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Mandan News » Arts http://mandan-news.com News and information from Mandan, ND Fri, 28 Aug 2015 19:20:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Creating an Illusion: 9 to 5 review http://mandan-news.com/creating-an-illusion-9-to-5-review/ http://mandan-news.com/creating-an-illusion-9-to-5-review/#comments Wed, 21 Jan 2015 15:20:38 +0000 http://mandan-news.com/?p=18209
Portraying strong female roles, the cast was able to create an astounding illusion, as well as make an important statement. While entertaining, it was also a great teaching outlet. (Dustin White photo)

Portraying strong female roles, the cast was able to create an astounding illusion, as well as make an important statement. While entertaining, it was also a great teaching outlet. (Dustin White photo)

By Dustin White
Mandan News, editor

“We’ve come a long way.” That was the message that welcomed audience members of Mandan High’s production of “9 to 5.” And as Anne Jorgenson Green, director, said, the students at MHS truly had done just that.

Having attended a number of MHS productions, expectations going into this musical were relatively high. At the end of the night, there were no disappointments.

With many of the actors having appeared in a number of other productions, they were well suited to adapt to this showing. Their experience shined through, giving the performance additional believability.

It was more than just experience that these actors were able to rely on though. From the first musical number, to the final curtain closing, it was made clear that there was a great passion involved in the performance.

With subject matter that was more mature, as well as from a time period predating the actors, there was a need to transcend a number of boundaries in order to bring the performance to a modern audience.

The cast succeeded wildly on this point. While it would have been easy to allow much of the material to fall short, each actor was able land their lines, and make the jokes relevant for the audience.

Their success was due primarily because of the strong performances in the show. By being able to captivate the audience, and bring them into the story, the cast was able to make even the simplest portions of the performance entertaining. This was shown best with a scene in which the three leading female actors stood in front of an elevator, without saying a word. Yet, the tension was able to build because the audience was engrossed in the show.

The material also leant itself well to be a tool for teaching, which both director, as well as cast, was able to make relevant. While, as a nation, we have progressed in the realm of women rights and equality, there are still issues that are being faced.

It was refreshing to see a group of teenagers, as well as a director, take up what some may see as controversial, and successfully bring it to light in a meaningful manner. Doing such can be a risky decision, but this production definitely made the best of it.

Behind the leads
An aspect I look for in any show I see is how the secondary or background cast function. In order to maintain the illusion of the performance, it is important for those in the background to remain in the scene.

The cast of “9 to 5” nailed this very well. Those in the background continued to interact with the environment around them, while not creating a distraction. Even though they were not in the spot light, these actors helped maintain the illusion that the performance was taking place in an office setting, whether it was by working at their typewriters, or having small chats with their coworkers.

It wasn’t just the background cast who helped make this show wonderful. The stage crew, while understaffed, were able to make scene changes smoothly, and in a timely manner. Something must also be said about their ingenuity, with a number of the crew thinking outside of the box in order to help the flow of the performance.

Because of this sort of thinking, the performance was able to push the limits of the auditorium, such as with the incorporation of a rig to hoist an actor into the air. The willingness to try new things truly helped make this performance wonderful.

Short coming
Even with spectacular performances, there were a few areas that could have been improved. Primarily, the issues that lacked were in regards to sound.

In a couple of cases, being able to hear what was being sung, or what a couple of actors were saying, was difficult.

This was first seen in the opening scene, where the singing was drowned out by the orchestra. A few strategically places microphones would have been able to remedy this issue.

As a whole though, all the parts of this performance worked very well together, with the cast, crew and orchestra coming together as one.

If this musical is any suggestion as to what MHS has to offer in the future, it is clear that they will go a long way.

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See You in the Dark: Reviewing the reviews http://mandan-news.com/see-you-in-the-dark-reviewing-the-reviews/ http://mandan-news.com/see-you-in-the-dark-reviewing-the-reviews/#comments Sat, 08 Nov 2014 16:41:00 +0000 http://mandan-news.com/?p=17540 By Dustin White
Mandan News, editor

Reviewing a book on reviews can be a difficult situation. It isn’t just critiquing a non-fictional work, but it also involves looking at a persons perspective on a film, and deciding whether they should be given credence or not. For Todd Ford’s book, “See You in the Dark,” the views expressed, whether one agrees or not, definitely are worth the read.

Opening Ford’s book, it is quite obvious that a considerable amount of time has been placed into not just writing the material, which spans two decades, but also in the process of editing the work.

The work reads easily. While minor issues can be pointed out, with suggestions that could possibly improve the flow, most are unsubstantial. This is quite an impressive feat seeing that the work can be read in two different manners.

First, one can read this book as any other: starting from the beginning. While the work is a collection of reviews, it is strung together with an underlying narrative, which captures a portion of Ford’s life.

Extending beyond the point of an anthology, Ford’s book also works as a partial biography, giving the reader an inside look at his motivations for writing reviews, as well as his reflection on what he has written thus far.

This inside look also gives meaning to the title of the book. A name should have some significance, as it gives a person an initial point of judgment. While the initial look at Ford’s title may give a bit of a clue as to content, the introduction quickly shows that there was deeper thought put into naming his work.

That thought doesn’t stop at just the naming of the book though. While the introduction of the work sets the stage, the epilogue truly brings the entire work together, neatly clearing up the loose ends.

The second manner in which this book can be read is like any other resource work. Thumbing through Ford’s book, one can easily find a film that is worth viewing, or, on the other hand, should be avoided. It also provides the reader with the encouragement to watch a movie they enjoyed a second time, hopefully giving them a fresh view of the material.

One of the strongest factors of Ford’s book is that the first review is of a film most are familiar with. Having been the first review Ford wrote, it has proven to be an ideal choice twice.

