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MSU Summer Theatre season opens next week

Chad Gifford is the artistic director of the Minot State University Theatre program and the director of the upcoming show “All Shook Up.”

The Minot State University Summer Theatre will showcase local and statewide talent as its season opens Tuesday with a performance of “All Shook Up,” a jukebox musical set to Elvis hits.

The theater received more than 120 applicants for its productions this year, of whom 60 were accepted. Chad Gifford, creative director for MSU Summer Theatre and director of “All Shook Up,” said when looking for talent, casting directors look for individuals who are willing to give it their all and try new things and for people who put themselves out there.

Taking up the lead role of Chad in “All Shook Up” is local favorite Shad Huber. Gifford said Huber’s performance really wowed audiences during last year’s production of “Escape to Margaritaville.” Gifford believes having the right person for the star role is essential to a successful show, saying if audiences don’t like the lead, the show falls apart.

“Your main character needs to be charismatic, a strong singer and someone who really commits to it and that is absolutely Shad to a tee. We love hearing him sing. He is just exciting to see onstage, no matter what he’s doing, and he’s fun to work with,” Gifford said.

Other local talent includes Emily Taylor, who has been involved with MSU Summer Theater for many years, and Dorian Garland, whom theater-goers may recognize from his work with the Mouse River Players. Gifford’s sons, Christian and Camden Gifford, also will take the stage.

Shad Huber, left, portrays the lead character, Chad. Caroline Turner, right, portrays Chad’s love interest, Natalie.

To attract actors, the summer theater puts together a season with attractive shows, offers a competitive pay package and free housing. National talent has traveled to Minot for experience in the field, with students traveling from Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Colorado and several midwestern states.

Gifford said the summer theater industry is competitive, not only nationally but locally in North Dakota. Many summer theater opportunities are present in North Dakota, including programs in New Rockford, Walhalla, Fargo, Grand Forks and Medora, so students have multiple avenues to get hands-on experience while staying close to home.

“It’s pretty competitive. We’re always excited. The people we get here are fantastic, talented people and we feel lucky that we were able to get a lot of people who we did,” Gifford said.

Battling the weather is one challenge the cast and crew face. The Josh Duhamel Stage sits in an outdoor amphitheater. Rainy and chilly weather has made it difficult to prepare the stage.

The other challenge the group faces is putting on four shows in two months, making the rehearsal time just over two weeks. Gifford said many lines, music and dances need to be memorized and perfected at a breakneck speed and some students rehearse two or three shows at a time. In addition to choreography and blocking, quick costume changes are something the actors have to keep in mind.

Gifford said the plot and themes of the first show are driving creative choices that reflect onstage. The show is about people who are stuck in their ways and are unhappy and unwilling to make changes until somebody comes in and shakes things up. He said music is what pulls everyone together, and it’s going to be a great way to kick off a season that’s primarily musical theater.

“So this is a jukebox musical that is just Elvis music strung along to a story; we’re not doing Hamlet here. But at the same time, I think that there are values that come forth and good musicals that people can walk away with,” he said.

This show has a cast of 20 individuals onstage, but shows of this size take many people behind the scenes to pull off a successful season. Behind the scene roles include directors, set crews, tech directors, tech designers, costume designers, costume crews, costume head. Front of house personnel are also needed – concessions, ushers and box office workers. Gifford said upwards of 40 people are needed to have a successful show.

“It’s a tough thing. We have to take that dream and make it a reality in just a couple of weeks. That’s what all the people there are doing. It’s what makes it art,” Gifford said.

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