Laughter is good medicine.
Forrest Musselman may be the doctor, prescribing a good laugh to soothe one’s soul.
Musselman is a teacher at Rushford-Peterson, instructing students in English and theater. He also directs the school's drama production. He lives in Mabel and owns Barnyard Gallery in Lanesboro with his wife, Missy.
"My wife always wanted to have a shop in Lanesboro. Barnyard Gallery opened last June and is based on things in the barnyard and animals," he stated.
But Musselman is also a professional playwright on the side, having published 19 plays. His newest publication can provide area residents with some much-needed humor as the play is a parody and full of satire, based on life in Lanesboro. If the title, "Days of Our Roadsboro," doesn't give a glimpse of his creativity, read on.
"I was like the class clown,” Musselman admitted. “I loved entertaining and being funny. I would write skits when I was younger and force my brothers to perform them for my parents. I did acting in school and then went for a creative writing and theater degree in college."
After receiving his degree, Musselman found himself waiting on tables at the Old Village Hall Restaurant. Then he began participating in the "Over the Back Fence" variety show, writing short, 10-minute radio comedies set in Roadsboro for the audience to enjoy.
"I wrote 50 10-minute episodes set in Roadsboro from 1995 to 2000 in 'Over the Back Fence.' They added variety to the show, but they did not show them all the time. Usually they played the episodes every other show," Musselman related.
Eventually Musselman decided he was not meant to wait on tables all day, every day. So he went back to school — this time for a teaching license. For the past several years, he has taught at Rushford-Peterson and has been directing plays and one-acts for the students there.
"I got interested in behind-the-scenes and creating, not just the acting," he explained.
Musselman began writing the plays for the students to perform during the year. Last year's one-act, "Anti-Play," was one of his creations the students asked him to write. They ended up going to state with the play. His students appreciate performing material he wrote, but it isn’t that unusual any more.
"They think it is fun to do my plays and are excited about it, but they don't act like it’s a big deal. I've been there long enough that they are used to it. They keep me humble," he commented.
Being the director there and having the opportunity to perform his own plays makes the Rushford-Peterson theater productions a kind of workshop for him and it allows him to provide variety for the students acting in a comedy or drama.
"Rushford-Peterson has had me write originals for them, putting them into competition and I publish them afterwards," Musselman related.
As the play is written and experimented with for his student actors, he often tailors characters to the actors portraying those characters. In addition, as part of his directing, he builds the sets and compiles the sounds for the plays.
"The only thing I don't do is get costumes together," he added.
When Musselman moved on from Lanesboro, it was 10 years before his radio show reprised on "Over the Back Fence," leading up to the start of his full-length, hour-and-a-half long comedy and reintroducing the audience to his radio show.
"I always thought it would be fun to make the radio show into a theatrical version, wrapping up the 50 episodes," he explained.
Back in the years he wrote the radio show for "Over the Back Fence," the Commonweal Theatre was involved in the variety show. So Musselman approached Hal Cropp about letting him write a play with the company's apprentice actors during the summer of 2010.
"I would write some of the play and take it to them to read and get their input," he said.
"Days of Our Roadsboro" took about a year to write, but the majority of the writing took place during the time the apprentice actors gave their advice in the summer of 2010. Since the play is more of a "capstone project of the radio show," Musselman already knew the characters well enough he would simply create a situation and knew exactly how they would react.
"Each character is so defined in my head that I just come up with a situation and I am letting them react to it," he commented.
There are 15 characters in the parody of Lanesboro. Like the city it is based upon, Roadsboro heavily depends on tourism.
"The play is a parody of actual things happening there and several characters are combinations of people I have met. Other characters are made up," Musselman noted. "I thought it was funny seeing the triangular conflict between the old locals that have been there for a long time, the new locals moving in from the cities and the tourists."
Much of the play came from jokes and humor that waiters at the restaurant wanted to say to tourists after they have heard the same question over and over again.
"You hear the same questions over and over. It's so funny that people in Lanesboro love to hate the tourism that drives Lanesboro," Musselman said.
One of the main characters of Musselman's "Days of Our Roadsboro” is an evil bed and breakfast owner named Dracoola. Not Dracula, but he does dress like a vampire. He owns the Depths of Heal Bed-and-Breakfast, but rather than catering to tourists, he plots to destroy tourism altogether.
"Dracoola was created by accident on the bike trail after he was struck by lightning. He wants to do away with tourism as we know it. He wants bad reviews and is always in the background scheming. But it never works," Musselman described.
Amidst the comedy, there is a love story developing between a waitress at the restaurant Old Village Harlot named Lollie Local and the Chef, though their relationship is on and off again. Plus, Chef believes he is a tremendous chef.
"Chef is upset because people are not appreciating his genius and they order special things, when he believes what he has made is perfect," Musselman described.
A fourth character bringing entertainment to the audience is a folk singer with a Norwegian accent named Ole Peterson. Ole takes old folk songs like the Beatles' "Yesterday" and James Taylor's "Fire and Rain" and writes his own lyrics about his love for his wife who left him and his love for farming.
The play takes place at the restaurant in Roadsboro. Dracoola deviously invites the leaders of the town to a banquet. Unbeknownst to them, he intends to put poison into their food, kill them and destroy tourism. He hires Ole to be the entertainment for the evening while the banquet takes place. But what happens next? That is something to find out from the play.
"Days of Our Roadsboro" was published in two separate versions by the same company, though they are offered on two different websites. One version with "Norman Main Publishing" is meant more for community theatre groups and contains jokes more suitable for adults.
Since Musselman is a high school teacher and theater director, writing mostly for the high school stage, the second version with "Big Dog Publishing" is more high school friendly.
However, since the play includes characters seen in the radio show as a part of "Over the Back Fence," one may wonder if audiences unfamiliar with the radio episodes would understand the story.
"It is a stand-alone comedy,” Musselman said. “There are some jokes that people from Lanesboro and this area will appreciate, but they will be funny for other areas as well. They do not need to know all the back story.”
Right now, the play is only known to Lanesboro, but eventually Musselman hopes it will be seen on stage.
"I'd just like to see it done. It's a good way to get to the national level and see who picks it up,” he concluded.