With a review of “Forrest Gump” being the opener, it allows the reader a chance to determine whether the book is for them or not. As most have seen the film, and thus formed an opinion on it, having the opportunity to compare ones views with those of Ford’s can be quite helpful.

Such a comparison is necessary in this sort of work. If one finds Ford’s reviews to be far from their own perspective, his book is not going to be of much use, as one isn’t going to want to continue to watch films that are not enjoyable to them.

However, if one is open to the perspective of Ford, and finds themselves agreeing with his views, or at least finding value in them, the book is a great resource.

For that audience, Ford’s book is a gateway to a new world of film. Exploring a variety of genres, from documentaries to animation, “See You in the Dark” has a bit of everything.

Finishing this book, I found myself somewhat disappointed. I wanted more. Even with over a 100 reviews, there were movies I would have liked to have seen reviewed.

That is not to say I agreed with all of the reviews. For instance, Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” did not get as much acclaim as I would have given it, while “Adventureland” was reviewed much more positively than I ever would have. However, Ford does give good reasons for his thought on both films, which makes me want to give both films a second look.

It is that engaging writing that makes me highly recommend Ford’s book, “See You in the Dark.” For those who are passionate about film, or just want to be exposed to a larger variety of movies, this is a fantastic resource, which the reader can come back to many times.

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Taking fairy tales to the court http://mandan-news.com/taking-fairy-tales-to-the-court/ http://mandan-news.com/taking-fairy-tales-to-the-court/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 20:48:14 +0000 http://mandan-news.com/?p=17500
The cast and crew were busy peparing, on Tuesday Oct. 28, for their opening night. Making sure to maintain their energy levels, director Kelsey Fredricks kept up the encouragment through their rehearsal.

The cast and crew were busy peparing, on Tuesday Oct. 28, for their opening night. Making sure to maintain their energy levels, director Kelsey Fredricks kept up the encouragment through their rehearsal.

By Dustin White
Mandan New, editor

Having come off of a successful run of “Alice in Wonderland,” the Mandan High School theater program is trying to do it again with a new presentation titled “Fairytale Courtroom.”

Like the production of “Alice in Wonderland,” this play is meant to portray familiar characters that the audience will recognize, but at the same time, explore other aspects, which many may not be as familiar with.

However, “Fairytale Courtroom” takes this exploration one step further, and asks the question, what happens when each character is taken out of their surroundings, and placed together in one narrative.

“With ‘Fairytale Courtroom,’ there is more suspense,” Jaren Labbie, a Mandan senior playing the part of Dorothy, said. “ People don’t know what they are getting into with this show.”

Another difference from the production of “Alice in Wonderland” is that many in this cast are not as veteran. However, watching them, one would never know, as what they may lack in experience, they make up with passion and energy.

“I’m a little worried going into the first night,” Andrew Metz, a Mandan junior who is playing the part of the judge, said. “For some, it’s their first night, but we’ve been working hard.”

Yet, there is a confidence that surrounds the actors. For first time performer Erica Keller, the fear that went along with the play had already vanished by the time practice started.

“I feared the auditions, but after that, I was good,” Erica, a Mandan sophomore who is playing the part of the district attorney, said.

Part of the confidence stems from the realization that there are some strong players on the team, who are willing to help out those with less experience. With the cast coming together as a group, those areas in which may be lacking in some can be propped up by others.

With opening night nearing, those participating in the play have been working diligently. Still bustling on the stage, rehearsing their parts to ensure that the show goes smoothly, an excitement can be seen flowing from the actors.

While there may be some pre-show jitters, the cast is more looking forward to just sharing the experience with the audience, as well as possibly inspiring others join theater.

“When you get into acting, it’s a chance to get the more playful side of you out,” Erica said. “Not only are you playing a different character, but also are showing a different side of you.”

For others, it has been a chance to explore both themselves, as well as others.

“Acting gives me a different perspective,” Amanda Joyce, a Mandan junior who is playing the Wicked Witch and Red Riding Hood’s grandmother, said. “I get to be evil. So I can explore a different side of me without actually being evil.”

Part of the excitement has also arisen out of knowing that this production is going to involve the audience as well, which adds a different dimension to such theatrical performances.

Having to prepare for additional variables is keeping the actors on their toes. Not fully knowing what may happen, they have had to learn to be a bit more flexible. It has also brought them closer together, as well as encouraged them to invest more of themselves into this production.

“This cast has worked really hard, and they have a lot of energy,” director Kelsey Fredricks said. “They are taking ownership of the show.”

For Fredricks, there is also an additional element of excitement with this play. Similar to the production of “Alice in Wonderland,” presenting many classical stories in a group will hopefully make people explore them a bit more later on.

Two fall plays
Going into their third year of producing two fall plays, MHS continues to see a growth of interest.

“We had a lot of kids who were interested in joining theater, but there weren’t enough spots open,” Fredricks said. “There is a lot of talent here, and we wanted to give them a chance to share it.”

With more opportunities to become involved, students are given a better chance to explore their creative and artistic sides, as well as meet new people, and become close with them, Fredricks said.

Having two shows has also allowed for medium sized casts, which allows for an additional variety, as well as flexibility.

This year, the second production has found a couple of extra hurdles. Competing with Halloween, on their opening night, Fredricks says they have a special night planned.

With the play starting at 7:30 p.m., the cast is expecting that people will go trick-or-treating earlier on, and then attend the play, still in costume, adding to the atmosphere.

“It is a really fun show,” Tim Bjugstad, a Mandan junior, who is portraying B.B. Wolf and Prince Charming, said. “It will be great for both kids and adults.”

MHS’s presentation of “Fairytale Courtroom” will be opening Friday, Oct. 31, 7:30 p.m., at the MHS Auditorium. It will also be playing on Nov. 1, at 7:30 p.m., and on Nov., at 2:30 p.m.

