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Delightful ‘moo-sical’ promotes dairy

PD Editor Karen Lee Published on 10 December 2013

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When the curtain lifts, Jacob and Katie, two college-aged sweethearts, can be seen sitting in the hayloft sharing their hopes and dreams.

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As they are children of neighboring farm families, we are soon introduced to different farming philosophies in a charming tale that will fill your lungs with laughter and your heart with warmth.

“Dairymen: The Moo-sical” is the collaborative effort of two sisters: Brenda Strack (script writer) and Melanie Wiltse (score writer).

“Neither of us has a background in playwriting,” Wiltse says, noting she has a music background and teaches piano and harp. Married with three children, she also does some woodworking and writing.

The sisters didn’t grow up on a farm either, but they were involved in 4-H in their hometown of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

In addition to music, Wiltse and her husband do financial counseling for dairy farm families near their current home in Stevens Point, Wisconsin.

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Strack lives in Kewaskum, Wisconsin, with her husband and four children. (Her son Bennett played Jacob in both performances of the musical.)

She works at two family dairy farms – one traditional and one organic. When she was scripting the musical, she decided to keep it mainstream even though there is a whole set of messaging that could be applied to the organic portion of the business.

“I wanted to target the masses,” Strack says.

Living in a rural community and working with dairymen, Strack knows how married they are to their work.

“It is the most demanding and filthy job you will ever fall in love with,” she says.

She, too, quickly fell in love with farming and found herself crafting riddles to the beat of the milking machines to pass the time as she milked cows.

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In time, Strack grew familiar with the many faces of a dairy operation including neighbors, milk haulers, lenders, etc.

“I was really impressed with how much dairy farming is a way of life,” she says. “It was a story that needed to be told, and I wanted to tell it.”

As the story and characters began to build up in her mind, she went to see her son perform in “Cheeseheads: The Musical” in Sheboygan County.

There she listened to the playwright describe his process. She realized she had the start of something and says she thought to herself, “He’s just an ordinary person. If he can do it, why can’t I?”

Once she had the basis of a script, she talked to her sister about composing the musical score.

“I knew she had no idea what she was asking,” Wiltse says. “I wanted to make sure we were far enough in a script that we believed in.”

Once they had it down, Wiltse went to work composing a score that features a variety of styles of music to complement the lyrics: ragtime, jazz, blues, country, polka and more.

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They were writing up until the opening curtain when the show debuted in May.

All told, it took a year and a half, which is fast considering most musicals spend several years in the making.

Along the way, the sisters had many mentors.

A retired music teacher who is in charge of the local arts council helped them get an endorsement and lined up the band for the first performance in Kewaskum.

They worked with the theater department at a local university to find a director and put out a call for auditions.

Strack shared the script with Barbara Kluever, Washington County ag ambassador and member of the dairy promotion committee, who thought it was a worthy venture.

When the plans were in place for the first performance, Kluever worked with the dairy promotion committee to have a cheese tasting during the intermission.

“The dairy farming community has really embraced it,” Strack says. Producers came from hours away to see the first show.

The musical made its second appearance in Stoughton, Wisconsin, on Halloween weekend. They chose this location because Stoughton has the largest FFA in Dane County and it allowed them to tap into Madison’s theater resources.

They hired a well-known director, Michael Bruno, who lined up local talent from the area.

Once again cheese was served to promote dairy products.

Their idea is to use the theater as another avenue to promote agriculture literacy and pride in the community.

“I think if we can get it out and about and get it on tour in the rural communities, we can get a majority of kids to realize ag is cool. We want people to think it is cool to live on a dairy farm. It is hard to keep kids interested [in agriculture],” Strack says.

They are working on aligning themselves with another agricultural group like FFA or Farm Bureau and looking for a financial sponsor to help them deliver the show to more communities.

Ultimately, the sisters are interested in releasing licensing rights for community theater groups to produce the musical on their own, but first they want more people to get to know the story and the values it contains.

The story is about faith, farm and family. “When you leave, your heart is warm,” Strack says.

This is not a musical that only farmers can appreciate and enjoy. It is a story for everyone.

Kluever says the two families are really different, but they love each other. “It is a story that is transferable to all of our lives. You can relate because you know someone like them,” she says.

As the final curtain falls, bidding farewell to another set of lovebirds up in the hayloft, the auditorium is filled with smiles as the audience has enjoyed their first-ever “moo-sical.” PD

PHOTOS
TOP RIGHT: Katie, played by Amanda Friday, and Jacob, played by Ben Strack, converse in their favorite spot, the barn hayloft during a performance of “Dairymen: The Moo-sical.” Photo courtesy of Melanie Wiltse.

MIDDLE RIGHT: “Dairymen: The Moo-sical” is the collaborative effort of two sisters, Melanie Wiltse (left), who wrote the music and score, and Brenda Strack (right), who wrote the script. Photo by Karen Lee.

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Karen Lee
Editor
Progressive Dairyman

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