It's All About Guinevere

original play puts heroine in the center spotlight

Sammy Gibbons, photos by Andrea Paulseth

A SHARP-DRESSED LADY. The title character in the Scene and Hurd production Guinevere sticks up for herself.
A SHARP-DRESSED LADY. The title character in the Scene and Hurd production Guinevere sticks up for herself.

If you’ve gone to the theater and seen productions such as West Side Story, Wicked, or any other big-name show, you may think you have seen and heard it all. Fall Creek-based theater company, Scene and Hurd, begs to differ.

Scene and Hurd premieres two original shows every year, as well as a rendition of the Passion around Easter (next year’s will be called Jesus, Son of God). Karen Hurd, founder of the company, writes and directs each of these shows, premiering dramas, comedies, and many musicals on the State Theatre stage in Eau Claire. She works with other Chippewa Valley community members to bring her script to life. Local carpenters, costume designers, choreographers, composers and more collaborate to make the spectacles truly unique to Scene and Hurd.  

Many of the plays Hurd writes are twists on classic pieces, and translated from Old English into language comprehensible to modern text-savvy folks; she just completed a musical Robin Hood, and has directed several versions of King Arthur tales, including the company’s newest show, Guinevere.

The main role of this production is not the famed King Arthur, but his wife, whom the play is named after. In this show, Hurd explained, Guinevere has to rise to the challenge and defend herself and her kingdom independently when a threat comes upon them during Arthur’s absence. Guinevere, played by Katelyn Sabelko, has to exhibit strength and power throughout the production.

“In Arthurian legend there’s not much said about Guinevere,” Ruth Voetmann, the show’s production manager and marketing director said. “(Hurd) wanted to tell an untold story.”

Hurd added, “Guinevere is the heroine behind the hero, Arthur. Behind every strong man there’s a strong woman. There has to be to hold them up.”

Women are commonly featured in minor roles in theater, often cast as wives and girlfriends of the lead character, but Hurd wants to break this mold. While this play is not meant to be a part of a feminist movement, she does want to exhibit a strong female character, and make it known that women can be just as effective as men.

“I think it’s really important for young girls to have strong role models, specifically female leaders to look up to, which is what Guinevere is,” Sabelko said. “What I hope comes out of the show is that young girls in the audience are able to see this and think of Guinevere as someone to admire.”

Guinevere has to participate in ample stage combat, a defining trait of Scene and Hurd productions; the troupe boasts a vast arsenal of fake weapons and is the only local company to feature vivid combat scenes in its productions. In one scene she faces Yand, the Green Chieftain played by Andy Gunderson, a man roughly twice Sabelko’s size, in single combat.

“If you’re going to talk about things that are action and fight induced, why not just show them?” said Michael VanHemert, fight choreographer, assistant director, and actor (King Arthur). “It’s important to do what theater is supposed to do, which is take words and make them alive.”

The production has been in the works since April, when the tech crew first met and began concocting plans; of course Hurd was sketching the script many months prior to that. They rehearse two or three times a week for about three hours, often more. Hurd believes this is the best show she has ever written – she is proud of the bits of comedic relief intertwined with heavy fighting, and the new, freshness of the original work.

Hurd and the cast and crew hope to draw local audiences to their community-built masterpiece, and want them to take this sense of unity and creativity evident in their production with them once the curtains close.

“I want audiences to be inspired to contribute in worthwhile ways, to be warrior kings and queens and accomplish great things,” Hurd said. “So many of us are limited by thinking ‘We can’t do it’ and are comfortable where we are, but I want people to be inspired and think ‘Yes! I can be a Guinevere!’ or ‘These people made this, so I can too!’ ”

Scene and Hurd is always looking for new people to help with productions in any role, from acting to set designing and beyond. After Guinevere is complete, the company will immediately begin work on their fall show, a comedic spin on Arabian Nights.

“At the end of each show I’m always the last one out of the theater,” Hurd said as her eyes welled up as she thought about the accomplishment of completing a show. “Everyone’s gone home, and all the lights are out. I’m standing on that darkened stage. All the sets, props, costumes, everything is gone, and there’s nothing there but empty seats and an empty stage. And I want to fill it ... again.”

Scene and Hurd Productions presents Guinevere • 7:30pm, Aug. 19-20 and 3pm Aug. 21 • The State Theatre, 316 Eau Claire St. •$18 adults, $16 seniors, $8 students • sceneandhurd.com