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New 4-H club focuses on performing arts

Homer's "Odyssey" was transformed into the style of Dr. Seuss, complete with Cyclops, sorceress Circe, Athena and other mythic creatures. Here, Poseidon (Isaac Kern) is angered by the hubris of Odysseus (Josiah Odor, standing in boat) while his crew members (Isaac Knaack, Hank Spangler and Charity Kern) look on.

Hubbard County's newest group of thespians took to the stage over the weekend.

5th-H Performing Arts Club produced Don Zolidis' "The Seuss Odyssey," a speedy and humorous reimagining of Homer's "Odyssey," all in the style of Dr. Seuss.

Production manager Charlie Edwins explained that the idea for a youth theatrical group was inspired by the 4-H Pine Cones Club's years of involvement in "4-H Share the Fun." Youth from counties prepare and perform a play, dance, musical or other act. Each county then nominates two groups to perform at the Minnesota State Fair.

"It's a competition," explained director Faith Kern. "Each county has their own competition and different clubs usually end up writing their own scripts to promote 4-H. Whatever wins at county level gets to go to state and compete."

Kern has been in 4-H "forever," since third or fourth grade.

Realizing the Pine Cones 4-H Club was totally immersed in Share the Fun, Kern and Edwins decided to make a new 4-H club with theatre as the focus.

5th-H Performing Arts Club now boasts roughly 35 members.

"We have kids from different 4-H clubs and then kids who are only in 5th-H," Kern said.

Members are involved in acting, backstage, tech, props, set building and costumes. The youngest is in kindergarten, while the oldest is a high school senior.

"The Seuss Oyssey" was 5th-H's first-ever production.

The club began rehearsing in mid-February, usually three to four days a week. Finding rehearsal space proved challenging. Fern said the club bounced between the Park Rapids Library and Northwoods Bank community room.

"That was our biggest frustration because we had to haul these big props everywhere," Edwins added.

They selected "The SeussOdyssey" for its humor, action and props.

"It kind of fit our group," Kern said.

5th-H played to nearly sold out performances Thursday through Sunday at Long Lake Theater. Freewill donations were accepted, but the club also received financial support from the Park Rapids Lakes Area Arts Council, Park Rapids American Legion, Park Rapids Rotary Club, Park Rapids Lions Club, Arvig and Hubbard County 4-H.

Their main goal is to introduce theatre to youth.

"I can name a few kids in particular who were, during the audition, too shy to do their auditions. They had to have their back turned, and they're on stage every day now," Edwins said. "The whole point is to see them improve and teach them something."

For most of the troupe, it's an entirely new experience.

"I think we have maybe three or four that have done anything this big," Kern remarked.

What has been the response?

"They love it," she said.

"The chemistry of the group is insane," Edwins agreed.

"We have the best tech crew I've ever seen in my life," Kern said. "The kids get along. The parents are great. A very involved group."

"A lot of positive vibes," Edwins said.

They are thrilled with the positive response from the community as well.

"Our next big show will be in the fall," Edwins said.

They anticipate producing two to three shows per year.

"We are willing to explore other things, too, like we discussed smaller shows that a kid may write or a variety show or maybe a video," he said.

To join 5th-H, contact Hubbard County 4-H Program Coordinator Mari Jo Lohmeier at 732-3391 or