The County Seat Theater Company’s production of Sweet won Best of Festival at the Minnesota Association of Community Theatres Festival held in Austin, MN this past weekend. The cast will move on to compete at the American Association of Community Theatres Region 5 competition in Aberdeen, South Dakota April 25-28.
“It was a surreal experience,” said director Joel Soukkala. “You never really know what the adjudicators are looking for so you just go in and do your best performance and the cast did not disappoint. I sat in front of the house with a smile on my face and very calm feeling knowing they had the show in total control.”
Sweet is centered around three generations of the Carter family, headed by former boxing champ “Sweet” Clemmet Carter portrayed by Michael Rosen. When an enthusiastic sports writer (Greg Anderson) enters their life asking to write a book about Clemmet’s boxing days, he discovers that some family secrets are better left buried.
In 2017 the County Seat Theater was selected as one of five community theaters from around the country to produce a winning production of the American Association of Community Theatre NEWPLAYFEST. They presented the world premiere of Sweet in September of 2018. “Since then we have been working with playwright Denise Hinson to cut the show to a one act and prepare it for contest,” said Soukkala. “She originally cut 40 pages and we put eight back in and once we discovered were will still over in time we had to cut more before we could take it to contest.”
The state festival happens every two years and CST has participated since 2005. Contest rules state that each participating theater gets 10 minutes to set up a set that needs to fit in a 10’x10’ space. They have 60 minutes to perform and another 10 minutes to strike their set. “There is a lot of planning that goes into a production like this,” continued Soukkala. “In some aspects it is more work than producing a full length play. When audiences come to our encore performances next week they will get a chance to see this process unfold as the cast and crew assemble the set prior to the production.”
In addition to Best of Festival, the production also won for Outstanding Achievement in Acting Ensemble. Director Joel Soukkala was recognized for Outstanding Achievement in Directing, Scenic Design and Sound Design. Actors Jennifer Soukkala and Greg Anderson also won for Outstanding Achievement in Acting.
This is the third time the County Seat Theater Company has advanced to the Region 5 American Association of Community Theatres Festival. The first time was in 2011 with their production of Wiley and the Hairy Man, a production that also advanced to the National Festival and an International Festival in Japan in 2012. Only nine Minnesota community theaters have ever advanced to the National level and only three of those have went on to international festivals.
“I am so proud of our cast and crew for their professional work. It makes me proud to be part of such an amazing community theater,” concluded Soukkala.
The County Seat Theater Company will present an Encore performance of Sweet at the Encore Performing Arts Center in Cloquet March 28-30 at 7:00 pm and March 31 at 2:00 pm. Proceeds from this show will be used for travel expenses to the regional festival. Tickets can be reserved by calling the box office at 218-878-0071 or online at www.countyseattheater.com.
Since 2008, the County Seat Theater Company has been located in the Encore Performing Arts Center, at 2035 Hwy 33 South (on Frontage Road) in Cloquet. The theater offers a full season of local performances, as well as youth productions, musical acts and has an art gallery featuring work by local artists.