano and theatre teacher in the Brainerd lakes area.
Go. Create. Inspire!
Journaling Prompt: Find a favorite photo and write about what is happening in the picture and why it’s a favorite!

Guthrie’s Music Man has Heart, a Review

Quote of the day: photo and quote from the Guthrie Theater Facebook page. (production photos by T. Charles Erickson. Harold Hill played by Danny Binstock, a terrific actor, he really made us believe he went from Shyster to Sweetheart.)

haroldhillquoteIt didn’t work out for me to attend press night for the Guthrie Theater’sproduction of The Music Man, so this is an unofficial review. I wanted to bring my boys, who had an exceptionally busy summer, and it worked best for us to go near the end of its run. Ever since I saw my “little” sister play Marian the Librarian in aAAAA community theatre production of this show, it became my favorite musical. There’s something about the setting, Midwestern Iowa small town, and it’s residents, much like my own community in Minnesota, and the music that sets my toes-a-tapping, that makes this show irresistible. In the end, it’s a story of redemption as Harold Hill finally gets his “foot caught in the door.” He sees the heart of the people and not just their pocketbooks. Marian, who’s been cool and independent, ready to find the flaw in any man, sees the good in a con-artist who somehow reaches in and transforms the lives of her brother, and other town’s folks. He inadvertently does what he lies about being able to do, change the community through music, and that warms this piano teacher’s heart.

Photo by T. Charles Erickson

The Music Man has the best opening number of any musical, with the traveling salesmen bouncing and chanting along, making the sounds of the train with their lyrics and claiming, “You gotta know the territory.” Many people, including myself, were bobbing along with them. So many of the songs in this musical are full of rhythm and fun. My second favorite song is the rowdy library romp, Marian the Librarian. The choreography needed to pull off this number is amazing, from the stamping of the library cards, to the slamming of the books, it marches along. I could barely sit still! And, of course, no one can resist tapping at least a pinky finger during 76 Trombones. But, it was little Gracie Shin (played by the adorable Caitlyn Carroll) who first brought the tears to my eyes when she started out on “O-ho, the Wells Fargo Wagon is a comin’ down the street, Oh, please let it be for me.” Oh, and I felt that anticipation, the excitement, the longing for something wonderful “just for me,” and when Winthrop (played by Seth Beil) sings his solo, not giving a hoot about his lisp, I just lost it. Music gives hope and confidence like nothing else. It even offers forgiveness, and promise for what can be if we just let down our guard, pick up an instrument (including our voices), and join in the song.

20150815_161025_resizedOkay, and maybe the tears were for me as I sat with my three big boys. One wasn’t there because he’s already left the nest and is busy building his own life. I just scheduled senior pictures for the next one, and the twins are already sophomores. Sigh. All those grandma’s were right, they really do grow up too fast.

After the show, we drove (surprisingly smoothly considering traffic and road construction) back home, via St. Cloud and Chicago pizza. Yum. I 20150815_160802_resizedwas feeling grateful for inspiring productions like The Guthrie’s The Music Man which gave me a good excuse to have one more summer outing with my boys. I was feeling grateful for our health and happiness, and the hopes of what the future has in store for them. They all said they liked the show. The music was great, of course, and all the actors were so smooth. They had energy and heart. Even as the show is winding down, they give it their all, with a freshness and comfort, like driving on an old familiar road. The run ends August 30, extended because of the popularity of the show. The performance we attended was full, maybe not quite sold out, but close! It must be just what audiences were craving this summer, a familiar story with a favorite musical score, and outstanding actors to bring it to life.

The Music Man, by Meredith Willson, first produced in 1957, is playing at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, MN through August 30, 2015. Directed by John Miller-Stephany, Music Director and keyboardist Andrew Cooke, Choreographer Joe Chvala, and many more on the production crew and stage. See The Guthrie Theater website for a complete list and for show times and tickets. One final word after watching this production: Bring back Barber Shop Quartets!

Marian the Librarian, played by Stacia Bono. Photo by T. Charles Erickson. Her costumes (by Mathew J. LeFebvre) were lovely.

