DCHS brings history to life, stageIf you’re looking for a true-life drama ripped from the headlines, turn off the TV. Right here in Superior, on air and on stage, life is breathed into the colorful history of Douglas County.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
If you’re looking for a true-life drama ripped from the headlines, turn off the TV. Right here in Superior, on air and on stage, life is breathed into the colorful history of Douglas County.
“I think it’s a great way of retelling history for a generation brought up on TV and YouTube,” said Teddie Meronek, former board member for the Douglas County Historical Society.
The area is steeped in history — people and events that shaped the community and even touched the nation. To flesh out the tales, the historical society is launching a History Theatre. They need actors, writers, directors and technicians to add to the team.
“There are so many stories in Douglas County and Superior that would make great plays,” said Kathy Laakso, director of DCHS.
One already has. Laakso delved into old Evening Telegram articles to write an original play on a 1913 strike. Workers went on strike after an ore dock accident which left two Finnish workers dead and another five injured or maimed.
“What Kathy did with the strike, that was unbelievable,” Meronek said. “I just can’t believe you can write a play from newspaper stories.”
Local actors, with the help of research and direction, gave a voice to the past.
“It’s a whole piece of history,” Meronek said, that has been forgotten. People today don’t realize what past generations gave up so they can have a safe workplace.
“And the response it got, it was great,” Meronek said.
“The Strike” was first performed in 2007 for the opening of a labor exhibit. The cast reassembled to perform for a regional historical society conference later that year. They also gave three sold-out performances at last summer’s Finnfest.
A December event turned the DCHS’ home, the former Vasa Temple, into a 1943 USO Canteen. Bob Hope, the Andrews Sisters and Judy Garland made appearances. Guests dined on Spam and egg salad sandwiches wrapped in wax paper and danced to tunes from the Northland Youth Music Program.
“We had to turn people away, it was so packed in here,” Laakso said.
Retired newscaster Lew Martin broke in with news reports.
“He read like he had 50 years ago,” Meronek said.
The event was such a success the group plans to hold another one this year.
Local history is making a comeback. Ten years ago Mike Simonson aired his first “Radio Superior” spot on KUWS, a type of time capsule to the past. The Wisconsin Public Radio reporter recruited local talents like Martin and Jack McKenna to read ads and news stories to accompany original music from the 1920s-1950s.
“None of us expected it to go as long as it has,” Simonson said in an e-mail interview. “I remember Lew saying he didn’t intend to work radio when he was 90, now he’s 92 and still going strong.”
But he did expect it to be popular.
“It’s a unique concept that is socially relevant for our times and our region,” Simonson said. Every Friday, the “Radio Superior” cast transports listeners to another era. So far, 325 episodes have been produced that cover the years from 1927-1953.
“It’s a great way to teach history,” Laakso said.
Whether on air or on stage, the area provides a deep well of stories ranging from the WWII shipyards and the summer White House to a visit from the Kennedys and prohibition.
“There’s a place for everyone in theater,” Laakso said.
The same can be said of DCHS.
Ed Johnson, a Superior High School teacher, joined the society about four years ago. Soon he latched onto a project — building the new stage with wood from the former Ericsson School. Now he videotapes productions for the DCHS, from plays to fashion shows. The productions are phenomenal, the teacher said.
“It’s been satisfying my curiosity about the town I was born and grew up in, seeing it come to life,” Johnson said. “The icing on the cake is that it’s happening on that stage.”
One story already being researched is that of Lulu Dickenson, a Central High School English teacher who changed the way school board members are chosen in Superior. Laakso plans to write a play that will be performed for the 2010 Central All-Class Reunion.
“She’s got a gift for it and she’s a great director,” Meronek said.
Laakso has a community theater background, having starred in many local productions. She even started a children’s theater company years ago in Texas. In the nine years since she’s been with the historical society, Laakso has been looking for a niche they can fill.
“It kind of fell into place,” she said, citing her background, the excitement recent productions have generated and, of course, the stage.
“Once we saw that stage we knew we had to use it,” Meronek said.
While the board hadn’t considered a History Theatre before, she said, it seems to be the obvious choice.
“It was meant to be,” Meronek said.
Now, they just need a few good men and women to bring history to life.
For more information on the DCHS and its History Theatre, call (715) 392-8449 or download an application from the Web site, www.douglashistory.org, or stop by the headquarters at 1101 John Ave.
To hear “Radio Superior,” tune in to KUWS 91.3 FM every Friday starting at 5:30 p.m.