Admission is $8 for adults and $4 for students and seniors.

Getting into character, two princesses confront the charming prince. Continuing to build upon one another, as well as supporting each other, the cast and crew will no doubt be ready before the curtains part on their opening night, Friday, Oct. 31, at 7:30 p.m. A follow up story will be published in an upcoming issue. (Dustin White Photos

Getting into character, two princesses confront the charming prince. Continuing to build upon one another, as well as supporting each other, the cast and crew will no doubt be ready before the curtains part on their opening night, Friday, Oct. 31, at 7:30 p.m. A follow up story will be published in an upcoming issue. (Dustin White Photos

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Traveling down the rabbit hole http://mandan-news.com/traveling-down-the-rabbit-hole/ http://mandan-news.com/traveling-down-the-rabbit-hole/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 15:39:26 +0000 http://mandan-news.com/?p=17474
The cast and crew were busy peparing, on Wednesday Oct. 22, for their opening night. Having pooled their talents, the group has been able to produce a wonderful looking stage which is sure to amaze their audience. (Dustin White photo)

The cast and crew were busy peparing, on Wednesday Oct. 22, for their opening night. Having pooled their talents, the group has been able to produce a wonderful looking stage which is sure to amaze their audience. (Dustin White photo)

By Dustin White
Mandan News, editor

Behind the scenes, the cast and crew of “Alice in Wonderland” are busy putting on the finishing details for their opening night on Saturday, Oct. 25. Presented by the Mandan High School, the student actors are preparing for a show to remember.

For many of the actors starring in “Alice in Wonderland,” this is not their first time in front of the curtain. With many of the lead roles going to senior students, most are brining with them three or more years of experience, which includes dozens of performances for each.

However, even though these student actors show a great passion for theater, many didn’t enter into the program until their sophomore year.

“The Mandan High School theater program has always been really good,” Hannah Jacobson, a Mandan senior who is portraying the Queen of Hearts, said. “It was a little intimidating as a freshman, so I waited until my sophomore year to break out.”

A few do come to this performance with a broader background in acting though. For some, it was just part of growing up, having either performed during church plays, or with the Shade Tree Players.

“It’s a really fun time,” Colton Meuchel, a Mandan senior who is portraying the White Rabbit, said. “When on stage, its like having the time of your life.”

Regardless of each actors background, they all share the same sort of passion and excitement for the theater.

“Being in theater is so much fun,” Melina Holtzer, a Mandan senior who is portraying the Duchess, said. “You get to become this other person, while entertaining the audience.”

With “Alice in Wonderland” opening on Saturday, Oct. 25, the MHS students have been working diligently to make sure that the opening night goes off without a hitch.

While memorizing lines, and getting into character has been a focus for many of the actors, becoming prepared for the opening of the curtain, a great deal of work has also been conducted in order to create the set.

As with any performance, this has included the creation of stage props. However, with “Alice in Wonderland” being a fantastical tale, those props have taken on a magical role.

With larger than life designs, including a table which towers above those on stage, the amount of detail that has been placed into drawing the audience into the story will surely amaze.

The cast and crew haven’t had to work alone though. Receiving support from within the school, as well as out, bringing the set to life has been possible.

It hasn’t just been with the set that the MHS theater program has found support though. While many high school theater programs are either underfunded, or are disappearing, Mandan has continued to find a firm foundation.

“We have had a lot of support from the district,” Lisa Quintus, director, said.

The student body as a whole has also shown their support for their fellow classmates. While many are not aware of all of the preparation that goes into, they are all too happy to cheer on their schoolmates.

“Not a lot of people really know about the play until the week of,” Michael Bercier, a Mandan senior portraying the Mad Hatter, said. “But when they do know, they are supportive.”

Behind the scenes
Even with the construction of the set completed, there is still a great amount to do behind the scenes.

While the actors, in front of the curtain, are busy entertaining the audience, a group of unsung heroes are behind, making sure everything runs smoothly.

With multiple scene changes, as well lighting and other cues needed in order to continue the performance alone, those working behind the scenes are also getting ready for the opening night.

When performed well, it is often these participants in theater who are largely forgotten. Yet the over all experience is often very rewarding, while providing a way to get involved in the program.

“If you don’t like acting, working behind the scenes is pretty fun,” Nicole Miller, a Mandan senior and stage manager said. “Its a great way to gain leadership and organization.

Along with Miller, Adam Hartman, assistant stage manager, and Jackson Murphy, light technician, are a couple of the seniors who will be making sure that the performance runs smoothly.

Choosing the play
With a classic, such as “Alice in Wonderland,” many coming into the play are certain to have had some experience with the story. For some, it has been an added bonus for being involved with the theater program.

“I love ‘Alice in Wonderland,’” Jaren Labbie, a Mandan senior who is portraying the cook, as the Seven of Spades said. “So to be a part of it is amazing.”

However, there were additional reasons for picking this story.

“We haven’t done a children’s show since 2006,” Quintus said. “It’s a fun story and a lot of kids don’t know the classics.”

For those familiar with the story, they are also in for a great treat. Based on both “Alice in Wonderland,” as well as “Through the Looking Glass,” the presentation will be different from what most have seen.

With such a unique performance planned, the actors are excited to entertain their audience.

“I think its going to be very eventful and bright,” Marissa Koppy, a Mandan senior who is portraying Alice said. “It’s going to be a family affair.

Looking forward to a successful performance, many of the actors are understandably nervous though. However, that hasn’t seemed to hamper them, as theater is something that gives back to them. 
“Being in the plays at Mandan is a very rewarding experience,” Kristen Hurdelbrink, a Mandan senior who is portraying the Red Queen said.

