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Lanesboro breaks barriers over the fence

DianaLawrence_tellsaJoke_photobyMarthaHall.JPG
DianaLawrence_tellsaJoke_photobyMarthaHall.JPG

Over the Back Fence , Lanesboro’s long-running variety show, is one of those quirky traditions that define this popular southeast Minnesota city.  

Probably in no other city as small as Lanesboro would it be possible to produce a variety show, much less one that has lasted 24 years. Yet it is hard to imagine a city staging such a show month after month and year after year except in such an arts-focused community.  

"I think it’s a great example of the real authentic character of Lanesboro," said Adam Wiltgen, the show’s director. "You can go to your very first show and just meet so many people and become part of the show."

What accounts for its longevity? The show has remained fresh. Through the years, Over the Back Fence has maintained a lively, inventive pace by featuring skits, poems, guest musical acts, sing-a-longs, and quiz shows.

Every themed show (April 13’s is "Stars and Planets") takes place in the 126-seat St. Mane Theater, a one-time, old-style movie theater where the show regularly sells out, Wiltgen said.    

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"What’s interesting about the show is we could probably never promote it at all, and it would sell out every month," he said. "It has a really dedicated audience."  

The show runs on volunteer talent drawn from Lanesboro and the surrounding region. Steph Hatzenbihler is the show’s volunteer production coordinator, and is responsible for recruiting new cast members and brainstorming show ideas. Damon Prestemon is the show’s host. Wiltgen describes him as the glue that ties the show together, witty and creative but relatable and well-grounded.

"He makes people feel comfortable, and that’s part of the show’s longevity," he said.  

The show’s length varies depending on the amount of ad-libbing and vamping. There are usually a dozen program items planned, as a skit will be followed by a musical number and then a comedy sequence, with the finale wrapped in a show-ending song.

The casual atmosphere encourages audience participation. The lights remain up during the show, which eliminates the barrier between audience and performers.

What about the audience member who is terrified of being plucked from the audience and put on stage? Don’t worry. You’ll find yourself right at home, Wiltgen said.  

"People are there to laugh," Wiltgen said. "It’s not hard to get laughs if you’re on stage, too. What’s most unique is that sense of community that you feel in attendance and on stage."

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