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Passion for theater drives volunteer actors

Jeremy Kittleson

MANTORVILLE — It was approaching 7 p.m. Sunday and Jeremy Kittleson sat nearly alone in the Mantorville Opera House, waiting for auditions to begin for the October play "Noir Suspicions."

The director from Rochester knew he has a good script. He knows how he will transform the 1918 Opera House into a 1940s cafe. And he knows the dates are set for four full weekends, Fridays through Sundays, in October.

Actors to audition?

Aye, there's the rub.

None were to be seen or heard.


Knowing how many actors will show up is a guessing game. At times, he has to call people, call friends, go through past casts to fill slots.

"Sometimes you get a glut of people auditioning and you have hard choices to make," he said. "It really is all over the place."

Being a small theater in a small town doesn't always work against you, he said. But there is strong demand for actors in the area, with three theaters in Rochester and others in Stewartville, Chatfield and other towns.

"There is no normal," he said.

For the October play, he will need four men and three women to play nine roles. To audition, he has would-be actors read scripts, getting only a little time to see them, then give them their best shot.

"I have a vision for what the character is," Kittleson said. But he has to allow for inspiration. "You can't just do your own vision, you might have people show you something better."

And there's another intangible: "I'm also looking for team chemistry."

Neither he nor the actors are paid, they do it for the love of theater, said Kittleson, an administrative assistant at Mayo Clinic in Rochester.


"It's a great amount of fun," he said. "It's a passion."

He was just hoping others would share that love, and have time, for "Noir Suspicions."

"We might get a little, we might get a lot," he said while waiting. Several actors showed up the Sunday before.

Finally, in walked J.A. Crow and Jake Dreher. They greeted each other warmly because they know each other from past plays. They were there to audition.

Crow, of Rochester was in the first Noir offering, "Murder in Cafe Noir." When he's not acting, he delivers for Jimmy John's, attends college in criminal justice and works at Ironman Paintball in Rochester. Oh, yes, he also loves theater.

"Being able to step into the shoes of someone else is fun," he said. Plus acting helps him get over stage fright.

Dreher, of Dodge Center, has been a firefighter and works at Forager Brewery. He has been involved in plays in Rochester.

"For me, it's mostly the people who are brought together and create a whole new world," he said. Rehearsing and the doing the 12 plays will take up more than 100 unpaid hours but "it's for the joy of it," he said.


Theater makes him grow and be a better person, he said.

"It's a wonder why more people don't do it," Dreher said.

The two began auditions but after a while, they needed a woman for a female part. Dreher called his friend, Katie Olsen, also of Dodge Center. She showed up about 20 minutes later and spiced up the auditions with her saucy delivery. She likes the variety.

"You can be in prehistoric times one minute and the Roaring '20s the next," she said.

When auditions ended at 8:30 p.m. Kittleson was still short a woman or two. He said he would make some calls, or maybe will have another open audition.

But don't worry, he said, "We always make it work."

Jake Dreher, center, auditions for a part in a Mantorville Theater play Sunday with Katie Olsen. Also playing a part was J.A. Crow.

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