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‘Uff da’

Hanska’s Syttende Mai celebrates 25 years of the annual show

May 10, 2009
Story by Michael Gassett

The little town of Hanska has been celebrating Syttende Mai - Norwegian Independence day - off and on since 1900.

Twenty-five years ago, the festival got a big boost when Alicia Helling and a band of Norwegian brethren decided Syttende Mai needed a show.

"That first year in the school we had an evening of entertainment," Helling said. "We put something together and did a little singing. It just got bigger and bigger. We had more and more people come in."

Article Photos

The cast of this year’s Syttende Mai show in “Songs of the Silver Screen.”

That first year they did the "Sound of Music" in the Hanska School auditorium with one performance in front of an audience of about 300.

"It was kind of a variety show then too," Helling said. "But we did mostly stuff from the "Sound of Music."

The next year, the show got bigger when they did a USO show. In 1987, there were two shows for the first time and the theme was "An Evening of Entertainment." The show continued to grow and by 1988 there were three shows with the theme "Country Canteen."

The show kept getting bigger and more and more performances were needed to accomodate the larger crowds that wanted to see the shows.

This year, it is even bigger with seven shows. Performances start Thursday with two shows at 5:30 and 8 p.m.

The theme this year is "Songs From the Silver Screen" to commemorate their 25th anniversary.

Eight decades worth of movies will be performed. Selections include songs by Nelson Eddy, Jeanette MacDonald, Rosemary Clooney, Fred Astaire, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans to name a few. Dapper Dogs perform a song about Cruella DeVil from "101 Dalmations." Children with the help of Dr. Doolittle will "Talk to the Animals." Songs will also be performed from "Grease" and "Mama Mia."

"We had well over two hours of material," director Betti Kamolz said. "There are a lot of favorites of different people. It was hard trying to find the right music to do. We just tried to settle on the songs that would be most familiar."

Betti's husband Ken was in charge of finding the music.

"I just did a search for movie music and sheet music supply on line," he said. "There is just so much material out there and the hardest part was cutting it down."

The next step is trying to decide who sings what.

"We pretty much all volunteer," Betti Kamolz said. "We have worked with these people for several years so you kind of get an idea of what they can do."

Helling never expected the show would go on for 25 years.

"We never thought we would make it through that first year," she said. "It always felt like something new every time and it just made it fun."

After years of performances in the school auditorium, the show was moved to the large storage shed at the Farmer's Coop in 1994, which held 1,000 seats. Volunteers spent several days hauling the grain from the building to get it cleaned up for the shows. The show returned to the school the next year and continued there for the next several years.

This year, the show has a more intimate feel as it will be performed in the upper level of the Hanska Community Center for the first time.

"It started on a small stage and now we are back on a very small stage," Betti Kamolz said.

"We started on a little small stage at the school," Helling said. "The show continued to grow so we continued to add. The shows got bigger and bigger and better and better I would say."

They thought with this being the 25th anniversary it would be better to have it in the Community Center.

"We kind of thought with songs from the silver screen, what better to place to have it," Helling said. "Years ago, they would bring in traveling groups here to perform. Sometimes they would bring in and show movies."

Four people have been in the show the whole 25 years Marlys and David Olstad and Franz Helling. Algat Bloomquist will again be back as the emcee.

"He has been doing it for just about 25 years too," Helling said. "He wasn't our first year and I think there was just one other year we didn't have him. He has more stories than you can shake a stick at and he does it so well."

Alicia Helling started out as just a director but steadily moved into the role as a performer too later on.

"It was my job to round up people to be in the show," Alicia Helling said. "I kept telling them, 'oh, you can do this. It's just easy go up there and sing.' Well after the second year or so someone came up to me and said, 'you talk pretty smart but you haven't sang up there yet.' So I guess I had to start performing too.

"It's a once in a lifetime thing, except it's been going on for 25 years. It's fun and it's for the community."

They started collaborating on this year's show in January and by February they started practicing.

"This year it's at that point where you think, 'we are never going to pull this off," Betti Kamolz said. "But after one more practice you think, 'maybe it will.'

"It's going to be a fabulous show," Helling said. "Sometimes I wonder how in the world it's going to get done and it just comes. Every year I hear, 'I don't know how you did it, I thought last year you could never top it but you did this year.' This year is going to be just as wonderful."



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