- Associated Press - Monday, February 8, 2016

WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) - Eric Oines has one tough act to follow.

B. Michael Quale, the driving force behind Williston’s wildly successful Entertainment Inc! community theater troupe for the last 35 years, 23 of which he served as artistic director, is stepping down. Taking his place is Oines, a veteran of community and dinner theater in Bismarck and the Twin Cities, who came to Williston 15 months ago with his wife, who is working for the Williston Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

It was at that church that Oines struck up a conversation with Greg Sinclair, the Bond Treasurer for the Entertainment Inc! board, who informed him Quale was retiring and Oines ought to throw his hat in the ring.

Oines, who has a bachelor’s degree in theater from the University of South Dakota, won the approval of the board, and he’s spent the better part of the last two months, not so much trying to replace a legend, but to carry on Quale’s legacy.

“It’s been very positive,” Oines said. “It’s a viable local theater. It needs new blood, but only to enhance what is already there.”

Quale will continue to work with the company he helped build so long ago, but in a reduced capacity. He shares the board’s confidence in Oines, the Williston Herald (https://bit.ly/1X3VqNv ) reported.

“Hopefully the next couple of generations, like the last several, will still be able to experience live theater of high quality in Williston,” Quale said. “It’s a group effort, but it needs leadership and (Oines) is the leader that can do that. He has the passion for theater, which is great, and he brings experience and education and involvement, so it should be a smooth transition.”

Oines inherits the director’s role at the midpoint of the 2015-2016 season with Christmas shows, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” and “It’s a Wonderful Life,” recently completed.

Soon casting will begin for the fourth show of the six-show season, “Sex Please We’re Sixty,” a farcical comedy set to hit the stage at the Old Armory Feb. 11-15.

Following that show is “Cabaret,” running from April 1-4 and 7-10, and “The Miss Firecracker Contest,” running from May 19-23.

By late March, Oines plans to present his list of preferred shows to the board for approval. He indicated that one of them would be “The Foreigner” by playwright Larry Shue, which Oines considers one of his favorites.

Oines wouldn’t elaborate on any other shows that will be on his wish list, but he did say the musical he’d most like to put on is “The Man of La Mancha,” which, he said, would be especially convenient at the Old Armory because its high ceilings on stage afford space for the tall staircase the show’s dungeon scenes require.

As for the shows he’s inherited, Oines likes what he has to work with.

“I don’t dislike any of them, I like them in varying amounts,” Oines said. “I didn’t remember how dark (Cabaret) was. It’s a tragedy and it ends badly, but there’s a lot of great music to take you there till the end. It’s well worth doing.”

Oines said the auditorium at the Old Armory comfortably seats 150, as it did during the second weekend of October’s “Sweeney Todd” run, but he’d like to see it expand to as many as 400, which, he believes, would be a tight fit, yet still not leave a bad seat in the house.

Oines knows that to generate those types of crowds, it’s imperative to choose shows that are known not just by theater buffs, but by the public at large.

“There’s a strong member base here. People buy tickets year after year and we have good connections locally with businesses,” Oines said. “The better known shows here drew well, and that’s true anywhere you go. People would rather understand what they’re going to see. You’re going to get your base, but to get those extra tickets, you’ve got to know what people want. Williston is surprisingly open to the performing arts. It’s not just Entertainment Inc!, there’s two dance companies in town and a lot of opportunities to enjoy the performing arts.”

Somewhere down the line in his time as artistic director, Oines would like to broaden the Williston theater scene to include dinner theater, which he ran successfully in Bismarck, running a company called the “Players Theatre of Bismarck,” also known as “The Players.”

“I think that’s a really great way to see a play,” Oines said. “I’ll talk to the board about it - perhaps not for the first season, but I can get people thinking about it.”

Oines said his directing style differs somewhat from Quale’s, in that his expectations are more strict and exacting than his more free-wheeling predecessor, but, he added, one approach isn’t necessarily better than the other.

“It’s different people and different styles and that’s the truth - it comes down to style,” Oines said. “As far as skill level, (Quale) has directed more shows than I have and he’s done a lot more than me in the last 10 years.”

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Information from: Williston Herald, https://www.willistonherald.com

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