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Matt Sauer ’17 in a Sauk per­for­mance of “Escanaba in da Moon­light.” Courtesy

 

Starting this weekend, Sauk Theater in Jonesville is putting on a pro­duction of Jeff Daniels’ “Escanaba in da Moon­light,” which will run through Feb. 18.

“The last time we did this show was ten years ago,” Trinity Bird, the exec­utive director of the Sauk, said. “Now, it’s back by popular demand. Deer hunting is huge around here, the play is set in Michigan, and it’s just really funny. It was a no-brainer to do this season.”

“Escanaba in da Moon­light” is the story of a Michi­gander named Reuben Soady, who is trying to bag his first buck and avoid a family jinx.

Pro­duc­tions at the Sauk — including this play — are entirely vol­unteer pro­duc­tions, with members of the com­munity stepping in to help with every­thing from set design to acting.

“The best thing about com­munity theater is that everyone wants to be here,” Bird said.

Hillsdale College admis­sions coun­selor Matt Sauer ’16 is per­forming a park ranger in his first pro­duction with the Sauk, and said that it has been an eye-opening expe­rience.

“It feels great to be back in acting,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed working with the people. It’s close to home for me, but most of my cast­mates are driving a lot further than me to be here. I appre­ciate everyone’s com­mitment, and I feel very wel­comed and grateful.”

Sauer said that during this pro­duction, he’s learned that theater really can be a lifelong pursuit, even outside of hubs like New York or Chicago.

He also said that com­munity theater is very dif­ferent from the col­le­giate pro­duc­tions he’s been in, such as the Tower Players’ 2015 musical “The Drowsy Chap­erone.”

“For example, you’re acting with people who are playing char­acters their own age — you cer­tainly don’t do that in high school, and you mostly don’t in college,” Sauer said. “Here, we have actual grown adults who fit the description of the char­acter and have a very healthy dose of real-world expe­rience.”

Others involved in the pro­duction said they rec­i­p­ro­cated Sauer’s warm feelings.

“The thing that’s great about Matt in this show is that he’s so earnest,” Bird said. “He plays his ridiculous char­acter who thinks he’s seen God. When Matt’s on the stage, you just believe him — and if the actor wasn’t good, Matt’s part could just bomb.”

In addition to Sauer, four of the six actors in “Escanaba in da Moon­light” are new to the Sauk Theater. One such castmate is Nathan Drumhiller, the pro­prietor of the Grate Haus fire­place and stove store in Jackson. He plays the lead char­acter, Reuben Soady, and this is his first time acting on stage.

“I guess you could call it my adult the­atrical debut,” he said. “I always wanted to do a play, but between owning my farm and my business I’ve never really had the time. My fiancé really encouraged me to come down here and do this, because we some­times watch the movie version of ‘Escanaba in da Moon­light’ before deer season starts.”

Both Sauer and Drumhiller said they have enjoyed their expe­rience so far with “Escanaba in da Moon­light” and the Sauk. Despite some of the chal­lenges asso­ciated with the limited resources of com­munity theater, the cast and crew said they are very proud of the pro­duction they are staging.

“We’re not a pro­fes­sional theater spending mil­lions of dollars on a show, but we like to see that as an oppor­tunity to do big shows on our stage,” Bird said. “Shows that people will see and ask them­selves ‘How on earth did they do that?’”

Sauer said that Hillsdale College stu­dents should come see “Escanaba in da Moon­light” because their atten­dance would be a witness to the inte­gration of the college with the larger com­munity.

“Plus, it gets you off campus for a couple hours for a good study break,” he said. “It’s not very highbrow, but the pure comedy and escapism is a great part of theater — which should be fun!”

The show is spon­sored by the Hillsdale County Board of Realtors, and tickets are available online at TheSauk.org.