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Bringing theater to children for 60 years

Actors Kathy Averbeck (left) of Dousman and Diane Moderson of Hartland portray "Uncle Dudley" and "Aunt Mabel" during the Schoolhouse Players production of The Gingerbread Man at Three Pillars Senior Living Community in Dousman on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013.

Actors Kathy Averbeck (left) of Dousman and Diane Moderson of Hartland portray "Uncle Dudley" and "Aunt Mabel" during the Schoolhouse Players production of The Gingerbread Man at Three Pillars Senior Living Community in Dousman on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013. Photo by: Scott Ash

Schoolhouse Players have community show Sunday

Since 1953, the routine has been the same.

They get their costumes out, recite their lines, load up their truck and travel across the county visiting schools trying to put a smile on children's faces.

They're the Schoolhouse Players, a nonprofit theater group that performs children's plays every February in Lake Country. The group was organized 60 years ago by women in the community.

None of the members can claim to be professional actresses.

But like performers who get paid to be on stage, the Schoolhouse Players have the same passion of entertaining those in their audience.

This year, the group is entertaining individuals with the play "The Gingerbread Man."

"They're lighthearted plays, and we always try to have a good message along with it," said Nell Murphy, of the Village of Summit who has been with the group for eight years. "It's a lot of fun and I love watching kids' faces because a lot of them haven't seen live theater before."

Murphy and her fellow members have had the chance to see this the past two weeks when they've performed two shows a day three days a week.

The first two weeks also included a visit at the Three Pillars Senior Living Community in Dousman when the group did a show for a former member who lives there.

The group, comprised of all women, continues its month-long performances when it has its annual community show at 2 p.m. Sunday at Lake Country Elementary School, 1800 Vettelson Road, in Hartland.

Murphy works behind the scenes doing crew work along with Karen Templeton, another member who joined after president Deb Nollen was out recruiting members in the area.

Templeton said she previously lived in Illinois and when she moved to Stone Bank she said the Schoolhouse Players proved to be just what she was looking for.

"It sounded like a lot of fun, and I've always been interested in community theater," Templeton said. "Each volunteer brings a special interest to the group, but everyone is dedicated to theater and the entertainment of children. The gratification emanating from the enthusiastic responses of our young audiences is extremely rewarding."

The group, which consists of about 30 active members, rehearses in January after picking its play the previous year. They also have monthly meetings to organize for their busiest month of the year.

Murphy said they've done plays such as Rumpelstiltskin, Elf and the Shoemaker, Mother Goose and other nursery rhymes in recent years.

The members work with a professional director in advance of the play when selecting the play and while going through lines. They rehearse at St. John Chrysostom Church in Delafield.

The shows are interactive, involving audience participation.

"It's presenting something different to children as they're so used to watching television and playing with electronic games," Templeton said. "So to see their response and starting them off in live theater is just so wonderful."

Nollen, an actress on stage, got involved when she moved to Hartland from Florida in 2000. And she recruits individuals from the Arrowhead and Hamilton school districts when new families come to the area. She added the group is always looking for more members and experience in acting isn't a requirement.

She previously participated in community theater when she lived in Iowa in the 1980s. Nollen said the Schoolhouse Players was the perfect way to return to stage.

"I really like the live experience," Nollen said. "And it's great to see the actresses evolve and blossom over the years."

At a Glance

Who: Schoolhouse Players

What: The Gingerbread Man

When: Community performance at 2 p.m. Feb. 17 at Lake Country Elementary School, 1800 Vettelson Road, Hartland

Fact: Performances this month mark the group's 60th anniversary

Website: www.schoolhouseplayers.org

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