Perpich Arts High School Musical Theater Department Presents: “Quilters”
March 10, 2023
The Perpich Arts High School Musical Theater Ensemble opened their spring semester show, “Quilters”, on Thursday, March 9, 2023. The show runs through Saturday, March 11.
“Quilters” is the story of a pioneer woman, Sarah, and her daughters as they face life in the American frontier. Rather than a straightforward storyline, the musical is presented as a series of beautiful tales and tableaux matched with musical numbers, each presenting an aspect of frontier life or womanhood. The patches or blocks show “girlhood, marriage, childbirth, spinsterhood, twisters, fire, illness, and death.” These patches are ultimately put together to form one dramatic musical tableau.
In 1977, Patricia Cooper Baker and Norma Bradley Allen wrote a book called “The Quilters: Women and Domestic Art”. The book contains real stories about pioneer women, centering on the community built around quilting. Barbara Damashek and Molly Newman turned it into the musical “Quilters” in 1982.
Anja Wuolu from the Sun Post wrote an article about the show. Here is an excerpt:
To get ready for the show, the cast had to learn a lot about womanhood. Scenes discuss reproductive rights, relationships and pioneer life. One scene depicts childbirth. The school coordinated with birth doula Liz Hochman so the students could learn about the birthing process.
“It’s a cool story just about the lives of women during that time and the influence quilting had on individuals but also the community as a whole,” senior from Park Rapids Nadia Yliniemi said, “I feel like all of us are taking this to heart.”
The students appear indeed to be taking it to heart. As they study and portray the community of women onstage, they are becoming a community of women in real life. To acquire all the many quilts needed for the show, the thespians asked everyone they knew for donations. School faculty, quilting guilds, friends and family from the area lent their quilts for this production.
When one student had to leave the production due to a family emergency, the rest of the cast worked with the director to revise the script. The main Sarah character changed from having seven daughters to six.
The students all play multiple roles. Rachel Steen, a senior from Morris plays Sarah, the mother who is quilting for her seven — now six — daughters. She also plays a few preachers and a doctor.
“The doctor is difficult because he’s a man and it’s in a pretty heavy scene in the show,” Steen said. “He’s essentially telling a woman that he can’t help her, and that it’s her fault that she’s pregnant.”
Steen said the doctor role is challenging both due to the serious nature of the scene and the antagonistic role she has to perform. But the challenge has been good for Steen,
“It’s definitely given me a chance to expand what I know as theater and what I’ve done as theater,” Steen said. “I would do it again if I could.”
Though it takes place in the past, many of the subjects are very relevant today.
“I know abortion and pregnancy is a big one,” Yliniemi said. “And community and women’s rights and all those kinds of things I feel like are very pertinent.”
At Perpich High School, the student body is all juniors and seniors on two-year art tracks. They take regular classes in the morning and focus on their art in the afternoon. Everyone in “Quilters” is part of the musical theater track.
“I really like to sing and I like acting, so [musical theater] has both of those,” junior Lillian Baker from Burnsville said. “I think I want to continue it throughout my life, but I don’t want it as a career, (because) I wanna be a veterinarian.”
”Being in an environment where other people appreciate your art form and other art forms as much as you do too is just kind of a great environment to be in,” Yliniemi said. “Creative juices get flowing, you can bounce ideas after one another. … I just love it.”
For director Kevin Werner Hohlstein, it was important to find a production that could “honor the cast.”
“We’re in an interesting space,” Hohlstein said, “We have a full female-presenting, female-identifying program. … It’s not very often you have a show where you can cast only women in it.”
Partially in response to last summer’s historic Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe vs Wade and partially because the musical theater program happened to be all women, they settled on “Quilters” for this spring musical.
Hohlstein was drawn to this production because it showcases the importance of “the land of domestic arts.”
“You make a blanket for someone, you give someone a blanket, it’s more than just keeping them warm,” Hohlstein said. “There’s care.”