Chanhassen Dinner Theatres

(upbeat Jazz music) – My name is Laura Wilhelm, and I’m the props master at
Chanhassen Dinner Theater, and this is my 11th season. – I was jobbed in as a
draper on Fiddler on the Roof and that was three Fiddlers ago. – I started here as a child
actor when I was nine. – I would say I’ve
acted in probably– – Seven or eight shows. – 42 shows. – 64 shows here. – Well dinner theater
started in the early 50s, and there were pretty much
hundreds of dinner theaters. Today, I think
there are maybe 10. But the 10 that are
left are fantastic. – When we opened the
dinner theaters in 1968, I was 13 at the time, and I remember the building
being under construction, and walking through
it with my dad, and him telling me, well that’s
where the stage is gonna go. So kind of with
big eyes, thinking, this is all pretty amazing. My family was always interested
in theater in general. My dad was very creative, and certainly an entrepreneur, but he was also a
really practical guy. And he thought, you gotta be able to eat dinner and have theater and have it
all kind of rolled together. And our family, although we
sold the operation in 1989, we’ve stayed connected. And it’s also always
like coming home. So many of the people
are people that worked for our family all
those years ago which is pretty remarkable. – Michael Brindisi,
our artistic director and myself were working
together as a creative team when the theater was for sale and went out and
found some investors who were able to
buy the business and you know,
ensued our new roles really managing the
day-to-day operations and turning it in
to what it is now. – When we’re looking for a play I try to keep the audience first on the top of my mind because
I don’t want to pick a play that I want to do,
I wanna pick a play that they wanna see and then I think secondly,
I look for something that I believe has some
kind of important message. – Our first day of
rehearsal is really special we call it the
first day of school. The emotions are really bright. There’s a lot of people
who maybe have been gone who are now back, it’s a
lot of energy and excitement about the creation of
a new theater piece. – The first day of rehearsal is probably the
scariest day for me. It’s even more scary than
first opening performance. It’s like a blank
canvass and they’re like oh boy, I hope we paint
the right picture. So you know, you take a
deep breath and jump in – [Tamara] And it usually
starts with Michael Brindisi in his sermon-like way, his
vision of what the show means. – This is our 50th anniversary. – [Cast Member] Yes.
(cast applauding) – And I think we spend
way too much time concerned about
what we need to get, the money we need to make,
the job gotta to have. All that stuff is
a big waste of time instead of just,
like the play says every now and then it’s a good idea to just pause in our pursuit
of happiness. To just be happy. And that’s what I think
the play is about. – For the 50th season we’re
doing, as a big celebration, the great Irving Berlin
musical Holiday Inn. – You know this is
the largest show we’ve ever done here, it
hits close to 200 costumes. We are one of the
four shops in town where everything
is produced here and most of it is
produced from ground up which is becoming a rarity
across the United States. – We go through the
design of the of the show, all of the designers,
from the costume designer to the wig designer, to the
sound and light designer. Then we jump into
music rehearsal and that’s a fast
and furious process and then usually we’re up on
our feet day two or day three. – And lights up inside. – Hi sorry I’m late,
I had papers to grade and there was snow to
shovel and all the excuses. – That’s quite
alright, we’ll even. – What I love about Michael
Brindisi as a director is his sense of
humanity in the work. – I feel like the first part
of it could move a little more. – Michael is a fantastic
person to work with. He’s an actor’s director. He lets the actor use you know, their intuition and their skills but then he’s also
there to guide you when you need some help. – I like that much better,
it gives us some place to go with the dramatic part. – [Ann] That felt better for me. – Tam works right along
side with Michael so that it’s a seamless production
of where the dance starts and then the scenes end
so it works really well. – Yeah I think then
Tony handed him the bouquet on “Oh no.” when I choreograph a
show it really comes from a place of storytelling
before the dance. ♪ Oh no you ♪ – Yeah that’s better. ♪ Going to my dance ♪ – I love working with
Tam as a choreographer because she really
knows how to take each individual person’s talent and make them shine. – Like bum bum, yeah, hah, yeah. – A lot of people say
this but it’s true working at Chanhassen
is like coming home. – This particular space
and these particular people because several of us
have worked together for many, many years,
has a very familial feel. There are fathers and
mothers in the group, there are aunts and
uncles in the group, there are the irritating
cousins in the group (laughs) but at the end of the day
you have each other’s backs and you have to have
trust to be able to do what we do every
night with each other and this is a
group that I trust. – Opening night is not
scary for me, it’s sad. Because I stop
being a part of it, it’s like a kid goin
away to college. I don’t have too much
control over it anymore, I usually stand here
and watch the show two or three times
a week at least and the actors know I’m there. They see me in the
back, they know I care and me, I’m on to the next show. – 50 years is, kind of
an amazing milestone. I actually remember
talking to my dad about the age of the theater on the occasion of the
closing of I DO, I Do which was 25 years ago. He asked me whether
I thought this place would ever be on the National
Register of Historic Places but I remember telling him, well it has to be
50 years old first. And he just kind of laughed and said 50 years, now
that would be something. I always harken back to
that short conversation and realize 50 years really
is pretty remarkable. ♪ Oh no you haven’t a chance ♪ ♪ When I go in to my dance ♪ – I love musical theater. I fell in love
with it as a child. It is a high art form
but it connects to people in I think a very
simple and true way and brings people together and I think that’s what
really makes it special. – When talking isn’t
enough you burst in to song and when singing isn’t
enough you burst in to dance and there is just
something in the joy of being able to
express yourself fully. – I actually love theater
because of the impact you can make on people’s lives. When I did the play
Phantom, I got a letter from a gentleman saying
that the play for him was about not wasting
his life and he said “As a result of seeing your play “I decided to call my
ex wife and say we need “to get back together
and try again”, and he did and they did. And I was like oh my God, the
power we have on that stage. And I’ve never
underestimated the impact you can have on an audience. (calm music)

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