MANTORVILLE —The walls of the Mantorville Opera House have heard more boos than most any theater in the entire state of Minnesota.
The actors and directors of the Mantorville Theatre Company wouldn’t have it any other way.
In fact, as the 43rd season of summertime melodramas opens Friday at the Opera House, the cast of the first production, “Double Trouble in Soda, South Dakota, or The Two Sides of Sheriff Tom,” will be mighty disappointed if the audience does not boo and hiss the on-stage villain and cheer for the hero who saves the day.
It’s all in great fun, of course.
“I’ve never known a melodrama not to be fun,” said Denise Ruemping, who wrote and is directing “Double Trouble.”
“Sometimes you get these crazy audiences, they’ll shout out one-liners,” Ruemping said. “We encourage that. It makes it more fun.”
Ruemping, who is education director at Rochester Civic Theatre, started acting in Mantorville melodramas when she was still in high school. Since then, she has returned to the stage on occasion, has written four melodramas and directed three of them.
Melodramas are simple plays, really, with obvious villains, damsels in distress and heroes. The shows can be fun for all ages.
“These are family friendly,” said Melisa Ferris, marketing director for the Mantorville Theatre Company. “You can bring a kid of any age to these shows and they don’t have to sit quiet. They’re fun, they’re short, they’re inexpensive. It’s a good family outing.”
No, the plays are not Shakespeare. But they are easy to follow, and you’ll have no trouble picking out the good guys and the bad guys.
“Part of what makes melodramas so fun is they’re so over the top,” Ruemping said. “The people in the show are caricatures. The heroine is not just sweet and innocent, she’s overly sweet and innocent. It’s like watching cartoon characters on stage.”
Audiences love it. They’ve been returning to Mantorville for four decades. And the theater company must be doing something right to have survived so long on a shoestring budget.
“We are an all-volunteer army,” said Ferris, who got involved at Mantorville 10 years ago after moving to the area from Atlanta. Directors and playwrights receive a small stipend, but nearly everyone else involved in putting on the melodramas is working for free. “It’s a love for the art form,” Ferris said.
New actors, writers, directors and volunteers are arriving all the time. “When I looked at the audition list this year, there were at least 30 names on there that were new,” Ferris said.
The summer melodramas are regarded as a good place for new actors to give being on stage a try.
“It’s only a three-week rehearsal commitment, and then three-day performance weekends,” Ferris said. “It’s not hardcore.”
“You just relax and have a lot of fun with it,” Ruemping said.
There’s nothing melodramatic about that formula.