Explosive Production

Menomonie High stages historic Wisconsin premiere of historic play

Tom Giffey

A DIFFERENT KIND OF “POWDER ROOM.” The Badger Army Ammunition Plant, which brought many women into the workforce during World War II, is the subject of the new play Badger.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF “POWDER ROOM.” The Badger Army Ammunition Plant, which brought many women into the workforce during World War II, is the subject of the new play Badger. (Source: U.S. Army via Badger History Group)

A new drama by a Texas playwright that recounts an important part of the Badger State’s World War II history will make its Wisconsin premiere in November at Menomonie High School.

Badger, a just-published play by Don Zolidis, will be staged by Menomonie High students Nov. 8-10. The show is a dramatization of the lives of the largely female workforce at the Badger Army Ammunition Plant during World War II. The massive facility near Baraboo in south-central Wisconsin employed 4,000 to 8,000 workers at a time during the war, many of them women entering the workforce for the first time. These real-life Rosie the Riveters helped propel the war effort – literally and figuratively – by producing powders and propellants for military explosives.

“There’s so many girls who love to do plays, and the meaty roles just aren’t there for them.” – director Blaine Halverson, on his choice of the female-focused play Badger

Director Blaine Halverson was searching for a drama to produce for Menomonie High’s fall play, and discovered Badger by networking online with a playwright he knew. That playwright pointed him toward Zolidis, a Wisconsin native whose plays are among the most-frequently produced by American schools. Halverson immediately liked the play for several reasons – including the female-focused subject matter.

“Part of the reason I wanted to do this … is because there’s so many girls who love to do plays, and the meaty roles just aren’t there for them,” Halverson said. “I really like the idea of giving these young ladies something to dig into – a challenge as an actress and not simplistic.”

The women in the play face a variety of challenges, many of which will be recognizable to contemporary audiences, including sexual harassment, pay inequality, homophobia, and domestic violence.

“We’re following five different women, and they all have different backgrounds,” Halverson said. There’s Rosa, just 18 years old, who marries her boyfriend of only two months when he is drafted, but soon wonders if she’s made a mistake; Grace, the life of the party, who dreams of being an actress; Barbara, a young mother, whose husband is taken prisoner overseas; Eleanor, a quiet woman who writes racy science fiction in her spare time; and Irene, who faces gender-identity issues.

Because the show is a drama, Halverson said, cast members have had to tap into a range of emotions to create their characterizations. “This really requires you to learn how to empathize with the character you’re playing, because the only way it becomes real is if people get inside of that person and try to feel what they may have felt.”

The student actors have also learned about the history of the Badger Army Ammunition Plant, which sprawled over 10,000 acres of prairie just south of Baraboo and produced munitions during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War before being decommissioned and largely demolished. The site is now home to a museum, whose archivist, Verlyn Mueller, plans to visit Menomonie to speak to the cast – and the community – about the Badger plant’s history. The museum will even lend some historic artifacts from the plant for display at Menomonie High School during the play’s run.

Menomonie High School production of Badger • Friday-Saturday, Nov. 8-9, 7:30pm • Sunday, Nov. 10, 1:30pm • Menomonie High School Auditorium, 1715 Fifth St. West, Menomonie • $5 adults, $3 students and seniors • mhs.sdmaonline.com/news/what_s_new/mhs_fall_play