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Theatre Hijinks Brewing
Down at the Ranch

by Elizabeth Warren

The west may have been won, but in the Actors Repertory Theatre of Sedona's latest production, it ain't nothing but fun.

Playing through July 29 at El Rojo Grande Ranch, Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., A.R.T.S. is producing How the West Was Fun!, an hilarious "Homage on the Range" by Michael Peach.

The show has its roots in the old Sedona Mellerdrammer Festival, an annual tradition uptown merchants used to enjoy. The informal evenings would feature steak dinners and amateur skits, accompanied by relentless, good-natured hazing and lots of laughs.

When Michael Peach arrived in Sedona in the mid-80s to start a theatre company with a partner, the Mellerdrammer Festival was in full swing. The uptown merchants invited his group, Coyote Magic Theatre, to perform at one of their gatherings. Around the same time, Black Bart's Restaurant in Flagstaff was hosting a contest to seek original scripts about the singing bandit for their staff to perform, and How the West Was Fun! was born.

From day one, the show has had a pretty interesting history.

The original production at the Mellerdrammer Festival went so well, it was invited back for a second year. Around the same time, it won the Black Bart's contest, only to be shelved when the restaurant owners decided that it wasn't quite politically correct enough.

After a disastrous performance in Williams (complete with drunken bikers staggering around the performance space), How the West Was Fun! retired to Peach's desk until 1993, when the Stage II Theatre of Waukeegan requested to perform the show in their season. The show was a huge hit for Stage II, and continues on the upswing with the current production.
A.R.T.S. producing artistic director Mark Raddatz and marketing director Kay Raddatz suggested to Peach that the show be a part of their sixth season. Knowing that the location of most A.R.T.S. productions,

Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village, would not be quite appropriate for the raucous western comedy, Peach hesitated. But when the decision was made to host the production at El Rojo Grande, things began to fall into place.

"In an odd, quirky way, it belongs here," says Peach. Staged in a work barn on the ranch's stunning grounds, How the West Was Fun! provides a unique theatre experience. When the sun sets and the red rocks fade out of view, the show and the laughter begin.

Featuring an old codger of a narrator, a mustachioed villain, the first stand-up comedian in the west and a pair of gals after a good man or two, the production takes audiences on a whirlwind tour of a western town and the unexpected acts of God that steer its wacky residents.

Throw in a stogy graduate student, a much-aligned stuffed duck and some funny takes on some familiar songs, and you've got How the West Was Fun! in a nutshell. Complete with audience members booing and hissing at the villain, the production is a fun, family-friendly option for visitors and in town theatre-goers alike. It even keeps the past alive with a nod to the first production at the Mellerdrammer Festival: the saloon sign used in that first production (which has been buried in Peach's shed for years) has resurfaced just for the occasion.

How the West Was Fun! is directed by Tobias Hardy, whose credits include work with Banff Shakespeare Festival, Chicago's Chimera Players and the Acting Group of Diaspora, Ohio. The production features actors Jason Gerace, Kathleen O'Neill, Bill Frank, Roberta Lairson, Ron Richie and Brad Luky.

Producing artistic director Raddatz notes that A.R.T.S. is dedicated to featuring Sedona performers in all of their shows, and strives to use the local talent in ways that work well.

"Is culture something that we bribe to visit, or do we want it to live among us?" he says. Raddatz, who has worked with the professional theatre company since 1998, is a strong supporter of Sedona-area artists and performers, and recollects with regret the days when it was affordable for actors to live in town. Even so, A.R.T.S. has uncovered some impressive northern Arizona talent, Peach among them.

"Producing is terribly difficult work," says Raddatz. The last A.R.T.S. production, The Amorous Flea, was beset with problems revolving around actors, most notably Raddatz himself, who was struck down with medical problems a mere week before the show was scheduled to open.

"Dropping out of Flea at the last minute was heartbreaking," he says. "More so than I realized at the time. But people came out of the woodwork to make it happen."

Actor and director Noel Schwartz stepped into Raddatz's role at the last second, and The Amorous Flea enjoyed a successful run at Tlaquepaque.
Don't miss How the West Was Fun!, or the upcoming A.R.T.S. production of Sandra Deer's Sailing to Byzantium, an Arizona premiere and the story of a fictional meeting between William Butler Yeats and Ezra Pound.

Tickets for How the West Was Fun! are available by calling A.R.T.S. at 204 2064, or by stopping by one of their outlets: the Tlaquepaque Information Booth, Sedona Books and Music or the Sedona-Oak Creek Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center. Prices are $15 general admission and $12 for members.

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