Marian the Librarian, played by Stacia Bono. The boys and I agreed, she has the best voice out of all the cast. Absolutely stunning. Those high notes are breath-taking, and the emotions she put behind them, heartfelt. Photo by T. Charles Erickson. Her costumes (by Mathew J. LeFebvre) were lovely.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: Do you, or did you, play a musical instrument, or sing? If not, what would you like to play?

75th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

The 75th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was, as predicted, a loud, chaotic, crowded, raucous roar of motorcycles, riders, and passengers, all trying to navigate the twists and turns of the roads, vendors, and events that make up the Rally. We rode the Biker Chef’s 2003 Harley-Davidson Road King with just over 100,000 miles on it, and arrived on Friday, July 31, still technically pre-rally, with our traditional stop at the VFW in Sturgis for a burger and beer, then a ride out to the Jackpine Gypsies tent and raceway site for our t-shirts and patches.


The Jackpine Gypsies are the Motorcycle Club that started it all back in 1938 by holding races and games. It was a family event.

I wore my new Jackpine Gypsies t-shirt the day we road the Custer State Park and saw the large herd of buffalo.

As I say in the article I wrote on Ride to the Rally for the Lake Country Journal, the biggest reason that the Biker Chef, and many motorcyclists, like coming to the Hills is for the rides. We took all his favorite roads, saw wildlife, including buffalo and elk, and took in the sites. It was crowded, which added to the danger, and many motorcyclists try to go too fast. This is not a time for an inexperienced rider to try to navigate these roads and traffic. Last I heard there were nine deaths during the Rally, as of Wednesday. We saw a young woman on the side of the road on the Needles Highway. We don’t know if she was riding her own or a passenger. She was wearing shorts, a tanktop, flipflops, and a helmet. Her legs were all bloody, but she was moving. The paramedics had her on a stretcher. I know it’s hot out there, but you still need to dress for riding. Wear long pants and boots. Helmets are optional, but I prefer to wear one. We do take our leather jackets off when it’s hot, but usually replace them with a leather vest for a little more protection.

Test riding an Indian motorcycle. This one is a Vintage. They require you to wear a helmet during test rides. The Biker Chef was definitely tempted. I think he really likes the Dark Horse model.

We also saw a guy go down while we were at a gas station near Hayes, SD on Hwy. 14. He seemed to have braked too suddenly (maybe realizing he missed the turn), and turned too sharp. The bike rolled one way, and he rolled the other. I watched to see if he moved, holding my breath. The Biker Chef yelled, “Accident, call 911!” A woman got right on her bike to go help. A few others went over there. We didn’t know if any of them had EMT training. We saw him move, and when she came back she said, “He’ll be okay.” How terrifying, and what a horrible way to start your vacation and your day. It was about 8:10 a.m. He got up and was walking when we rode away. I’m sure he’s sore, and I have no idea what condition the bike is in.

During our tour of the Hills, we hung out with friends, saw some of our favorite sites as well as some new ones, and met people from all over. I’ll write more about that in another post on my website Play off the Page. On Wednesday morning, we woke up early in Deadwood, SD, packed up and headed back to Minnesota, not sure where we’d stop for the day. We took a supper break in the Chef’s home town of New Ulm, MN, and thought we might stay at a hotel there and ride the rest of the way home in the morning. We tried to check in and found there was no room at the inn, or any other hotel in or near the town because of a big event. We leathered up (put on our warmer gear) and headed north. We got home around 11:00 p.m. after riding 720 miles. We were sore, tired, wind blown, and ready for our own bed. I took a hot soak in the tub and fell asleep. I woke up and crawled under the covers. My own bed was dreamy…

Stage Kiss, playing at The Guthrie Theater

Quote of the Day: When I kissed you did it feel like an actor kissing an actor, or a person kissing a person? The character simply named “She” in Sarah Ruhl’s comedy Stage Kiss playing at TheGuthrie Theater in Minneapolis, MN, July 18 – August 30, 2015. Take a look at the photo below. What do you think? Is it real, or are they faking it? And, maybe that is the question that begs answering throughout the show, and in real life. What character are you playing today?

