click image to zoomSubmitted photo It started with a musical about cheese. Brenda Strack was commuting her son back and forth to rehearsals for the Door County, Wisc., musical, Cheeseheads, in which he was starring. It takes place in a cheese factory.
Strack, who picks up a few milking shifts at a local dairy, realized that the rhythm of the milking machines, cows chewing cud, and other notes on a dairy farm lent itself to a musical. After some thought, she realized there had never been a musical done about dairy farmers, their struggles, and life on a farm. She grew up in rural Wisconsin with her family, but only recently learned the dairy lifestyle.
But, a musician she is not, according to Strack's sister, Melanie Wiltse, who we talked to Wednesday in-between giving piano lessons and the final dress rehearsal of the season for Dairymen the Moosical. Wiltse was happy to write the music and score.
"My sister realized through her milking that there were some interesting personalities and situations in dairy farming," Wiltse explained. "Those situations seemed to fit well for a musical."
The rare thing about Dairymen, is that many of the parts – like the 92-year-old dairy farmer who just won't give up – are mostly for older actors, Wiltse said. That bodes well for community theatre, where the actors are usually more seasoned. Usually, musicals consist of parts written for the younger side of the age spectrum. When older person parts are involved, they're typically younger people made-up to be older people, Wiltse said.
"We have a few people who are close to the age of 80. And many of our 'dairymen' are middle-aged guys with middle-aged wives," she explained. "This cast numbers 20 people, although the play can be performed with 12. To actually have age-appropriate people playing the parts is really fun."
The lead role, the 92-year-old farmer as head of 3-generation farm, is actually played by a retired dairy farmer, whose wife is also in the show.
The idea was to give people a fun experience at a musical comedy, while educating people about the gallon of milk that goes into the store, "Because nobody works harder than dairy farmers," Wiltse added. "I want people to go home realizing this isn't just a career, but a lifestyle if you choose to be a dairy farmer."
The story involves a college-aged couple in love deciding whether they should return home to the farm, and calculating how many years they'll be working before their first vacation – hitting home for many dairy producers.
The show has performances running May 30, 31, and June 1, followed by special performances for the Regional Farm Technology days August 10-14, all at the Stevens Point, Wisc., high school.