- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 15, 2017

DAYTON, Wyo. (AP) - Tongue River High School band and vocal instructor Jason McArthur, his wife Joy and his assistant Rosy Henderson have written a musical called “The Great Tie Flume” that includes six original songs and reprises.

“I always thought writing a play would be a neat class project to do with music and theater kids,” McArthur told The Sheridan Press (https://bit.ly/2lcAhGT). “This is the first one I’ve ever done, so if this is the right or wrong process I’ve no idea. We found a good story that’s worth telling and ran with it.”

The idea for the play came out of a discussion between McArthur and Tongue River Middle School assistant principal Pete Kilbride, regarding what kind of play the program planned for this year. McArthur said he was thinking about writing an original show. Kilbride suggested the tie flume, a man-made slide used to float and transport logs, and that is how the process started.

The story follows the events surrounding the tie flume in Dayton, with one of the main characters based on former Dayton Mayor Susan Wissler, who was the first woman mayor in the United States.

“Honestly, I don’t think she had anything to do with the tie flume, historically, but she was somebody of real significance,” McArthur said. “By looking at historical figures and learning who they were and what they did, characters for the play began to emerge.”

After the characters were created, the story line came next, complete with heroes and villains and a love story woven in.

The play starts with Susan as a young girl with one of her best friends who ends up being her love interest later. She and her family head out West and there is an accident where her parents are killed, leaving Susan on her own. Years later she winds up at a logging camp in Dayton, trying to figure out how to make her way through the world, which would have been very difficult for a woman by herself during that time period. Soon she ends up running into her childhood friend at the camp.

“The hardest part of the writing process is deciding what parts of all the research to put in and what to leave out, because you can only fit so much into a two-hour show,” McArthur said.

McArthur began writing last summer and brought the finished story into the classroom, where he and the choir students started putting the play together. They mapped out the events and characters, created an outline and started writing the script. The process started in late August and was finished Jan. 2.

“We put in a lot of really long days and nights and got the script finished,” McArthur said. “We built the tie flume slide over Christmas break and started building some of our other sets. It’s been a whirlwind.”

Actor and set designer TRHS choir student senior Grant Keller, who will be playing foreman John McShane, said that the construction of the set required building each part one piece at a time.

“A lot of this stuff you can’t build off one standard design, you have to build it custom for the job it’s going to have,” Keller said. “It’s a lot of figuring it out as you go along.”

Actress TRHS choir student senior Libby Heimbaugh, who will play Grandma Susan, added that some parts of the set, like the tower, were used before in plays based on the movies “Frozen” and “Hercules.” The parts screw together and unscrew so they can be rearranged on the stage and can be painted to meet the needs of each performance.

“They are kind of like big plywood Legos,” Heimbaugh said.

There will be more than 70 students participating in the play. Try-outs were held for the main roles and singing solos. Everyone in the choir class was cast for a character in the play, stagehands, lighting and sound. Other students who were not in choir but wanted to participate were given roles as well, including elementary and middle school students.

“We found a way to get everybody involved that wanted to be,” McArthur said. “That’s what is so neat about writing your own show. We can add characters and have the ability to use input from the students. It’s neat to watch the kids’ reactions when they have an idea, you put it in the play and it works.”

For his part as foreman John McShane, Keller said he is getting into character by using his dad, a construction foreman, as his example.

Actress TRHS choir student junior Nikki Perfetti, who will be playing Daisy, said her character is at the bar a lot and has a bunch of boy-crazy girlfriends. She said she feels it will be easy to bring her character out by just having fun with the part.

Heimbaugh said McArthur modeled her character, Grandma Susan, after his grandmother. She has been studying her grandparents’ mannerisms and speech, and listens to stories McArthur tells her about his grandmother to assist getting into character.

Perfetti commented about how amazing it is to be a part of the debut performance, being the first actors on the set.

“It is incredible to think that someday others will do this play, going off of how we did it and they will base it off of our characters,” Keller added.

Heighbaugh said the performance is special because being an original, there is nothing to compare it to so it is portrayed how each actor pictures it in his or her mind.

Between now and opening night on March 7, staging is half done and the group needs to finish choreographing all the music. Once that is complete, they’ll polish it up and get ready to perform.

“We have two months to prepare the whole thing, so it’s a little tight, but we’ll make it,” McArthur said.


Information from: The Sheridan (Wyo.) Press, https://www.thesheridanpress.com/

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