Elie Engel can’t wait for the school year to end. It’s an annual tradition for the 15-year-old to be in 4 Community Theatre’s (4CT) annual summer musical.
“I started just because it was something fun to do,” Engel, who’s been with 4CT for five years, says. “I get to meet really nice people and I’m making new friends.”
4CT is a non-profit organization founded in 1998 in Rockford with the goal to bring quality theater to the communities around Lake Minnetonka that are in western Hennepin and eastern Wright counties. While most community theater volunteers are from the area, some participants commute from as far away as St. Paul and Burnsville.
Kerstin Deters-Engel is Elie’s mother and a 4CT board member. She says people make the journey for 4CT’s reputation.
“We are not the Guthrie; however, we have some exceptionally fantastic artistic directors who build sets that look phenomenal,” she says. “We advertise for directors for the different shows. We pull in directors who have multiple experiences with larger for-profit theaters and they don’t have anything on the calendar for the summer, so they come and do community theater with us.”
One of those is Jack Neveaux. But it wasn’t 4CT’s reputation that pulled him here. He had been bitten by the theater bug as a young man and went back to it in 2005.
“I had a background in theater, but I had given it up for 25 years while my kids were growing up,” Neveaux, a lawyer, says. “I was in the frame of mind to try theater again. I auditioned for a production of Fiddler on the Roof and sort of got hooked again.”
“Sort of” is an understatement. Neveaux directs productions for 4CT every year and also builds sets for different theater groups across the metro. He is 4CT’s technical director and sits on the board. In college, he also directed plays for the Minnesota Children’s Theater.
“We cover a wide geographic area out in the suburbs and provide the extra opportunity here for people who are too far out to go into the city … on a regular basis,” Neveaux says.
4CT’s next production is William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. This is the seventh year in a row that 4CT is mounting a classic play in the spring; previous productions included The Glass Menagerie and Of Mice and Men.
The spring production is aimed at adult participants, because 4CT wants kids to focus on school instead of acting. The summer productions are more family-oriented and cast a wide range of ages.
“We bridge communities and generations,” Deters-Engel says. “Our youngest actor is 7 and our oldest is in her 70s.”
Elie Engel encourages people to audition. “If they’re scared, it’s not that hard to fit in. Everyone is kind of a little nervous, but it’s a great experience. It builds your skills,” she says.
“It’s definitely increased her confidence,” Deters-Engel says of her daughter. “She’s much more sure of herself in front of others. The last couple of summer productions involved quite a bit of dance as well as being musicals. That has helped her tremendously in expanding her capabilities. The third and equally as important thing is the sense of community … It’s great for her to see other kids who have the same interests.”
Same interests and also different ages, which broadens Engel’s world.
“I’m looking forward to reconnecting with the people went to college over the [school] year,” she says, then quickly adds with excitement, “and meeting new people. Every year there are new people.”
Twelfth Night runs in Delano Public Schools in mid-March. The company’s summer musical, Anne of Green Gables, will be in Orono. For ticket information and more details about auditions go to 4communitytheatre.org.