Fish Creek, WI. – Peninsula Players Theatre will host the first of three play readings Monday, February 6 at 7 p.m. when it presents Michael Perry’s “Population 485” at Björklunden, 7590 Boynton Lane, Baileys Harbor. “Population 485” is newly adapted by the author from his book “Population: 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time” and is the first offering of The Play’s the Thing, a winter play reading series produced by Peninsula Players for the Door County community. General seating is available, no admission fee.
Welcome to New Auburn, Wisconsin, where the local vigilante is a farmer’s wife armed with a pistol and a Bible, the most senior member of the volunteer fire department is a cross-eyed butcher with one kidney and two ex-wives (both of whom work at the only gas station in town), and the back roads are haunted by the ghosts of children and farmers. Against a backdrop of fires and tangled wrecks, bar fights and smelt feeds, “Population 485” is a comic and sometimes heartbreaking true tale leavened with quieter meditations on contemporary rural life.
Michael Perry is a New York Times bestselling author, humorist, singer, songwriter, intermittent pig farmer and radio show host from New Auburn, Wisconsin. Perry adapted the play from his 2002 best-selling memoir, “Population: 485: Meeting your Neighbor One Siren at a Time;” in which he captures small-town, rural America in a series of essays reflecting on his service as a volunteer EMT/first responder.
“Population 485” celebrates Middle America and the understanding that one must give of themselves to truly live and be a part of a community. The book and play center on
the conscientious members of the volunteer fire department and the community relationships they build.
“Basically I’m on the department because in Nobbern, I got just the two things they’re lookin’ for: a pulse, and a valid driver’s license,” states the narrator ala’ Perry. “Plus, as a writer, I’m home a lot during the day. And even more than that? When I moved back here, my two brothers and my Mom were already on the department.”
The reading of “Population 485” is produced with support from and in coordination with Door County Reads and its exploration of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Empire Falls” by Richard Russo. Russo introduces readers to the life-long residents who make up the community of a faltering blue-collar town in Maine.
“’Population 485’ is a perfect companion piece to Russo’s ‘Empire Falls,’” said Peninsula Players Artistic Director Greg Vinkler. “Both are filled with sublime local color, wit, humor and sentimentality, while encapsulating the honest, hard-working people of rural America. The small-town settings are revered and filled with unconventional, independent local characters such as Russo’s lead character, an unassuming restaurant manager, and Perry himself, along with other members.”
Perry was raised on a small Midwestern dairy farm, put himself through nursing school while working on a ranch in Wyoming and found himself writing. Upon returning to his Wisconsin hometown he joined the volunteer fire department and continued writing. Perry has published several books, hosts the nationally-syndicated “Tent Show Radio,” performs widely as a humorist and tours with his band the Long Beds.
New Auburn is a small town where Friday night football, Jamboree Days, meat raffles, movie nights hosted by the Legion Hall and its volunteer fire department galvanize the community. Volunteers are on call 24-hours a day answering more than 100 calls a year, dealing with burning barns, car wrecks, various injuries, accidents and fainting geese.
When a call arrives they are no longer just the butcher, school cook, mother, roofer, bartender, police officer, logger, trucker, accountant or farmer. They launch into action as a caring civic unit helping distraught neighbors, one call at a time.
Cast members of “Population 485” under Vinkler’s direction include Amy Ensign (“Who am I this Time (& Other Conundrums of Love),” “The Trip to Bountiful”); Maggie Kettering (“Lend Me a Tenor,” “Outside Mullingar”); James Krag (“Witness for the Prosecution,” “Bob Almighty”); Chad Luberger (“The Who and the What”); Amy Ludwigsen (“Two Story House,” “Go Back for Murder”); Mark Moede (“And Then There Were None,” “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” “Waiting for Tina Meyer”); and newcomers Larry “Thor” Thoreson and John Wilson.
Ensign, Luberger, Ludwigsen, Moede, Thoreson and Wilson all call Door County home and all have stage credits with various theatrical companies including Door Shakespeare, Northern Sky Theater, Rouge Theater, Third Avenue Playhouse (TAP) and Peninsula Players Theatre.
Ensign’s credits include six seasons at Door Shakespeare, “A Bed Among the Lentils” for Theatre M, “The Spitfire Grill” at Northern Sky Theater and “Steel Magnolias” and “Shirley Valentine” at TAP.
Kettering’s regional stage credits include Great Lakes Theater, House Theatre, TimeLine Theatre, Michigan Shakespeare Festival, Northlight Theatre, Irish Theatre of Chicago, Texas Shakespeare Festival, Warehouse Theatre, Virginia Shakespeare Festival, Idaho Shakespeare Festival and Delaware Theatre Company.
Krag’s Chicago credits include the Goodman Theatre, Court Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Steppenwolf Theatre Company and more. Broadway credits include the original production of “Burn This” and “Mill Fire” at Women’s Project Theater and among his film and television credits are “While You Were Sleeping,” “Mercury Rising,” “Prison Break,” “Early Edition,” “E.R.” and a recurring role on “Missing Persons.”
Luberger credits include Northern Sky’s production of “When Butter Turns to Gold; ” “Assassins” at Isadoora Theater; “Almost Maine” at TAP; “Life on the Mississippi” and “The Bachelors” at Northern Sky Theater. Film and television credits include “The Christmas Tree,” “Ed Gein,” “Star Trek Voyager” and “Jag.”
Ludwigsen is Executive Director of Door Shakespeare and has performed with Utah Shakespearean Festival, Shaw Chicago Theatre Company, Chicago Shakespeare Theater and Door County’s American Folklore Theatre.
Moede’s recent Door County credits include the Peninsula Players’ production of “The Hollow” and “The Full Monty,” “True West” with TAP as well as performances at Door Community Auditorium, Town Hall Bakery of Jacksonport, Woodwalk Gallery and Theatre M, which he co-founded with his wife Mary White.
Thoreson is active in the peninsula’s art community performing in the Play It Forward concert series as well as serving as emcee for Door County Pickers performances at the Door Community Auditorium.
Wilson recently directed “All My Sons” for Rogue Theater; “Painting Churches and “Circle Mirror Transformation” for Isadoora Theater Company; and collaborated with Riverside Theater in Iowa City and Perseverance Theater in Juneau, Alaska.
Peninsula Players will host additional winter play readings Mondays March 6 (“Salvage,” by Joseph Zettelmaier) and April 3 (“Miss Holmes” by Christopher M. Walsh).
The Play’s the Thing is funded in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin, as well as generous grants from the Door County Community Foundation, Door County Medical Center and Friends of Door County Libraries.
Door County Reads is in its seventh year, having grown out of the Library/Players partnership with the NEA’s The Big Read the previous three years. A full listing of events can be found at www.doorcountyreads.org.
Peninsula Players Theatre is America’s Oldest Professional Resident Summer Theatre. The Play’s the Thing is part of the Players’ continuing winter outreach programming, presenting professional play readings for the public. Learn more about Peninsula Players at www.peninsulaplayers.com.