The cast of Emmet Otters Jug Band Christmas  performs the final number of the show during the curtain call.
The cast of Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas performs the final number of the show during the curtain call.
Bob Pohlad

Emmet Otter Opens

Pre-show ticket sales top $12,000
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  • Doc Bullfrog sets the scene and tells the tale of Emmet Otter.

  • From left, Emmet, Gretchen Fox, and Ma come to an agreement on the cost of the laundry service.

  • The jug band practices to get ready for the Waterville Talent Contest.

  • Chuck, center, announces to other members of the Riverbottom Nightmare Band that he is hungry!

  • The Riverbottom Nightmare Band performs at the Waterville Talent Contest.

  • Ma and the jug band bring it together for a tune following the Talent Contest.

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In one scene, a 35-foot mural scrolled from wing to wing while a makeshift rowboat piloted by otters floated down the river.

In another, critters from throughout all of Waterville gathered at the Riverside Rest and lifted their voices in song to the strains of the town’s most accomplished jug band.

And in still another, a rolling rock band with a bass-playing snake and drum-pounding porcupine lit up the room with sound and light.

It was opening day yesterday for Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas, the Theatre Arts Department’s and Blue Ridge Dinner Theatre’s winter holiday production. Post performance, Actor/Director Emily Blankenship-Tucker was all smiles.

“I’m thrilled with how it went,” she said. “It was so cool to see all these elements come together.”

Blankenship-Tucker has split her time between directing and acting–also playing the role of Ma (Alice) Otter, Emmet’s mom.

“You like to have things set well ahead of time, so that you can be sure of exactly what’s going to happen,” she said. “But in this process, we just allowed space for continued creativity and continued perfecting. So even last night and this morning, people were still just trying to get it right. And it was super cool for it to come together.”

Much of what she was talking about was the elaborate set design and propping for the show, and Blankenship-Tucker was quick to tip her director’s cap to both Mary Turner of Indigo Signs in Rocky Mount and Bruce Burgess of Bruce Burgess Art in Danbury, NC, who acted as scenic designers for the production.

“They have been offering their talents to the production with brilliant ideas,” she said. “The show is so precious to me and many of us in the company, including Mary and Bruce, so we just wanted it to be exactly what we wanted it to be.”

Blankenship-Tucker said that over the course of the time designing and building the sets, many ideas were tossed about, tried, scrapped, revisited, tweaked, and used.

“As we developed this, we used every drop of time there was,” she said. “Bruce has been here nights making beautiful scenery. He was here this morning putting finishing touches on things. Mary really helped with the snow-bank design, but what really became her biggest project was a moving image that goes from one side of the stage to the other to give the boat scene multiple points of motion.”

For jug band member Wendell (played by Django Burgess, freshman), opening day was gratifying and motivating.

“Our first show went very well,” Burgess said. “The show is really technical, which has made production a ‘round-the-clock’ job for many of our cast and crew. Seeing our work, from the set pieces and puppets, to the costumes and makeup, lights, music, and overall talent on stage is extremely rewarding. This show gave the whole team a boost of confidence and is sending us into our next performance with excitement.”

Attendees expressed joy and excitement from the performance. Callaway resident Allison Seidel was in the audience. For Seidel, Emmet Otter has been a yearly tradition since the early eighties.

“It was EPIC!!” she said. “I’ve always resonated with this story from being close to nature, living rural, and having close friends and family that are musically talented. The music and lyrics are so wonderful and meaningful in this play. Ferrum College Theatre Arts did an amazing job on every aspect of this story. There was never a dull moment! I haven’t smiled for hours in so long. I’m hoping that this will become a holiday tradition.”

Regional musician and class of ’88 alum Timbo Sims was also in attendance.

“The talent, musical excellence, and ingenuity of the Ferrum College Theatre Arts cast and crew brought to life the magic and meaning of love and family through such an enjoyable presentation of a favorite holiday tale,” Sims said. “I can’t wait to see it again!”

Another first-nighter and 45-year veteran of taking in the college’s theatrical performances, Professor Emeritus Bob Pohlad marveled at the production and the execution of the performance. He approached the show from an audience and professorial viewpoint.

“Today, after seeing the amount of work that this particular production required, I am even more impressed with the dedication,” he said.

Pohlad riffed on the idea that the Theatre Arts Program here is one of only two groups in the nation performing this show this season–the other is in Chicago.

“Getting this chance to do this production…was impressive enough, and then to build elaborate sets, puppets, learn lines and songs–and then perform in an outstanding way was amazing. I would also add that experiential learning is so powerful. Seeing these students and community folk immersed in this type of experience is training for a lifetime,” he said.

Pohlad mentioned building the puppets. That’s correct, the department designed and built all the puppets for the production.

For Costume and Puppet Designer Rebecca Crocker, the reward of the opening performance was two-fold: She witnessed her creations take life on stage, and she reveled in the pre-show numbers.

Out of 2,000 total tickets available for the production, 630 pre-sale tickets had been sold as of yesterday, and the company has broken $12,000 in revenue. From here on out, those numbers are all records for the college.

Beyond that, Crocker said she thought the opening performance went beautifully. She even literally got into the act at one point.

“I was running comm today (communication with the assistant stage managers on stage in the wings) and I was up in the booth. And one of the assistant stage managers back behind the wall said, ‘We need another person (to hold one of the set flats in a scene.) We’re not going to be able to do this.’ I was up in the booth and I said, ‘I’m on my way.'”

Crocker then bolted out of the theatre, around the building, and within a page of dialogue was in the wings.

“I knew a blackout was coming,” she said. “I ran out, got in place, and held it for the whole scene. When the lights went out, I moved it out.”

Crocker said that those kinds of in-the-moment issues get solved because the actors and crew have the ability to be spontaneous, creative, and because they know the show.

“To know it well enough to say a couple steps ahead, ‘OK, this needs to happen’ is what allows that,” Crocker said.

She paused momentarily and took what may have been her first voluntary breath of the afternoon.

“I am so incredibly pleased with how it went. I said earlier that I kind of feel like I had a baby,” she said. “I know that there are some little things that we all want to kind of fix. There’s a lot of safety pins and hot glue where we would prefer it not be, but tonight, we will take a well-deserved victory rest and get back at it again tomorrow.”

Remaining show times for Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas are as follows:

Wed., Dec. 6–2 p.m.
Thurs., Dec. 7–2 p.m.
Sat., Dec. 9–7 p.m.
Sun., Dec. 10–2 p.m.
Tues., Dec. 12–2 p.m.
Wed., Dec. 13–2 p.m.
Thurs., Dec. 14–2 p.m.
Sat., Dec. 16–7 p.m.
Sun., Dec. 17–2 p.m.

Patrons may order tickets by clicking here.







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