MHS’s presentation of “Alice in Wonderland” will be opening Saturday, Oct. 25 7:30 p.m., at the MHS Auditorium. It will also be playing on Oct. 26, at 2:30 p.m., and on Oct. 27, at 7:30 p.m.

Admission is $8 for adults and $4 for students and seniors.

Running their lines, MHS actors continue to prepare for their opening night on Saturday, Oct. 25. While most are nervous about their initial showing, the excitement was clearly seen in all of those involved.  A follow up story will be published in an upcoming issue. (Dustin White photo)

Running their lines, MHS actors continue to prepare for their opening night on Saturday, Oct. 25. While most are nervous about their initial showing, the excitement was clearly seen in all of those involved. A follow up story will be published in an upcoming issue. (Dustin White photo)

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Capturing a piece of history: LaPointe’s photo shoot http://mandan-news.com/capturing-a-piece-of-history-lapointes-photo-shoot/ http://mandan-news.com/capturing-a-piece-of-history-lapointes-photo-shoot/#comments Thu, 02 Oct 2014 18:33:34 +0000 http://mandan-news.com/?p=17215 Ernie LaPointe’s first wet plate.  (Shane Balkowitsch photo)

Ernie LaPointe’s first wet plate. (Shane Balkowitsch photo)

By Dustin White
Mandan News, editor

A 133 years separated the two photographers; however, the subject was similar. Beginning with a considerable journey, great-grandfather and son traveled to Bismarck, for different reasons, but both leaving with their images having been preserved for future generations.

With the first photograph of Tatanka Iyotake, or more commonly known as Sitting Bull, taken in 1881 by Orlando S. Goff, Shane Balkowitsch set out to try to record a bit of history himself. Being inspired by the initial photo by Goff, Balkowitsch was eventually led to Ernie LaPointe, the great-grand son of Tatanka Iyotake.

It didn’t take long for LaPointe and Balkowitsch to begin to foster a friendship, which would quickly lead to the eventual photo shoot. On Sept. 6, LaPointe, along with his wife Sonja, traveled from his home in South Dakota to Balkowitsch’s studio in Bismarck.

The trip from South Dakota was only the beginning of a much larger picture, which helped record a bit of history. Meeting in person for the first time, LaPointe and Balkowitsch would lead a group on journey that stretched much further than the initial five-hour photo shoot.

Trying to recreate the process that Goff would have used over a century ago, Balkowitsch was going to use the same chemicals that the earlier photographer used to capture the image of Tatanka Iyotake.

Before the photo shoot could begin though, LaPointe and Balkowitsch had to share in a ceremony; much like Tatanka Iyotake would have done with Goff. Partaking in a tobacco offering – a private event between the two friends – they were ready to capture history.

“We are going to make a simple portrait,” Balkowitsch said.

Little about the process was actually simple though. However, compared to Goff, who had just one chance to produce an image of Tatanka Iyotake, Balkowitsch was able to spend a good deal of time to capture just a bit of LaPointe.

The first photo
The room was abuzz with excitement as Balkowitsch set up the first photo. Balkowitsch wasn’t alone though. Accompany him was Jason Lueder, Mike and John LaLonde, as well as Balkowitsch’s apprentice, Greg Frank, all helping to insure that the process went smoothly.

Securing LaPointe into the neck brace, in order to keep movement to a minimum, Balkowitsch explained that the process included a lot of sitting perfectly still.

“For the last 10 seconds, there can be no blinking, moving or even breathing, if you can hold it for that long,” Balkowitsch said.

Expecting a bit of movement, at least for the initial shot, all involved were a bit surprised to see how still LaPointe sat.

“I don’t know if I’ve had anyone sit as still for me,” Balkowitsch said.

As LaPointe began telling a bit of his history, the surprise wore off, and instead was replaced with admiration.

Having served the United States during the Vietnam War, LaPointe attributed his stillness to his time in battle.

“A lot of vets can sit still with no problem,” LaPointe said. “You communicated with your eyes, so you didn’t have to move and give away your position.”

Reliving his time in Vietnam, LaPointe captured his audience by telling of his own injury in the war.

“I did get a piece of shrapnel over my eye,” LaPointe said. “It must have hit a vessel, because blood was all over the place. I thought I had lost my eye.”

Once the photo was taken, it was time to witness a bit of “magic.”

Guiding LaPointe and Sonja through the process of developing the plate, Balkowitsch displayed the passion he had for his art form.

Watching the image begin to take shape, the group was mesmerized by what was taking place. A unique piece of history was being captured in silver, one that could never be duplicated.

“I like it,” LaPointe said.

Over the course of the day, close to a dozen plates would be taken of LaPointe, each turning out remarkably.

As the day continued, the similarity between LaPointe and his great-grandfather, Tatanka Iyotake, became increasingly apparent to many in the group.

“I’ve got goose bumps on my arm,” Balkowitsch said, describing the similarity.

Part of the effect was because of LaPointe’s own attitude. Being a traditionalist, LaPointe seeks to keep true to the Lakota way of life, which shines through his actions.

However, for one present, the similarity was lost. It was not lost because of being unaware. Instead, for Sonja, her love for Ernie outweighed the similarities between great-grandfather and son.

“It just looks like Ernie,” Sonja said.

For the others there though, seeing Tatanka Iyotake in LaPointe was almost a given. As LaPointe put on more traditional clothing, the similarity was cemented.

The photos were not able to capture all of the similarities though. While the photos portrayed LaPointe as more stern, his personality flowed in between shoots.

With the Lakota culture containing a lot of humor, LaPointe filled the gaps with jokes and interesting stories of his life. Introducing those present to a better understanding of another culture, LaPointe became an ambassador for the Lakota, making the group a little more aware.

It wasn’t just LaPointe who shared about the Lakota though. At times when LaPointe was busy having his image captured, Sonja proved to be a wealth of knowledge as well. Detailing much of the life of LaPointe, as well as Tatanka Iyotake, she helped in the process of discovering a different culture.