Millie/Maid/Angela (Rebecca Hurd), Kevin (Grant Fletcher Prewitt), She (Stacia Rice), He (Todd Gearhart) and Husband/Harrison (Michael Booth). Photo by Joan Marcus

Millie/Maid/Angela (Rebecca Hurd), Kevin (Grant Fletcher Prewitt), She (Stacia Rice), He (Todd Gearhart) and Husband/Harrison (Michael Booth). Photo by Joan Marcus

On the surface, Sarah Ruhl’s Stage Kiss, is a light, romantic comedy. A play that pokes fun at anyone who has ever been in the acting/theatre business. My sister Joy and I saw this show together, and we spent some time on our ride home comparing it to Michael Frayn’s Noises Off, a play we acted in together, several years ago in a AAAA community theatre production in Alexandria, MN. It’s a fun romp through the ins and outs of theatre life, on and off, the stage! As is the case of Stage Kiss. In the first act, two people, who are simply named “He” and “She,” are reunited onstage after a 20 year separation. They had once been lovers. The intimacy of performing together, night after night, on stage, rekindles the passion they felt for each other. The problem is “She” is married to someone else and has a teenage daughter. “He” is in a relationship with a school teacher from the Midwest. The Husband accuses her of falling in love with every leading many she’s ever been with on stage. Hmm. Sound like anything you might have heard out of Hollywood? In the first act, they are performing a play set in the 1930’s with all the gorgeous costuming, music, and set pieces. It is lovely and romantic. Everything is like one big, long honeymoon.

Todd Gearhart (He) and Stacia Rice (She) in the Guthrie Theater's production of STAGE KISS, by Sarah Ruhl, directed by Casey Stangl with set design by Todd Rosenthal, costume design by Devon Painter and lighting design by Tom Mays. July 18 - August 30, 2015 on the McGuire Proscenium Stage at the Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Todd Gearhart (He) and Stacia Rice (She) in the Guthrie Theater’s production of STAGE KISS, by Sarah Ruhl, directed by Casey Stangl with set design by Todd Rosenthal, costume design by Devon Painter and lighting design by Tom Mays. July 18 – August 30, 2015 on the McGuire Proscenium Stage at the Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis. Photo by Joan Marcus.

“The second act definitely has a different feel,” were the first words my sister said as we exited the show. This time, He and She are playing much darker characters. She is a whore, and He is a violent member of the Irish Republican Army. They rehearse a fight scene where He beats her up. The costuming in this act is over-the-top, both humorous and jarring. Considering that the playwright Sarah Ruhl is a two time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, I believe she was very intentional in changing the mood. While we might be laughing, some of us at least, are cringing just a little at what is happening onstage. How far will any of us go for our art, our love, and our sense of self? What have we lost or compromised in the process? (The Guthrie did not provide any production photos from the second act. You’ll have to go to the show and see it for yourself.)

Full cast of Stage Kiss at the Guthrie Theater. Millicent/Laurie (Cat Brindisi), Kevin (Grant Fletcher Prewitt), She (Stacia Rice), A Director (Charles Hubble), He (Todd Gearhart), Millie/Maid/Angela (Rebecca Hurd) and Husband/Harrison (Michael Booth). Photo by Joan Marcus

Full cast of Stage Kiss at the Guthrie Theater. Millicent/Laurie (Cat Brindisi), Kevin (Grant Fletcher Prewitt), She (Stacia Rice), A Director (Charles Hubble), He (Todd Gearhart), Millie/Maid/Angela (Rebecca Hurd) and Husband/Harrison (Michael Booth). Photo by Joan Marcus

I enjoyed the set, which looks like a street and the inside of a theatre in NYC, or as I whispered to my sister as we sat down, “It reminds me of West Side Story.” (No photography is allowed inside the theater, not even when you are just taking your seats.)

Stage Kiss is playing at the Guthrie Theater McGuire Proscenium Stage now through August 30, 2015. On their Wurtele Thrust stage, you can see The Music Man. It didn’t work out for me to attend press night for The Music Man, so I don’t have a review for you. However, I will be attending it with my three teenage boys in August, towards the end of its run (which has extended to August 30). Will it still have it’s freshness? Will I still think it’s my favorite

Mary Aalgaard and Tracy Jo Blowers, online media reviewers, intermission of Stage Kiss at the Guthrie Theater.

musical? I’ll let you know in August! If you’d like to read a review ofThe Music Man, visit my friend Tracy’s blog. We met as online reviewers and connected in person, found we had much in common, and are now friends. We even hug and take fun intermission photos when we’re reviewing the same performance! Also, check out her podcast Eat This, Twin Cities, that she does with her husband Terry Daniels, for reviews and commentary about everything from restaurants, theater productions, the Minnesota Twins, and more!

