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Sisters paying tribute to farmers via a musical

April 18, 2013 | 0 comments

KEWASKUM

Inspired by the hardworking dairy farmers of Wisconsin and cows, two talented writers have created a musical (Moo-sical) honoring Wisconsin’s dairy families.

Brenda Strack wrote "Dairymen – the Moo-sical" after spending many hours milking cows for her neighbor. She comments, "The rhythm of the milkers and my love for cows and dairy got me humming tunes while I was in the parlor. I started thinking of little comical jingles to go with the tunes."

When she came home from milking she jotted down the words and started to think about the possibilities of creating a stage musical.

Strack recalls, "My son was in a musical theatre comedy performance that was based on the experiences of the Sargento Cheese workers who had won the lottery. While I watched it I started thinking about writing a musical that was based on life on a dairy farm."

What set the whole thing into motion was the question and answer session that followed that performance. She explains, "Someone asked the writer of that musical how the idea came about. He said it starts with a nagging idea in your head and the more you think about it the more ideas formulate in your mind."

Strack went home from that performance fired up with ideas. She called her sister, Melanie Wiltse, an accomplished musician living in Stevens Point. She says, "I told her I had a script and I asked her to do the score. She laughed at the idea but she didn’t say ‘no.’"

Soon after, they took their mother to Tennessee for a week-long visit with their aunt. Strack and Wiltse retreated to the privacy of their aunt’s upstairs during their stay and reviewed ideas to bring the music together with the script. As they worked their enthusiasm grew.

By the time the two came home from their Tennessee trip they had it formulated to the point that they could begin to look for performers.

Diane Thomas, a retired West Bend High School teacher who had directed the high school performances for many years will direct the musical. Dave Bertelsen and Larry Ammel agreed to do the musical direction.

The performances will be in the Kewaskum High School Community Theatre at Kewaskum High School.

Among the nine main characters is Kewaskum Veterinarian Dr. Greg Ogi who they say is perfect for the role of the dairy’s veterinarian, and Steve Berres, a herdsman on an area dairy farm who also enjoys community theatre.

There are also 10 performers in the ensemble and seven in the pit ban.

"We’ve had tremendous support in the community," says Strack. The Kewaskum Area Arts Council is helping to promote it and the Washington County Dairy Promotion Committee has enthusiastically offered to provide cheese sampling during intermission at the performances."

The 52-year-old Strack says, "Aside from getting married and having kids this is the biggest highlight of my entire life. It’s so fulfilling to see it all come together."

Wiltse, who never milked cows but did milk goats, says "This is the biggest project I’ve ever done. I think I’ve probably invested a couple thousand hours in it."

She adds, "It’s already accomplished some good because it has brought us together, even though we live far apart. We talk every couple of days and have become involved in something we enjoy together."

FARM FAMILY STORY LINE

The story line for the musical highlights the circumstances of two farm families in the transition stage of their lives. One family operates a bigger, modern farm with robotic milkers and the other has a smaller farm and milks cows in a tie stall barn.

Strack says it doesn’t pit big farmer against little farmer but it does highlight the differences in challenges that farmers on bigger farms face compared with those on smaller farms.

She stresses, "This is strictly fiction and the characters are not real but there were concerns in our family that people might see family members in some characters."

While the story is not about their family, she says she was inspired by their family, especially their Dad, Louis Behling who lives in Michigan but will be at the performances and their uncle, the late Loyal Behling.

Strack says, "They both had a great sense of humor and could have been stand-up comedians. Our entire family has always appreciated humor. It’s what keeps farm families, and everyone, sane."

Strack says she was also inspired by her husband’s family. The farm on which she and her husband, Doug and their family live is a century farm that had been settled by his mother’s family, the Stanges.

While the whole thing is intended to pay tribute to dairy farmers and those who are involved in the business, she says you don’t have to be a farmer to enjoy it. In fact, in the back of the program she has included a comical glossary to help non-farmers understand some of the farm terminology.

"In the end, people should come away with the idea that dairy farmers love their cows and if they didn’t, they would not be in the business," she says.

PUBLIC INVITED TO ATTEND

The premier performance is May 11 at 7:30 with matinees May 12 at 1:30 p.m. and May 16 at 1:30 p.m. May 17 and 18 there will be evening performances at 7:30 p.m. There will be a matinee on May 19 at 1:30 p.m.

Advance tickets are available at West Bend, Kewaskum and Campbellsport Piggly Wiggly stores or by calling 262-334-4998.

Strack says, "We don’t expect to make anything on this but we’re hoping to cover our expenses. Like any community theatre, no one is paid to do what they are doing. They do it for the love of music and performing."

She’s already dreaming about a follow-up musical, a "Very Dairy Christmas" and quips, "Broad-whey, here we come."

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