Behind the scenes
While Balkowitsch was busy behind the camera, another was busy behind the scenes, helping make sure the entire process ran smoothly.

Frank, who was kept busy with getting the plates ready for the actual shoot, as well as helping in the developing process, demonstrated that he was a great apprentice.

“He is a great partner for Shane,” Lueder said. “Greg matches a lot of the passion that Shane has.”
Standing back in much of the process, Frank silently kept things rolling, allowing Balkowitsch to focus on taking the shots.

Keeping up with the excitement and passion that Balkowitsch showed, the entire photo shoot process kept going along smoothly.

At the same time, capturing much of the action behind the scenes, Mike and John were busy documenting the day by taking photos in a more modern fashion.

Sharing a friendship
As the day wore on, something besides photos was busy being developed.

Having met with LaPointe and Sonja, a friendship was brewing between all involved. Spending much of the day together, learning about these two individuals, the group found themselves drawn in.

Bringing it all together, Sharon Balkowitsch, Shane’s mother, provided a meal for all to enjoy together.

By the end of the photo shoot, those leaving left with more than knowing they had helped captured a piece of history, but also with a bond between those involved.

Two friends examining the first plate (Mike and John LaLonde photo)

Two friends examining the first plate (Mike and John LaLonde photo)

Shane Balkowitsch and Greg Frank watching as a wet plate develops.  (Mike and John LaLonde photo)

Shane Balkowitsch and Greg Frank watching as a wet plate develops. (Mike and John LaLonde photo)

While Shane Balkowitsch doesn’t take many couple photos, he produced a unique one for Ernie and Sonja LaPointe (Dustin White photo)

While Shane Balkowitsch doesn’t take many couple photos, he produced a unique one for Ernie and Sonja LaPointe (Mike and John LaLonde photo)

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Recreating a little piece of history http://mandan-news.com/recreating-a-little-piece-of-history/ http://mandan-news.com/recreating-a-little-piece-of-history/#comments Thu, 24 Jul 2014 14:42:58 +0000 http://mandan-news.com/?p=16608 Taken in 1875, Guff captured General Custer, along with family and soldiers, in front of the Custer house. (Orlando S. Guff photo)

Taken in 1875, Goff captured General Custer, along with family and soldiers, in front of the Custer house. (Orlando S. Goff photo)

Working nearly a 140 years later, Balkowitsch sought to recapture a piece of history. (Shane Balkowitsch photo)

Working nearly a 140 years later, Balkowitsch sought to recapture a piece of history. Depicted – Top Row: Leonard Swett (Tyler Huber), Mrs. Elizabeth B. Custer (Marla Matkin), Mrs. Margaret Custer Calhoun (Elizabeth Schuh), Lieutenant James Calhoun (Jason Blotsky), an unidentified soldier (Johnny Sullivan IV). Second Row: W.C. Curtis (Tom Huber), 2nd Lieutenant Richard E. Thompson (Chad Balkowitsch) and Miss Emma Wadsworth (Kayla Ternes). Bottom Row: 1st Lieutenant Thomas W. Custer (Gary W. Stewart), Miss Nellie Wadsworth (Bonnie Balkowitsch), and Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer (Steve Alexander). (Shane Balkowitsch photo)

By Dustin White
Mandan News, editor

Nearly 140 years separate two photographs taken at the Custer House in the Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park. The first, taken by Orlando S. Goff in 1875, depicted General Custer, along with family and a few camp soldiers, sitting on the front porch of the house.

The second photo was taken on Sunday, July 13, 2014, by Shane Balkowitsch, North Dakota’s only wet plate photographer. Attempting to recapture history, Balkowitsch painstakingly recreated that photo Goff had taken over a century ago.

Even though the two artists lived in two very different times, they were connected by their passion for this one art form: a wet plate photography known as ambrotype.

Today, there are only about 1000 artists who continue to use this process. Most are quite experienced photographers who are looking for a new challenge to conquer. For Balkowitsch, he came to this photographic process in a very different manner.

Working in the technology industry, he wanted to find something else.

“Technology is my life, so I find myself running from it,” Balkowitsch said.

He was first exposed to wet plate photography when he saw a few examples online. Wanting to learn more, Balkowitsch began researching the process.

Eventually he stumbled upon a man named John Coffer, who had produced a manual on the subject.

Knowing nearly nothing about photography, and armed with just this relatively short work, Balkowitsch set out on a period of trial and error. Trying to understand the basics of exposure and composition, he eventually taught himself how to take these photos.

He would eventually take his first successful photo in 2012, and from there, it has boomed. In two short years, Balkowitsch has produced over 720 plates.

“This really is a passion of mine,” Balkowitsch said. “It’s something I enjoy.”

The main subject of Balkowitsch’s photos has always been humans, which is another unique aspect of his photography. For him, it is about capturing part of the human aspect.

“Each one of these plates are unique. There are no copies or duplicates,” Balkowitsch said. “What I’m doing is capturing 10 seconds of your life, in silver.”

Another unique aspect of Balkowitsch’s photography is that he doesn’t charge for his service. Instead, he just gets to keep his favorite plate out of the shots. Other photographers using this process may charge anywhere from $200-2000, but for Balkowitsch, it is more about enjoying a hobby.

“I just love the art,” Balkowitsch said. “I like to capture people.”

This love is something that he wants to share with the community as well. One way in which he wants to continue sharing this love, even after his death, is by sending off all the plates he has kept to their respective families.

In his will, Balkowitsch said that he’s going to have it so that each plate is given to either the person it depicts, or to a family member. His idea is that in one swoop, 30 to 40 years from now, 1000s of plates will go out to these families.

