Columbus teacher takes stage in Masquers’ dinner theater production

Rachel Meyer loves an audience. Most days, it’s her fifth graders at Columbus Elementary, but from March 2-25, she’ll be performing as Clara Johnson in Masquers Theatre Company’s production of “A Don’t Hug Me County Fair” at Vannelli’s by the Lake.

Though the classroom and the theater are different settings, Meyer sees parallels in the way she connects to those in front of her.

“For acting, you want to connect so the audience feels something,” she said. “As for teaching, you have to connect with your students to understand how they learn, what’s going on at home that could affect their schooling, and to create a fun, safe environment.”

Like the stage, Meyer also admits that teaching is unpredictable, and that on any given day, she never knows what to expect. The fun part, though, is seeing her fifth graders coming into their own, and the “a-ha” moments of comprehension.

“I love seeing the ‘light bulb’ go off and watch the realization of a student who understands it,”’ she said.

Meyer enjoys bringing stage to school as well through reader’s theater. Her students read aloud each day and she tries to help them “paint a picture with the words to get them hooked on the book.”  She says sometimes this activity feels like an audition to her – like seeing a script for the first time, known as “cold reading.”

Similarly to her students, Meyer was exposed to theater at an early age. She started acting in first grade with the Chisago Lakes-based Prairie Fire Children’s Theater summer program, in which she participated through her teen years.

Her involvement with the stage continued through high school and college, and she even tried her hand directing Chisago Lakes youth last summer with a production of “Alice in Wonderland.” Though Meyer’s theatrical experience is extensive, she still has dream roles yet to play.

“I have always wanted to play Annie in ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ as well as Sandy in ‘Grease’ – but what girl doesn’t?!” she said.

Those parts will have to wait, though, as she reprises the role of Clara, whom she also played in Masquers’ production of “Don’t Hug Me.” Since the whole cast has returned from last year’s show and already knows each other, Meyer says the rehearsal process has had a different dynamic.

“We joke around a lot, which can be good and bad,” she said. “We also try a lot of different things, and we are not afraid to put our ideas out there. On Thursday, we tried one part of a scene four different ways because everyone had an idea of how it could work.”

“A Don’t Hug Me County Fair” opens this Friday, March 2 and runs four weekends. Meyer is excited to get the show up and running, saying that in this northern Minnesota comedy, it’s easy for audiences to laugh at themselves right along with the characters on stage.

“It’s something we can relate to,” she said. Thinking, “‘Oh yeah, I know how cold it can be in winter’ or wanting to move south.”

The production is sponsored in part by the Hallberg Family Foundation and by funds provided by the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council through a grant from the McKnight Foundation and appropriation by the Minnesota Legislature.

Tickets for the dinner theater are available at masquerstheatre.org or by calling 651-464-5823. Prices, which include the meal and show, are $35 for adults, $30 for seniors and students, and $20 for children under 12.

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