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  Why do you think the playwright Sarah Ruhl chose not to name her two main characters?

Book Review of Shelterbelts by Candace Simar

Quote of the Day: Above the tree line, beyond the Hanson farm, the steeple of Tolga Lutheran poked into the clouds. The steeple showed from every corner of their farm. Tia looked toward the church many times a day while doing her work. She couldn’t put it into words, and would have been embarrassed to try, but she found a quiet strength in her faith. How else would she have gotten this far? Candace Simar, a excerpt from her book Shelterbelts.

An areal shot of my ruralhood and Bethany Lutheran Church with the red cross on top.

That was the line that connected me to Candace’s newest novel,Shelterbelts. I, too, grew up in a rural, farming community. Our church, Bethany Lutheran, has a red cross on top of its steeple, a beacon in the night, guiding many a traveler, especially during winter storms. Tia, whom I consider the main character, looks to her church for comfort. She is one of those farm girls who isn’t afraid to jump in a cow pen, perform a mercy killing on a deformed calf, or do any of the hard labor of the farm. In fact, she likes it. Her brother, Norman, is returning home from Germany at the end of WWII. He is not as sure about farm life, or any part of life, for that matter. Tia reminds me of my Godmother, who is my dad’s cousin, Iona. She was also a true farmer. I think she worked harder than anyone on her farm! Millie, the church organist, reminded me a bit of myself. She describes the way people are talking or feeling in musical terms.I pictured the old farmsteads in my home area while reading Candace’s descriptions, and saw my neighbor’s farmhouse, clear as day, when she wrote about Millie’s house where she lives with her dad because her brother died in the war, and her mother has already passed away.

Shelterbelts is about a farming community in Minnesota, around the Fergus Falls area. (I grew up near Ada, which is north of Moorhead). World War II has just ended. Some soldiers are coming home, while others never will. The folks who populate this rural area are, for the most part, Norwegian Americans, and the ones who aren’t stand out like a sore thumb. They have church socials, and a few superstitions, especially when it comes to farming. They are set in their ways and have hard dug furrows that define what women and men should be doing. Tia, for instance, won’t be going to ag school, which she’d love to do. Her brother Norman is expected to go, but he’s not so sure he’s interested in farming anymore. Candace includes a large cast of characters in her novel. We enter each home, and perspective, at various times, as the story is told from many angles. Sometimes, I had to stop and look back at how some people are related, and where their farms where in relation to each other. Although, Candace did a good job of coming up with a variety of names, considering most people in the ruralhood of Minnesota have last names ending in -son. We have a bumper crop of Andersons, Olsons, Hansons, Johnsons, and Nelsons. In fact, one clever writer called this “The Land of 10,000 Andersons.” Although, I’m sure there are many, many more than that! The main character is Tia Fiskum. My name comes straight out of the farm country of Norway, Aalgaard. But, most people take the name of their father, and add the -son.

I started reading Shelterbelts while relaxing on the sands of Lake Carlos, not too far from its setting in the Fergus Falls area of Minnesota.

Shelterbelts is a great read for anyone who likes historical fiction, particularly set in rural Minnesota, in the late 1940’s. It’s for anyone who is interested in farm life, and what it used to mean to be a family farm. It’s for anyone who likes to read about a community and how they live and work together, sometimes dropping everything to help a sick neighbor, and at other times, keeping them in their place with preconceived notions and strict religious and cultural beliefs. I loved reading Shelterbelts. I took my time, savoring the language, and living inside that community. It has become one of my comfort books because it feels like home. It sits alongside Jon Hassler’s North of Hope, and Lorna Landvik’s Oh, My Stars.

You can read more about Candace Simar and her award-winning Abercrombie Trail series at her website. Thanks for writingShelterbelts, Candace! You are a sister in the ruralhood! Shelterbeltswill soon be available as an audio book. When I attended her book launch here in the Brainerd area, the reader gave us a delightful sampling. His voice fits the story splendidly.


Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: Where did you grow up? Is there a book that describes that area that you love to read?