He has been surprised by the reaction he has gotten though.

“I didn’t think anyone would be interested in me when I started,” Balkowitsch said.

Custer house
Having a love for the art form is one of the reasons Balkowitsch wanted to reproduce Goff’s photo. Being part of that history, and sharing a space with a man who had enjoyed the same art form was something he looked forward to.

“It was wonderful thinking that I was standing on the same ground that he (Goff) had stood on,” Balkowitsch said. “Hopefully, Goff was smiling down on us, that someone was mentioning him. And maybe in 300 years someone will pick up one of my photos and do the same.”

Wanting to continue to share this art form, Balkowitsch met with Matt Schanandore, from Fort Lincoln, after the photo shoot. Wanting to donate the four plates he took on Sunday to the Fort Lincoln, Balkowitsch was given just that opportunity.

One of the plates will end up hanging on a wall in the Custer House, while the three others will be used to create a display about the history of wet plating at Fort Lincoln.

They also discussed the possibility of Balkowitsch becoming the official wet plate photographer of Fort Lincoln. He said the goal would be to get a large collection of original pieces for future generations to enjoy.

The first photographic process introduced was one called the daguerreotype process. A French artist and chemist, by the name Louis Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, while researching the chemistry and mechanics that were needed to capture images, accidentally broke a mercury thermometer.

Examining the results, Daguerre discovered a method to develop images on plates. Over the next few years, he would further refine this method until the method was fully successful.

It was on Jan. 19, 1839, that the French Academy of Science announced the daguerreotype process. Instead of patenting his process, the French government arranged so that they would acquire the rights to the method, in exchange for giving Daguerre a lifetime pension.

In turn, the French government would go on to gift the daguerreotype process to the the world. However, a few days before the French government made their announcement that they were giving the method to the world for free, a patent agent, on the behalf of Daguerre, filed a patent in England. While the rest of the world was free to use the process, in Britain, one had to purchase a license to legally benefit from the method.

In the same year that Daguerre would announce his photographic process, another man by the name of William Fox Talbot announced his calotype, or talbotype process. With these two announcement, the year in which photography was born became cemented as 1839.

Unlike Daguerre, Talbot set out to patent his process from the beginning. Part of the reason for this was so that he could recuperate the thousands of pounds he had spent on developing the method. Not all had to pay for licensing for the process though, as Talbot waived the fee for amateur photographers.

One of the individuals who would use the calotype process was a sculpture named Frederick Scott Archer. It was his want to capture the image of his sculptures that led him to Talbot’s photographic method.

For Archer though, the calotype process was dissatisfying. With the long exposures needed, as well as poor contrast and definition produced, Archer sought out a new method of capturing images.

In 1848, nearly a decade after photography was invented, Archer discovered a new method, which he called the wet plate collodion process. Three years later, he would have his method published in “The Chemist.” Having done so, without patenting his process first, he gave his method freely to the world.

Continuing to experiment with the new method he invented, Archer would later go on to develop the ambrotype process jointly with Peter Wickens Fry.

It was this process that Goff would later discover. Having been born in 1843, just a few years before photography was invented, he would go on to learn the art form himself after a stint in the army.

Locating to Lyons, N.Y., Goff first learned photography. Shortly later, he traveled to Portage, Wis., where he worked as an itinerant photographer. Eventually, he began moving west to Dakota Territory, first settling in Yankton and then later Bismarck.

It was in 1873 that Goff made his home in this area. He sat up a studio, and soon after, became the post photographer for Fort Abraham Lincoln. During this time, he was granted the chance to take a series of photos of Custer, various officers and a few of their wives. Among the photos that Goff took was the last known photograph of Custer, as well as the one in which Balkowitsch set out to recapture.

It was also during Goff’s time in Bismarck that he married his wife, Anna E. Eaton, in 1875. They would go on to have one daughter, Bessie.

Goff would go on to capture the first photographs of a number of famous Native Americans as well, including Chief Joseph of the Nez Pierce and Sitting Bull.

In 1878, Goff left his home in Bismarck and began a photographic tour of the Plains. For the next 22 years, he would continue to capture little pieces of history. However, in 1900, Goff would leave the life of photography, and move onto new endeavors.

Resettling in Montana, he would run, and eventually be elected in 1907, to the Montana House of Representatives. That era of his life wouldn’t last long, as he would shortly move to Boise, Idaho, along with is wife, daughter and son-in-law. This would eventually be his final resting place, when he died on Oct. 17, 1916.

Staying true to the method Goff would have used in 1875, Balkowitsch has set out to remain as authentic as possible.

A key element of the process is that the plate stays wet. It is this aspect that caused this photographic method to be inconvenient, as well as difficult.

To begin, a solution called collodion is poured onto the plate, which is then tilted in order to allow the solution to cover the entire plate. One of the issues with this method is that collodion slowly eats away at the surfaces in which it touches.

The plate is then placed into a silver nitrate bath, where the silver binds with the iodine and bromide contained in the collodium solution. As this process makes the plate sensitive to light, a photographer would have to set up either a dark room, or dark tent if they were traveling, in order to be able to keep from exposing the plate to light.

A photographer would then have to rush, first putting the plate into a light-proof holder, which would then be slid into the camera.

As these cameras did not have the technology of our modern ones, exposing the plate had to be done manually. The camera itself was basically a box with a lens, so the exposure process actually required the photographer to take the cap off the lens, and then replace it after the set time had passed.

The rush wasn’t over for the photographer though, as they had to once again rush the plate, which was safely inside the light-proof box, back to their processing area, where they would pour a developer on over the plate and then agitate, until the image began to appear. The next step was to wash off the developer, by putting the plate in a bath of water, and the initial process was largely finished.

However, as the photograph is largely composed of silver, which tarnishes relatively quickly, the plate would then have a coat of varnish applied to it, and a tar placed on the back.

