The farmers market--a place full of peaches, power struggles, pork, competitive clogging, curds, comedy and...marshmallows?
The audience will find these and more when “Farmers Market the Musical” makes its world premiere on the stage at the Prickett’s Fort State Park Amphitheatre on June 28-30 and July 4-6. Shows start at 8 p.m. each evening. Reserve seats are available online at www.fairmontstate.edu/tickets or by calling the Box Office at (304) 367-4240; tickets are $13 each. For more information about Prickett’s Fort State Park, visit www.prickettsfort.org.
Fairmont State University’s Town & Gown Summer Theatre is presenting the musical comedy written by Rob Hartmann and Katie Kring. “Farmers Market the Musical” is a light-hearted look at the characters who sell, buy and operate the Sunnyfield Township Farmers’ Union.
The comedy loosely is inspired by the behind-the-farmstand power struggles at a real farmers market in Missouri. An idealistic young vendor, Marsha, who just wants to sell her baked goods and homemade marshmallows, is run out of the market by Mr. Buffalo and his cronies, who rule the market with an iron fist. The vendors (all known by the name of their products: Peaches, Honey, Curds, Chicken, Candles and Amish Jams) come together to fight injustice, form a new market and bring produce to the people.
Fairmont State has a long history of partnering with Prickett’s Fort State Park to provide high-quality outdoor theatre performances. Jeffrey Ingman, Associate Professor of Theatre and Coordinator of the Department of Communication and Theatre Arts, teaches acting and directing at FSU and will direct the world premiere of “Farmers Market the Musical.”
“We were looking for a show to perform at Prickett’s Fort that fit the term ‘locally grown.’ I learned from a co-worker that Rob Hartmann and Katie Kring were working on ‘Farmers Market.’ They videoed a reading of the play in Missouri, and when we looked at it, we realized it totally fit the bill,” Ingman said
Hartmann and Kring wrote the book, lyrics, and music for “Farmers Market the Musical.”
Kring is a baker, artist, farmer and writer-of-musicals, based in Springfield, Mo. She received her MFA in Musical Theatre Writing at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and her BFA in Performing Arts Technology the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. When she’s not writing, she runs a successful baking company, KatieMade, which specializes in artisan and natural foods, and works at Millsap Farm. She also creates and sells one-of-a kind pysanky eggs.
Hartmann is currently on the faculty of the Graduate Musical Theater Program at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where he received his MFA. His undergraduate degree, a BFA in Musical Theater performance, is from the University of Arizona in Tucson, where he grew up. His work has been produced across the country, including in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Minneapolis, Seattle, Nashville, Dayton and other cities. His musical “Macabaret,” written with Scott Keys, has had multiple productions in the U.S. and premiered in Madrid, Spain, in 2012.
Hartmann is also an orchestrator and arranger, whose work has been heard in Carnegie Hall and Avery Fisher Hall in New York. When not teaching in NYC or traveling to work on various productions, he makes his home base in Baltimore. There he is currently a partner in a cooperatively owned cafe, Charmington’s.
“Both Katie and I are composers and lyricists. The play was a real melding of the minds, talking and writing lyrics together. We would play the banjo or keyboard to figure out a tune or go for a walk and work it out,” Hartmann said. Kring wrote most of the dialogue. It was the first collaboration for the pair and it won’t be the last.
Ingman called the music “fantastic,” adding, “We would have full houses every night if they heard only the music. It’s a mix of blues, country music, Disney sounds. Rob has chosen to stay on as our musical director, so now we have this prolific composer working with us. It’s very exciting.”
Although the original book set the farmers market in Missouri, Hartmann and Kring revised the setting to celebrate West Virginia farmers markets.
“We found a lot of interesting parallels between the Ozarks, where Springfield (Mo.) is located, and Fairmont. It’s the perfect place to be doing the show. We changed the Missouri references to local references. That’s what so great about the play--it can be tailored to specific locations,” Hartmann said.
The musical is based on Kring’s own experiences as a baker and entrepreneur in a real farmers market.
“There’s a lot going on behind the kale, a lot of drama. In a market, there are very independent, business-minded people, and with that comes a certain amount of conflict. A lot of farmers have a lot of competition going on which brings some level of drama. They are people who believe strongly in what they are doing and how they are doing it. Power issues come into play. Very strong personality types take things over and run things their way, a way that benefits them and their friends,” Kring said.
