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Black Dirt Theater launches 'On Golden Pond' and improv season Jan. 13

Actors rehearse scenes from "On Golden Pond" leading up to Friday's opening show. (Submitted photo)1 / 2
The Black Dirt Improv team is pictured here. They will perform their improv comedy once a month for the next few months. (Photos courtesy of Black Dirt Theater)2 / 2

This Friday, Jan. 13, Black Dirt Theater is launching two productions in Hastings. Both the annual dinner theater production and the improv comedy season start this week.

Black Dirt's dinner theater is a small-cast production, held in the banquet hall at The Onion Grille. This year's dinner theater show is "On Golden Pond," a story made popular first on Broadway in 1979 and again as a movie in 1981. It returned to the stage in 2005.

The story is focused on family.

"It's this lovely story of an elderly couple who are going to their summer cabin that they go to every year," explained Robin Starch, artistic director for Black Dirt Theater.

Cantankerous retiree Norman Thayer and his wife, Ethel, are celebrating his 80th birthday. His adult daughter, Chelsea, comes to visit with her new fiancé and his teenage daughter. The relationship between Norman and Chelsea has not been easy, Starch said, and the show follows the family as they attempt to repair their relationship before it's too late.

"Their relationship, I feel, is real relatable," Starch said. "The characters will remind you of someone you know. That's one of the reasons we chose the play."

The show is one that's both serious and funny. Although Norman can be somewhat bristly, he's also charming and endearing, Starch said. His interaction with the teenage girl is also a source of humor, as the teen brings a bit of an attitude and gets along well with Norman.

But there's a serious note as well, as the family handles the realities that Norman is nearing his final years.

"When people are coming to grips with the end of their life ... what are the hopes, what are the fears that they have, and how do they address those," Starch said.

The show runs Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays Jan. 13-29. Tickets include both dinner and the play. Fridays, dinner service opens at 6 p.m. and the show starts at 8 p.m. On Saturdays, dinner service opens at 5 p.m., with the show starting at 7 p.m. For the Sunday matinee, dinner service opens at noon, with the show starting at 2 p.m. Those attending do not need to arrive at the beginning of dinner service, but should plan to arrive at least a half-hour before the show starts to be seated and served. The show runs about two-hours long.

Tickets are $45 for evening performances and $28 for the matinee; tickets may be purchased ahead of time online at or at the door if seats are still available.

Black Dirt Improv

Also starting this Friday is the Black Dirt Improv season. Black Dirt Improv is a comedy production that puts comedians on stage to entertain on the fly. Improv actors perform various games using suggestions from the audience that they must incorporate into their scenes, guaranteeing every show to be unique.

"As a performer, it's exciting," Starch said. "It's a huge adrenaline rush and it's a great challenge to see what I can do next. As an audience member, it's kind of funny to watch people and see (if they're) able to pull this off."

While improv actors can't rehearse their exact show, they do have some training techniques to help them prepare.

"When we practice, we practice things that help us be spontaneous and think on our feet," Starch said. "And that's what makes it hilarious, because the audience — they come up with some tough stuff."

This is the fifth year Black Dirt Theater has had an improv season. This year, shows will be held at the Hastings Arts Center, located at Fourth and Ramsey streets. The shows are an hour-and-a-half long, with a 10-minute intermission when the audience can purchase beverages.

Shows are scheduled for Jan. 13, Feb. 10, March 10 and April 21. There are two showtimes each night, one at 7 p.m. that is family friendly (the "Pixar version," Starch said) and one at 9 p.m. that is more adult oriented.

Tickets are $10 and may be purchased online at or at the door.

"It's really a fun thing to do with a group of people," Starch said.

Plus, she added, the audience is safe. Although the audience is asked to provide ideas to the performers, that's as far as audience participation goes.

"We don't ever pull anyone up on stage," she said.

More about both shows is available on the Black Dirt Theater website.