While the photo itself was processing, allowing the plate to dry would have caused the image to disappear, and thus the work for nothing.

The image itself, once fully developed, is of extremely high quality. Studies that have examined photos processed through this method were shown to be written at the nano level, which causes high resolution. Looking at one of these photographs under a microscope, one would not be able to observe any pixels.

There was one other slight problem associated with taking photos this way. The photograph would be taken backwards and upside down. So while looking through the lens, a photographer would have to orient themselves to this view. After a short while though, photographers would become used to this perspective.

As Balkowitsch explained, the lens that these cameras used actually processed the light and image in the same manner that eyes also do. The reason we see images as we do is because the brain processes the information being sent to it, and rearranges how the image appears. Modern cameras also achieve this same method by the utilization of a mirror.

For more information on Balkowitsch, go to http://sharoncol.balkowitsch.com/wetplate.htm.

For additional photos, check out the photo section of our website.

Taking just four plates, the photo shoot took around an hour to complete. (Dustin White photo)

Taking just four plates, the photo shoot took around an hour to complete. (Dustin White photo)

Getting set up for the photo on Sunday, July 13, took a large effort on both the actors as well as Balkowitsch. (Dustin White photo)

Getting set up for the photo on Sunday, July 13, took a large effort on both the actors as well as Balkowitsch. (Dustin White photo)

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Drama club took to the stage http://mandan-news.com/drama-club-took-to-the-stage/ http://mandan-news.com/drama-club-took-to-the-stage/#comments Mon, 28 Apr 2014 17:36:45 +0000 http://mandan-news.com/?p=15799
The cast of "Willabella Witch's Last Spell" get ready for their dress rehearsal on April 21. (photo by Dustin White)

The cast of “Willabella Witch’s Last Spell” get ready for their dress rehearsal on April 21. (photo by Dustin White)

By Dustin White
Mandan News, editor

Opening night can be nerve wracking even to season veterans. For actors who haven’t performed in front of an audience before, the anxiety can be overwhelming. A group of Mandan Middle School student’s had their chance to overcome this on Saturday, April 26.

Over the last few months, the newly formed drama club at the Mandan Middle School have been preparing for their debut show. Without being able to rely on the experience and resources of previous classes, these students have had a lot to accomplish in a short time.

While the main task has been learning their parts, the stage has also been busy with set and custom design, makeup, as well as the various aspects of theater that make such a show possible.
Now, all of that hard work is about to payoff. With dress rehearsals having taken place early during the week, the drama club is ready to display the show they have been working diligently on.

“Its a big night. You going to do what you’ve been doing for months, but in front of people,“ Griffen Spady, who plays the prince, said.

A major aspect of this play was choosing the right work. Being middle school students, Ashley Schrenk, director for the drama club, decided it was best to stay away from pieces with too much drama.

“These students have to deal with enough drama during school,” Schrenk said. “So we decided on something that would be fun for all involved.”

After careful consideration, Schrenk, along with Brenda Holland, the student advisor for the drama club, decided on a one-act play titled “Willabella Witch’s Last Spell.” In this play, Willabella, a witch who is celebrating her 400th birthday, decides that it is time to retire. However, much to her chagrin, a group of fairy tale characters descend upon her home and begin getting Willabella mixed up into their problems.

A key reason for choosing this particular play was that it is suitable for both adults, as well as children.

“With the success of the Harry Potter series, and other fantasy works, it seemed like this play would be suitable,” Schrenk said.

While there are still some details to work out, such as dialing in the lighting, the group is ready for their first night.

“I read that in most plays, something goes wrong. So I am a little nervous, but we are ready to deal with anything that may happen,” Alexis Prestriedge, who plays the crow, said.

Even though nerves will be a factor when the curtain opens, the actors are excited to display their final product.

“You always have to a little nervous for these type of things. We are going do awesome though, as we have all worked really hard,“ Brenna Meuchel, who is playing Willabella witch, said.

April 26 was also be a big day for the program as a whole. It has the potential to show others that the work that has been invested into this club is well worth the effort. Regardless of the turnout though, the drama club has given something much more to its members. It has given many a place in which they fit.

“I think it has been going great. The middle school was really missing a drama club. I wanted a club that students could be who they are, and have a lot of fun,” Brenda Holland said. “I think they will be ready. They have had a great time, and have put a lot of time and energy into it.”

Holland and Schrenk plan on continuing this in following years, and are looking at options for next fall.

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Mandan Middle school kicks off a drama club http://mandan-news.com/mandan-middle-school-kicks-off-a-drama-club/ http://mandan-news.com/mandan-middle-school-kicks-off-a-drama-club/#comments Fri, 21 Feb 2014 16:15:49 +0000 http://mandan-news.com/?p=15520 By Dustin White
Mandan News, editor

When Desiree Dahl, a student at Mandan Middle School, first entered Brenda Haaland’s, a paraprofessional at MMS, office, she knew that she wanted to start a new club. Not really knowing the direction they should move ahead, Haaland suggested an area that was lacking at the middle school; a drama club.

The next step was to find a director, so Haaland turned to her long time friend Ashley Schrenk, who had went to college for theater. Loving the idea, Schrenk agreed to direct, and they moved forward.

Choosing a suitable play to begin with was crucial. Schrenk said that it was necessary to find a play with characters that the students could portray effectively. She also wanted to avoid material that focused on drama, as the students have enough of that.

Instead, they choose a one-act play called “Willabella Witch’s Last Spell,” as it would be fun for all involved.

There was a major hurdle they would have to overcome though before they could kick-off the show. Since the club started in middle of the year, school funding for such groups had already been dealt out.

