It's interesting how hearing is such a prominent sense among humans. Of course it has always been important, but it has never been more influential in a person's life, especially in developed countries. All over the country it would most likely be very difficult to walk down the street of a big city and not see someone sauntering down the sidewalk with headphones in their ears. College campuses have students walking to class listening to their iPods every day.
And movies. These really depend on the ability of a person's ears. Musical scores enhance the scene and sway the emotions of those watching. They could be leaning on the edge of their seats with excitement in an adventure scene with the help of the music and sound effects. Or they could be moved to tears at a heartbreaking scene made more poignant by mournful music.
But what was it like when movies had just surfaced in the world of entertainment just over a century ago? The pictures were silent and the only music one heard was the pianist or musician accompanying the picture. Lines were said and scenes were set by typed out sentences displayed on screen, not heard.
Technology has come a long way in developing one's hearing. But sometimes it's fun to just step "back" in time and experience what people 100 years ago would have thought of as a novelty.
For the past three years, Lanesboro has offered just that — a date with the community for silent movies. Every year, members of the Lanesboro community have gathered during the summer to film movies formatted to be silent pictures. And they have been up to it again. On Saturday, Sept. 6, and Sunday, Sept. 7, their work will be exhibited in Sylvan Park.
"We show silent movies at dusk in the park," said Sandy Webb, one of the organizers of the event. "It is a magical time. It takes us back to a different era and engages people in a new way."
Three years ago, rather than batting around the idea of a silent film, Lanesboro Community Theater's intention was to produce a melodrama. There did not seem to be much interest in this avenue, however.
"The Lanesboro Community Theater was going to do a melodrama and Sandy was going to direct. Only one person showed up at auditions," described Barbara Benson Keith who also played a key role in the silent movie's production.
At that time, Keith was involved with the Lanesboro community's variety show, "Over the Back Fence." The theme for the show was the 1920s — just when silent pictures were in their hey day.
"For our most recent show at that time, I did a very short silent movie. It occurred to me that this would be a fun thing for the theater to do in place of the melodrama. We could show them outside in the park," Keith stated.
And thus it began.
The movie consists of three, familiar fairy tale stories — but to at least one of these fairy tales there is a more modern twist to the show — and two filler puppet shows a minute to 90 seconds in length. This year the fairy tale stories are "The Magic Fish" that some people call "The Fisherman and His Wife," "Snow White and the Seven Computer Nerds" and "The Princess and the Pea."
"'The Magic Fish' is about a man who finds a fish who grants wishes. He lets the fish go, but his wife tells him to catch the fish again. She asks to have a better house and keeps asking until the fish says 'That's enough' and they go back to their original house," Webb described.
"'Snow White and the Seven Computer Nerds' is a spin off of 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarves' and 'The Princess and the Pea' is the real story, but with a twist," she added.
In between each fairy tale, puppets share the spotlight to entertain the audience in one short filler episode. The first puppet show will be of shadow puppets in "The Great Big Turnip." The other show will be felt puppets of "Humpty Dumpty."
As the showing lasts around 35 minutes in length, the audience receives the chance to enjoy seeing a fun viewpoint of fairy tales for the children. And adults are able to see friends doing something different from what everyone would usually see them doing.
"It gives the opportunity for people to really blossom and gives them a safe place to discover that they can act and participate in art in this way," Webb commented.
This year, the cast numbers 58 people, both of residents asked to portray certain characters and extra's around town "shushed" when the princess is sleeping in "The Princess and the Pea."
"We went around town asking people if they would be in the movie and we would 'shush' them. We came to the guys fixing up the street and got one of them to be in it," Webb explained.
Filming began on July 29, shortly after "Fiddler on the Roof" ended, lasting for a brief, but fun, five days.
"There were no lines to learn. The directing happened when we were filming, so everyone could make all the mistakes they wanted. We would just do the scene over. Some of them also discovered new ways to do something when we redid scenes," Webb described.
The costumes were mostly provided by the production staff, but gathering all of the apparel took a few days prior to beginning the filming. However, for "Snow White and the Seven Computer Nerds," the nerds had to bring their own costumes.
"We told the nerds to bring a lot of technology and to dress as nerdy as possible," Webb shared.
The longest length of time dedicated to the movie was when Keith edited the production for around a week and a half.
Since this is a silent movie, everyone that shows up to watch it on Sept. 6 and 7 will not end up hearing lines spoken. They will have to read them from a card displayed on the screen. But one of the most crucial aspects for the success of this even is the choice of music to accompany the scene.
"The music is very vital to the whole thing. Barb chooses that. The music is built into the movie like the music they used to hear. It changes according to the emotions of the scene," Webb noted.
The brainstorming for the show came through a collaborative effort of suggestions from numerous people. But using fairy tales for the main story seemed to be a simple enough choice.
"We wanted to use fairy tales since there are no copyright issues and we could change the story as we wanted. But we choose stories based on the familiarity of the story and how easy to be filmed it would be. At least one of the stories would use a lot of people," Webb described.
Not to mention the fact that children would enjoy the fairy tales and the adults would appreciate seeing friends and family doing something out of the ordinary.
"This is for the Lanesboro community especially, but we also invite tourists and people from around the area to come see the movie. The more the merrier," Webb invited.
Of course, a production such as this could not succeed with out the volunteers and actors, but it also does take some capital to create such an exciting event. So, those who enjoy and have benefited from this in the past have each other to thank. This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.
On the day of the showing, both Lanesboro residents and visitors may see an abnormal sight in Sylvan Park with the erection of a 10 foot by 12 foot screen, giving the feel of a drive-in theater to the event that night.
In the evening as the audience gathers, they will have the opportunity to socialize, get settled, buy some popcorn and enjoy the pre-show music and poetry readings. There will also be tables displaying DVDs of the movie and shadow puppets appearing in it available for purchase. And then the show begins at 8 p.m.
Grab a blanket, popcorn, drinks and enjoy a night with friends and family for a brief jaunt through yesteryear — with a contemporary twist.