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Community theatre prospers in Polson

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Nervous anticipation, heart-rate rising, sweaty palms, my mind goes blank. I can’t think of my lines moments before going on in my opening role as David Polson. “Stop!” I think to myself. Take a deep breath. Shake your arms down to your fingertips and relax. 

Thankfully I have Neal Lewing there with me about to go on as well. He stands next to me, towering over my 5’7” frame and leans down to whisper, “I can’t remember where I am,” in one of his many quirky voices. It’s dark and I’m barely able to see the face that goes with the funny voice. I try not to burst into laughter. My beard, attached with spirit gum adhesive, is no match for my growing smile. I have to slap my hands over my mouth and beard to keep it on. And just like that, my nerves are settled and I remember my lines and hear our cue to go on. It’s like swimming. It just comes back to you. And then you wonder why you were scared in the first place. That’s the power of good coaching and directing. 

Now not everybody will feel the same way I felt. Some actors are more experienced and comfortable on stage. But I’m sure everybody goes through their own stage jitters in a way. Even though this is only my third play, I just love community theatre. One of the best parts is getting to meet and work with amazing people who you may not have met before and wouldn’t normally have had the opportunity otherwise to interact with. Regardless of their level of experience, every person in Valley Full of Diamonds was a joy to work with and they were all committed to the show. 

The fun never stops back stage or during rehearsals with actors. Maybe that’s one of the reasons we keep coming back. It’s our drug - that adrenalin you get from performing. The camaraderie and friendship that greets you around every corner is an added bonus.

Valley Full of Diamonds isn’t your average play. It’s about our history, Polson’s history, as well as its natural beauty. There’s something about the mountains, air, water, and especially the people that really sets our area apart from anywhere else in the world. 

Vic Charlo, Poet Laureate and grandson of Chief Charlo (last traditional leader of the Salish Tribe) played himself as he explained to a crowd of youngsters that his brother Louis C. Charlo was one of the fallen soldiers who helped to raise the American flag during the battle at Iwo Jima.

Experienced actor and Salish language teacher Stephen Small Salmon also performed in last weekend’s show. His charisma and humor brightened the stage and the moods of the actors around him.

The energy, enthusiasm and professionalism of Amy Knutson, Joyce Shima, Megan Gran, Mike Lozar and Michael Hewston, were an inspiration to us less-experienced cast members.

Even people who weren’t in the play, like 14-year-old Claudia Hewston, worked quietly behind the scenes to make sure everything went smoothly. Claudia helped watch and organize the youngest cast members and helped older folks down the stairs after performances. Her cheerful, helpful demeanor set a good example for the younger cast members.

The play itself, Valley Full of Diamonds, is particularly special as it is written by the Lewings themselves. The play, music and choreography were all specifically crafted to share Polson’s 100-year history. Originally written more than 25 years ago, the latest performance of Valley Full of Diamonds included new dialogue for the past two and half decades.

For more than 30 years the Lewings have enriched our valley with community theatre. Better known as the Long and Short of it, Neal and Karen are two particularly special diamonds in our valley. They polish each of their performers so that everyone “shines.” In fact, you could say that they’re prospectors by trade. Look out – you could be their next recruit!

It’s amazing to think of all of the lives the Lewings have affected over the past 30 plus years. Think of all the school plays and musicals with our communities’ children they’ve produced, along with all the seasons at the Port Polson Players. I’m sure that over the years they’ve brought millions of smiles to peoples’ faces. I smile easy, so they’ve probably gotten at least 10,000 just from me.  

If you’ve ever seen one of the productions of the Port Polson Players it’s easy to get caught up in all of the fun and overlook all of the work that goes with it.  But don’t be fooled by parlor tricks and smoke and mirrors. Real hard work, practice and planning and more goes into every production. 

Neal and Karen haven’t skipped a beat. Their energy, passion, talent and dedication to community theatre make our valley a better place to live. The final song of the play, “Polson, My Beautiful Home,” was adopted as the town’s official anthem some 25 years ago when the play first opened. It’s a great song and so fitting. This is just one more example of the gifts we receive from our community theatre.

You can become a sponsor of the Port Polson Players if you would like. I’m sure your money will be put to the best possible use. Check out www.portpolsonplayers.com for more information.

If you missed your chance to see Valley Full of Diamonds, you can order a recording of the show for $15 and watch this wonderful cast of 70 actors lay out 100 years of Polson history. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

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