To overcome this obstacle, the students put on a few fundraisers. For Valentine’s day, the club planned to sell carnations as well as cans of Crush soda. To their surprise, they received a gift themselves when Walmart donated 15 cases of Crush for their cause.

At the end of the fundraiser, the students sold 275 carnations and the 15 donated cases of crush, as well as four additional cases.

There was need for additional fundraising though, but good fortune was one again on the club’s side.

Schrenk, who works at Station West restaurant and bar on Main Street in Mandan, had been discussing the club with her manager when Edgar Oliveira , the owner, overhead and offered to host a fundraiser there. Oliveira had been planning on holding a fundraiser monthly at his restaurant and was excited to help out.

Having a venue in place, they have decided to host an event on Saturday, Feb. 22, with 10 percent of the day’s proceeds going to benefit the drama club.

Throughout this entire process of getting the club started, there has already been a positive effect on all of the students involved. “Kids keep coming up and telling me how excited they are to be in a group which accepts everyone,” said Schrenk. “This has been a chance for them to build some self-esteem, and come out of their shells in a safe environment.”

Their first show is scheduled for the last weekend in April,

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‘Remembering Our Fallen’ is at Dakota Community Bank http://mandan-news.com/remembering-our-fallen-is-at-dakota-community-bank/ http://mandan-news.com/remembering-our-fallen-is-at-dakota-community-bank/#comments Thu, 09 Jan 2014 16:04:57 +0000 http://mandan-news.com/?p=15240 The "Remembering Our Fallen" photo display honors 21 resident North Dakotans killed in the War on Terror.

The “Remembering Our Fallen” photo display honors 21 resident North Dakotans killed in the War on Terror. (Submitted Photo)

A photo exhibit, “Remembering Our Fallen” from North Dakota, is on display this month in the lobbies of Dakota Community Bank & Trust, north Bismarck and Mandan.

It honors 21 resident North Dakotans killed in the War on Terror and can be viewed during regular business hours (8 a.m.to 5:30 p.m.) in the lobby of Dakota Community Bank & Trust, north Bismarck, through Friday, Jan. 17, and in the Mandan branch at 4321 Memorial Highway Jan. 20-31.

“The warriors of the 21st century, professionals, who volunteered to join the United States Armed Forces, grew up in the shadow of Sept. 11, 2001, a defining moment for most of them. They come from all walks of life and every corner of our country, daring to go where so many never would. They retain the face of freedom and build upon the legacies of those who went before them in a cause greater than themselves,” said Col. James Biernesser, U.S. Air Force (Ret.)

“This exhibit is created so it can travel easily throughout North Dakota, so that more people will have the opportunity to honor and remember North Dakota’s fallen.”

The North Dakota Department of the American Legion is responsible for moving the exhibit from community to community.

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A dense, but absorbing read http://mandan-news.com/a-dense-but-absorbing-read/ http://mandan-news.com/a-dense-but-absorbing-read/#comments Fri, 27 Dec 2013 04:44:02 +0000 http://mandan-news.com/?p=15035 “The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism” (Simon & Schuster), by Doris Kearns Goodwin

By The Associated Press

In her beautiful new account of the lives of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin spins a tale so gripping that one questions the need for fiction when real life is so plump with drama and intrigue.

“The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism” takes readers from cradle to grave of these men who led the nation during a pivotal time. Poignant details of their childhoods and courtships combine with painstaking explanations of the legislative battles they fought that helped shape the future of the country.

W bully pulpit book coverThe former presidents are thoroughly humanized with accounts like these: Taft won over his future wife in part by offering to cut the meat for her younger sister at a picnic. Roosevelt’s earliest memories involve having asthma attacks and being unable to sleep except in the arms of his father, who would carry “the gasping child from room to room.”

Kearns Goodwin’s behind-the-scenes accounts put on full display life’s unexpected twists. Roosevelt’s mother and his first wife died within the same day, a mere two days after his daughter was born; in his grief, Roosevelt escaped to the wilderness and considered a full-time career in ranching. Later in his tumultuous career, after party bosses nominated him as vice president in an attempt to muzzle him, Roosevelt was frustrated in the do-nothing role and made plans to begin law school.

Soon after, President William McKinley was assassinated and Roosevelt became the nation’s youngest president.

Taft’s life dream was to be a Supreme Court justice and he often expressed dislike for politics. It’s ironic, then, that he felt compelled by prior commitments to decline Roosevelt’s numerous offers to appoint him to the bench, and ultimately became president himself.

Perhaps most striking is the role journalists played in exposing corruption, galvanizing public opinion and compelling Congress to act against the interest of their corporate backers. Roosevelt’s collaborative and extremely friendly relationship with journalists is unimaginable today. Time and again, Roosevelt would hit a wall in his effort to push reform, only to have the tide change after the publication of an investigative series chronicling abuses by the railroads or oil monopolies, causing a public outcry and the needed momentum for change.
A novel by a young Upton Sinclair, based on his observations of gruesome practices at a Chicago stockyard – “scraps of meat that were later sold to the public were swept from floors infested with rats and covered in human spit” – led Roosevelt to invite the author to the White House and to dispatch investigators to evaluate the book’s charges. The ensuing report confirmed the filthy conditions and prompted a bill creating a federal inspection program of the meatpacking industry.

The pushback to such government interventions seems almost absurd in retrospect. Legislation that would require proper labels on food and drugs was derided by conservatives, who lampooned a crusader in the effort as “chief janitor and policeman of the people’s insides.”

For a book 750 pages long, the author does an impressive job keeping a reader’s attention and interest, even if occasional sections are convoluted or repetitive.

Kearns Goodwin’s previous works include the best-seller “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” and “No Ordinary Time: Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II,” which won a Pulitzer Prize in history.

“The Bully Pulpit” is a dense read, but an absorbing one, with history offering not only lessons to be learned, but fascinating tales, too.

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