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The Heron Players - Outstanding in their field of corn

The dinner tables are cleared, the mysterious bumps and bulges in the closed red plush curtains have ceased and the Heron Players begin to clap in cadence and sing:

“We’re the Heron Players, the misery slayers,

You know we’re gonna’ take on the world one day.

Got makeup on our face—ain’t no disgrace.

Spreading laughter all over the place.

We will, we will rock you, rock you

We will, we will rock you, rock you

So you came to watch a play, I just want to say,

That we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Got make up on our face, ain’t no disgrace.

We will, we will rock you, rock you

We will, we will rock you. Rock You!”

The audience feels a surge of excitement. The curtain opens and a world of cornpone floods forth. Maturing from the brainchild of Kathy Hale in 1995, the Heron Players produce two wildly entertaining plays each year to raise funds for the Heron Community Center.

In 1993, the Noxon School Board suggested selling the Heron school property; four acres, one small rental house, a converted teacherage holding the privately-funded Laurie Hill Library, a brick building containing four classrooms, and a large, wooden 100-year old building housing a gym and lunch room. The school and gym had been boarded shut for nearly ten years after the school mill levy had failed, for the third time, to pass. Most people in the community were still angry at each other over this contentious choice. It was one of those nasty, cut-off-your- own-nose-to-spite your-face battles and the community was still shattered. Only a common threat could reunite the small town, and the threat of forever losing the resource energized the local population. They organized, secured a 301 nonprofit status, attended endless, sometimes contentious school board meetings, and followed the vision of Stella Sellmer. She had faith that the school board would give the property to Heron.

February 1994 brought a victorious crowd, armed with crowbars to reopen the buildings. Folks soon realized that the battle had just begun. It takes a lot of money to maintain old buildings, to create a kitchen that follows state food safety standards, to pay insurance. Volunteer labor only goes so far. While local guys could replace the roof, materials had to be purchased.

Enter Kathy Hale with her brainchild: present a play and charge admission.

That first play, Flora’s Flower Shop, was received so well a group of shameless show-offs organized themselves as the Heron Players. Realizing that serving food would bring in more money, the Players found themselves in the kitchen. Members were creating sets, cooking pot roasts, serving patrons, and learning lines. Since some of the best cooks, such as Jo McLinden, were also the best actresses, the cooking chores were eventually turned over to local caterers.

The Heron Players have presented 26 Dinner Theaters. Every October and every April five performances of the home grown cornpone is served up to audiences. Each play is written by the actors, and often rewritten as practices continue. Every play demonstrates the Heron connection: gangsters stranded when a mud slide wrecks a train at Heron in the 20s; Kings of the Heron realm joust, characters congregate at the Heron Diner and graduates connect at the Heron High School Reunion.

The audience is not expected to merely observe, often the audience is part of the show. In the USS Heron, some of the audience was encouraged by Helga, the authoritarian activities officer, “Ve haff our ways,” to do the limbo. In Speakeasy, Don’t Mumble patrons had to show their identification to faux FBI agents. October plays have held costume contests with prizes for the winners.

The gags are hilarious; my favorite occurred in medieval Heron when the town idiot, always carrying a headless, plucked rubber chicken, suddenly threw it at jousting kings, yelling,” Foul Play!” A close second would have to be when the hillbilly cruise winner enters stage right wearing a toilet seat protector around her neck. “There’s plenty of lobster bibs in the bathroom.”

With half the money raised going directly to the Heron Community Center, the rest has gone into remodeling the old gym to create a welcoming theater. Gone are the mesh screens across the dirty windows, the water-stained ceiling tiles, and the mildewed bathrooms. A balcony supports the lighting technicians, sound and video equipment. A permanent stage, floor length drapes and good lighting has created not only a pleasant theater; the building serves Senior Citizen events, reunions, parties, dances and retreats. During a train wreck, volunteers provided meals and cots in the building for emergency workers. It has become the heart of Heron.

The Spring Dinner Theater, The Regina Travelogues, demonstrated a mature and talented cast performing at their best. The sets, created by Debbie Lyman, were the most sophisticated yet. A plane wreck, denoted by lights, sounds and shadow, and a sinking boat proved that the crew has full control of fantasy.

The Heron Players are like Iowa farmers checking their crop: Outstanding in their field of corn.

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Lou Springer Lou Springer lives in Heron when not out on a river somewhere.

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