A new, original musical theater production will make its premiere this month right here in Wisconsin.
Let’s clarify that:
It’ll make its premiere in Weyauwega, Wis. — population 1,817.
And the only ones who’d express surprise are those who aren’t familiar with Wega Arts.
“Wet Kiss,” a new musical by Artistic Director Kathy Fehl, will make its debut run from June 27-29 at Gerold Opera House.
It’s the first original musical for the veteran theatrical writer.
“I’ve had concept for several years,” Fehl said. “I wanted to do it as a film. It might still be a film and a good reason to go to a warm climate in January.”
It’s a surreal tale with some real-world messages.
The narrative surrounds an obsessed surfer who’s kidnapped by a sea goddess. The goddess, concerned about the coral in her underwater world, conscripts those who can provide aid and the adventures unfold from there.
“There’s the interplay of those fighting for the environment and those who are indifferent to anything beyond their immediate world,” Fehl said.
The bulk of its music was written by acclaimed folk musician, Stanton West.
Laila Salins, a mezzo soprano from New York, arrived in Weyauwega to perform in the production and contributed the lyrics and music for three of its numbers.
The show blends an eclectic mix of genres from melancholy Irish to surf to hip hop, and as any good musical would demand — some ballads.
The characters are larger than life, Fehl said, and will portrayed by cast made up of actors from Weyauwega, Waupaca and Green Bay.
Larger than life has been standard fare for what’s become a leading arts incubator in Wisconsin.
Now in its 12th year of arts education, Wega Arts carries a youth focus and stands as one of few Wisconsin organizations dedicated to filmmaking and original theatrical productions.
Fehl and Executive Director Ian Teal founded the group in 2007 after building their credentials within the New York City theater scene. In making a 180-degree turn from metropolitan to small-town surroundings, they’ve proven the principle that creativity isn’t dependent on environment or geography.
The organization’s portfolio of projects has gone far beyond arts for arts’ sake. They’ve been agents for social change.
“Jump Up And Shout,” last summer’s music and theater workshop, worked with themes of privilege and the responsibility of voting.Their 2016 film, Heroes Rising, used a comic book theme in exploring youth response to the opioid epidemic.
They’ve gone beyond teachers to serve as community stewards.
The community role of Wega Arts is no better exemplified than by its headquarters.
The organization purchased and revitalized the Gerold Opera House; a centerpiece structure of Main Street Weyauwega.
Built for the Vaudeville scene in 1915, the Gerold had long been the focal point of small-town community life. It hosted weddings, dances, auctions and farm exhibitions. Its basement once served as a school cafeteria.
In response to modern progress, the Gerold — like so many stages of its era — became a cinema and brought the new and exciting magic of movies to its populace.
The Gerold’s legacy lives in the high-definition memories of many of Weyauwega’s old-timers. Teal and Fehl recalled a warm conversation with a former ticket-taker, who recalled the final film of his youthful run as a Gerold employee — “Gone with the Wind.”
Through Wega Arts, the Gerold’s legacy has come full circle.
Live performances once again grace its stage. And through Wega Arts, the community could very well be the world’s smallest to host an annual international film festival.
For Fehl, the thrill of treading new ground hasn’t gotten old and the latest production has been a journey.
“With as far fetched as it is, the basic concept seemed to work,” she said.
Moving from an idea to its actualization means transitioning, rework and collaboration until at last the curtain opens.
“It’s extremely satisfying,” Fehl said.