Photo by Nolan Schmidt
They have this group that is providing them guidance and showing them how to work together toward a common goal. Those lessons are worth their weight in gold. I think theater is such a great experience for that.”Jessica Kendall, Fargo Moorhead Community Theatre Volunteer
Misfortune hit the Fargo Moorhead Community Theatre (FMCT) on two fronts in the past year, the first being the compromised structural integrity of The Stage at Island Park and the second being the pandemic leading to the cancellation of all live shows. The Stage has been closed since December 2019 when it was discovered that a roof beam was cracked and the building was declared structurally unsound.
Despite these challenges, FMCT has ensured that the show goes on even without its stage. Operating out of a temporary downtown office, the theatre has continued to deliver on its mission to enrich the community through “engaging theatrical and educational opportunities.” FMCT’s 10 Minute Play festival and production of “Clue” went virtual. The organization is also holding acting and singing classes digitally.
FMCT is the longest operating community arts organization in the Red River Valley. Established in 1946, the FMCT will be celebrating its 75th anniversary in April. FMCT produces an average of 10 productions every year, bringing in more than 35,000 patrons in just 2019. The impact of FMCT on bridging the community together has been felt especially among families with the absence of community gatherings and entertainment events.
The Kendall family has been heavily involved in many FMCT productions through the years in many roles. For parents Jim and Jessica and children Josie and Jimmy, FMCT is an integral part of their lives. The Kendall’s home is filled with theater and music, and that love of art drove the family to become involved in several theatrical productions.
Jim and Jessica met at Concordia where they were both studying music. Theater has been a lifelong piece of Jessica’s life, having participated in her first theatrical performance as a third grader. It only made sense for Josie to continue her mother’s passion for acting, and Josie’s younger brother Jimmy followed suit soon after.
“When I was in ‘A Christmas Carol,’ I was a ghost, and we would always rehearse here,” Josie said about her favorite experiences among the many productions she’s been involved in. “It was really fun to do and it was fun to just make something with people.”
Jimmy’s first production was “A Christmas Story” in 2018. “I made it to the audition for the first time ever, so I was like, ‘Whoa what is happening, I’ve never done this before!’”
For 75 years, FMCT has created community-minded educational experiences and artistic opportunities. FMCT has strived to create a place where people of all ages and backgrounds can create, learn and gather since its founding.
“I like it because it brings people together,” Jessica said. “If they’re doing something, it brings people together in our family and it brings other people together.”
Perhaps that is where the power of theater lies, in its ability to bring a family together on stage while also bringing a community together in the audience. FMCT’s productions become traditions for community members, such as families coming together for a meal before seeing the annual production of “A Christmas Carol.” These unifying experiences become precious memories for families and wouldn’t be possible without FMCT.
“It was ‘A Christmas Story’ when I first got to see Jimmy really do something on stage,” Jim said. “He and Josie were relatively near each other on stage for a while and I had tears in my eyes, just kind of welled up from a sense of pride. It was a pretty special moment to have all the kids on stage doing something that they love doing.”
Jessica, Josie and Jimmy were all cast in FMCT’s production of “Matilda,” which was put on hold amid pandemic restrictions. Hopefully, the day when the Kendalls can once again perform together on stage in front of the community isn’t too far away.
“I’m really looking forward to just seeing the community again,” Josie said. “It’s a fun experience to listen to them, hear them, laugh with them.”
FMCT offers more opportunities for the community outside of just theatrical productions. As the very nature of theater encapsulates many elements of standard student curriculum (English, history, social studies, etc.), students can apply skills they’ve learned to hands-on situations. FMCT offers year-round classes for all ages and all skill levels, including week-long summer camps, a month-long summer intensive program that culminates in production and a theatre outreach program that brings theatre education directly into area elementary schools. These programs promote development in reading skills, language development, memorization and public speaking. FMCT’s educational programming also includes Silver Follies, which provides theatrical learning opportunities to those 55 years and older.
“The kids have so many adults that they’ve worked and collaborated with and are learning from. It’s like this big extended community family looking after them,” Jessica said. “They have this group that is providing them guidance and showing them how to work together toward a common goal. Those lessons are worth their weight in gold. I think theater is such a great experience for that. Having something like FMCT in our community is an incredible opportunity.”
While FMCT’s primary mission to provide artistic opportunities and education, its reach and impact extends far beyond just the arts community. The Stage at Island Park has held corporate events, meetings and other special events like Emerging Prairie’s 1 Million Cups, serving as a supportive resource to local businesses in addition to being an artistic outlet.
“Theater happens to be the main focus of what we do as an organization, but the building is bigger than that,” Adam Pankow, FMCT artistic director, said. “We’re able to host and we’re able to provide for the community, we feel really lucky and fortunate to get to do that.
FMCT currently has a $7 million fundraising goal to repair the 52-year-old-auditorium, the largest amount the organization has ever set as a goal. Community support is needed both figuratively and literally, to raise the roof of The Stage at Island Park. FMCT is looking at this event as an opportunity, rather than a tragedy, to upgrade the facility to better serve FMCT’s community-minded mission.
“Something that we want to focus on in the future is making this a community gathering place,” Colby Schwartzwalter, FMCT community engagement intern, said. “We do more than just put on shows and have artistic education. We want this to be a place where people from outside of those areas come together too.”
For generations, FMCT has been a vital part of our community, enriching the lives of thousands through theatre arts. The stage was originally built by a huge community effort 50 years ago, and now FMCT needs another community effort to open its curtains once again.
“This is a community gathering place that happens to do plays and musicals and great education programs, but it’s also is a place for our community to gather and engage and connect with their neighbors,” Pankow said. “It’s important to us as an organization, that we keep that vision moving forward, so there are another 75 years that this organization can play a big part in the growth and the vibrancy of this community.”
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