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County Seat Theater throws lines outside


July 3, 2020

Dan Saletel

Ruthie Breuer, left, and Samantha Lorenz perform a "Carol Burnett Radio Show" coffee commercial skit Thursday at the County Seat Theater.

As social distancing restrictions continue to limit indoor performances, Cloquet's County Seat Theater headed to the great outdoors June 18 to try something new.

Actors gathered on makeshift stages, while audience members socially distanced from one another on lawn chairs, inside vehicles and in pickup truck beds for the first "Seat of Your Pants Parking Lot Players Carol Burnett Radio Show." The show was about 50 minutes long and featured nine skits from "The Carol Burnett Show."

Still, it wasn't an exact replica of the old-time television variety show. Think "Carol Burnett meets an old-time radio show," as actors in full costume performed with scripts at hand.

"Those that remembered Carol Burnett were laughing at every punch line," said general manager Joel Soukkala. "Our performers were CST veterans and they had an equally enjoyable evening just getting the chance to get out and do something creative."

The theater didn't sell tickets for Thursday's performance but donations were welcomed and will help recoup some of the estimated $60,000 in lost revenue from canceled and postponed shows. Turnout was good, filling 29 of 30 available parking spots.

Future Seat of Your Pants Production shows are scheduled for 7 p.m. July 9 and July 23, weather permitting. The shows will still have some Carol Burnett skits but will also include music and other entertainment.

Because the popular children's theater camps were all canceled, Soukkala held the first of many free outdoor theater classes for students in grades 1-12 last week. The class is offered on Tuesdays.

"It's a shame we have had to cancel two of our main productions this year and our summer youth theater camps but - looking on a positive note - we may really have stumbled across something that works really well and is enjoyable," he said.

"It's something we will consider doing more of even when things get back to normal."

Dan Saletel

Tim and Teri Gregory of Carlton enjoy the outdoor show from the back of their 1929 Ford Model AA truck.

"Normal" is still an unknown for the community theater. The fall production was postponed until the 2021 season. "The Boys Next Door" has been rescheduled four times already. Soukkala said the play was nearly ready to go before theaters were shut down due to COVID-19. If the current 25-percent capacity (which amounts to about 30 seats) isn't expanded, he said they may postpone again. In the meantime, they have prepared the theater for smaller crowds with more spacing and have a cleaning protocol and safety measures in place for when the doors can open again.

It's been tough, Soukkala said, but there are good stories to tell as well, including about $10,000 in donations, plus grant money and a number of summer program parents donating their registration fees.

"I have heard so many positive words of support and encouragement, it really makes one feel like an important part of our community," Soukkala said. "We will be back to making great community theater very soon."


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