Elk River doesn’t want live theater — or does it

This letter you’re about to read is a farce (like the style of play with the same name). When you get to the end, you’ll know what the word means.

We’ve just finished a successful seven-performance run of “Clue: The Musical.” The audience loved it, except that the total attendance was only 500. For the past 35 years, the community is denying the existence of the Elk River Community Theatre. I joined the group in 2004 after I had moved up here. We set an attendance record of 2,600 in 2007 (when I conducted “Joseph”), which still means that 20,000 ER residents didn’t know what they were missing. Don’t worry, I won’t lecture anyone today, because the (Northstar) train has long left the station; I just feel the need to talk about it a little bit.

It’s not that we didn’t try to promote “Clue: The Musical.” Bruce Strand worked overtime for us for weeks, shooting a hundred pictures at rehearsal, interviewing us, posting several articles on- and offline in three different weekly editions of the Star News (heartfelt thanks, Bruce!). We hung hundreds of yard signs and posters at street corners and businesses all the way to Princeton. We launched a huge Facebook campaign. I myself live in an 18-lot association; I invited all my neighbors — not one came to see the show. The biggest number of my friends came up from the Twin Cities, of the many local ones only a handful showed up. Nothing we did had any effect on the poor attendance.

At this point I want to emphasize that we cherish our audience, every single one of them. We are their fans! Without an audience we wouldn’t have a show at all. We would just pack up and go home. And the audience loves us. The concept is so simple: you go home, tell 10 people about it, and word of mouth provides a steadily growing audience. Gotcha.

Something goes wrong: people forget, get too busy, something new comes around, they get distracted and never come back to the theater.

What people don’t realize is that good quality live theater will relieve stress, inspire you, make you a happier person. With a steady dose of it you’ll live longer! And we’re not asking you to dress up or be quiet; you can interact with the play, applaud anytime, laugh, or just lean back and soak in the magic: sensational costumes and sets, elaborate lighting, dancing, singing, and acting, the full Broadway experience.

We work between six to eight weeks to get a show ready for you. That’s the main difference to the pros: they invest at least double the time. But our Elk River Community Theatre also has a lot of veterans, some even have formal musical education. And the enthusiasm and the commitment is sometimes higher than at the pros. They just love what they do; why else would they have held out almost in vain for 35 years?

I hate for the community theater to fold; and I do have a brand-new concept to shake up Elk River residents: I’ll start a new sect called “Theater’s Witnesses.” I’ll be holding a colorful brochure in front of my chest, going from house to house telling people about the out-of-this-world wonders of live musical theater. Will you open your heart for me? — Florian Keller, Elk River

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