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Minneapolis-based touring theater brings its unique experience to Hastings

Sarah Agnew, Mo Perry and Dora Lanier rehearse for "Enemy of the People," showing in Hastings from May 31 to June 2 at the Hastings ArtSpace Artist Lofts. Photo courtesy of Luverne Seifert

In 2012, the Sod House Theater's co-directors, Darcey Engen and her husband Luverne Seifert, had an idea to bring a unique theater experience to residents around the state.

The show that inspired it all was "The Cherry Orchard," a Russian play from the 1800s about the loss of a big estate.

"We wanted to do it in a mansion because it takes place in a mansion. We couldn't afford to rent a mansion in Minneapolis so we went to New Ulm and we did it there," Engen said.

Engen and Seifert took care of some of the casting, but decided to spice up the show by partnering with local actors. Rehearsal lasted about a week and a half.

To spice things up more, Engen and Seifert hired a local polka band for the play's music. Another unique element — audience members moved from room to room in the mansion as the play progressed.

The original performances were such a success that Sod House added more shows. The mansion was packed with people.

After the show was finished, Engen and Seifert sat in an outdoor sitting area at the estate and thought about the magic that had just occurred.

"We had all this happenstance recipe. We had site-specific work — so not in a theater, but at the house. We worked with the community theater people, and the house happened to be this space that had a lot of resonance and meaning within the community," Engen said.

The concept of a travelling theater was born. Every year the Sod House Theater tours Greater Minnesota to bring its integrative theater experience to different communities.

Sod House comes to Hastings

For one weekend only, the Sod House Theater will be presenting "Enemy of the People," at the Hastings Artspace Artist Lofts in downtown Hastings.

"Enemy of the People," written by Henrik Ibsen in the mid-1800s, tells the story of a town in Norway that's healing water source that people travel to for wellness has been poisoned.

Some people want to keep it a secret so that the town doesn't lose revenue, while others want to alert the public so that people do not get sick.

Usually, each side is represented by two brothers — one who is the mayor of the town, and the other who is a doctor. In Sod House's adaptation, the roles will be changed to two sisters.

"It is a conscious decision because all of those older plays, not contemporary plays, usually have male protagonists, so why not change it to a female protagonist," Engen said. "It's really interesting to see the two women argue equally and theoretically about what to do in this situation."

Six of the cast members will be cast by Sod House out of Minneapolis, but the majority of the cast is made of performers from Hastings' own (lumin)theater lab.

Like many of Sod House's past performances, the audience will be able to move around during the performance. The beginning of the play starts with the town's Water Day festival. The audience will start the play outside and will transition inside for the second half.

"When you go to a traditional play, there is always this distance between actors and audience. They get to sit and be passive, and actors are up on the stage," Engen said. "When we are in close proximity to each other, as humans, and we are together in this agreement about investigating this story, as either an actor or an audience member, magical things can happen. The experience becomes much richer when the audience doesn't have the safety of being in their seat and far away."

The family-friendly show will also feature bluegrass and folk music.

"We wanted to collaborate with some musician folks that we know," Engen said. "As we started to shape the play, it was their suggestion to do bluegrass music. We found that it works really well."

"Enemy of the People" will be showing at the Hastings Artspace, located at 121 Tyler St.

The show will be performed at 7 p.m. Friday, May 31 and Saturday, June 1, and at 1 p.m. Sunday, June 2.

Tickets are $10 for students and seniors 62 years and older. General admission is $15.

For more information or to purchase tickets visit sodhousetheater.org/enemyofthepeople.