She noted that the play “is definitely a light-hearted piece of entertainment with a lot of truth to it. Farming is an amazing human activity in which we feed and nourish each other. In a farmers market, you know the people who grow the food, who bake your bread. You shake the hand that feeds you, get to know the people who are harvesting your dinner. That’s a sacred relationship.”
Added Hartmann, “It's very much a comedy, conceived as an audience-pleaser. It’s musical theatre, so it gives the actors the chance to do their thing.”
Kring said the play has scenes that are ridiculous and “over the top” situations that are crazy but actually happened in her own life. Interspersed are moments that are intimate and real. “People will have a blast,” she predicted.
The cast is comprised of community volunteers and FSU students and faculty.
“We have a phenomenal cast, the best cast ever at Prickett’s Fort. We haven’t had this much fun in a summer,” Ingman said. “We had a huge turnout for the audition. Rob came to the audition. What was really great and a real compliment to the community is that Rob said, ‘I had no idea you had this kind of talent here.’ ”
The cast are regulars of Town & Gown Summer Theatre, Hartmann pointed out. “In this show, everyone gets to shine. We wanted it to be locally grown, especially for this cast,” he said.
The cast includes Sarah Rowan as Marsha; Brandon Lee as Richard; Joshua Brooks as Dale; Christie Brooks as Peaches; Katy Koval as Honey; Liz Rossi as Candles; Rennes Carbaugh as Amish Jams; Tyler Kovar as Chicken; Ingrid Poole as String Bean; John O’Connor as Curds; Matt Scanlon as Buttermilk, Tyler Johnson as Skim, Samuel Spears as Half-n-Half, who are also known as the Milk Men, and Kirsten Riffle as Mrs. Half; Jason Young as Mr. Buffalo; Steve McElroy as Mr. Pork; Shawn Dunn as Mr. Sourdough; and Christian Cox as Mr. Mushroom; M. Lanette Six as Mrs. Pickey; Laura Hooper as Mrs. Poker; Hannah Weakley as Mrs. Parent; Val Huffman as Mrs. Pushy; Linda O’Connor as Mrs. Persnickety; Kiya Ross as Tomato; Madison Whiting as Granola; Walter Cypher as Barney; and the Farmers Market Children played by Lydia Hatten, Dominic Mansuetto, Emma Hooper, Ariel Stern, Chris Yost, Maddie Lafollette, Grace Tillman, Sydney King, Emilee Latocha and Kailee Latocha.
Kring said the original cast was 16 actors. “We found so many people we wanted in the show, so we created these cool parts, adding parts to fit the people in the show,” she said. “There is a dance rumble/fight scene--think ‘West Side Story’--that is hilarious. For us, as writers, we have a paragraph in the stage direction. But to see it come to life is amazing. I mean, we have a group of men attacking one another with loaves of bread! Everyone gets to be a star. It’s pretty awesome.”
Production staff members include Troy Snyder as designer; Linda O’Connor and Jason Nolan as costume designers; Amanda Wiley as stage manager; and Robert Sundin and Kaici Lore as assistant stage managers.
The playwrights said the future of the play will include a stage concert version at a farmers market in Kentucky and a radio opportunity next fall that they are considering.
“I think our dream is that groups like FSU and Town and Gown do the play because it’s a great community show,” Hartmann said. “It has parts for every type of person.”
“In the end, we want every community theater to do the play,” Kring added. “In my theatre experience in New York, it’s a constant battle to use as few actors as possible, to make a more manageable production. In community theatre, it’s the exact opposite. For example, we have 10 children in the Prickett’s Fort production. In the original version, we didn't have any kids. We have written a show that everyone can be a part of. So many people have given up their time to commit to this show when they could have been doing. People identify with it and want to be a part of it.”
“It's very exciting to see the enthusiasm here in Fairmont,” Hartmann commented. “It's really one of the best versions of theatre because people are doing it for the love of acting and music.”
Having lived through some of the play’s trauma in real life, Kring said seeing it on stage is much more fun.
“It's redeeming for me that this chapter of unfortunate-ness in my life turned into a positive, super-fun play,” Kring said.