Clintonville theater brings its talent to Oconto Falls

Phoenix Players present "Sister Act" this weekend
Phoenix Players Inc. presents “Sister Act: A Divine Musical Comedy” this weekend and next in Oconto Falls, featuring, from left, Ashley Borman (Sister Mary Martin-Of-Tours), Lilly Wisnefske (Sister Mary Robert), Tara Huber (Deloris Van Cartier/Sister Mary Clarence), Amanda Hein (Sister Mary Lazarus), Staci Carper (Sister Mary Theresa), and Maribeth Weidner (Sister Mary Patrick). (Contributed)
By: 
Anna Olson
Correspondent

OCONTO FALLS — Phoenix Players Inc. is a nonprofit community theater organization based in Clintonville with a mission to produce “high quality theatrical entertainment in Northeast Wisconsin.”

It’s taking that goal to a venue closer to home the next two weekends. The group’s production of “Sister Act: A Divine Musical Comedy” will be performed at the Falls Area Performing Arts Center (in Oconto Falls High School) Friday through Sunday and Aug. 16-18.

The organization was established in 2017 by Brandon Byng and Mary-Beth Kuester, two individuals who saw a need for a community theater in Clintonville.

Byng, of Abrams, and Kuester of Clintonville, both come with many years of theater expertise and experience. Byng has been acting since his high school days. He has over 15 years’ experience directing plays and musicals with various theater organizations, including Box in the Wood Theatre Guild (Shawano), Theatre on the Bay (Marinette), and Notre Dame Academy (Green Bay).

Kuester has experience acting, directing, and producing plays for Box in the Wood Theatre Guild in Shawano. She is also the former president of the Shawano County Arts Council and a current member of the Wisconsin Dance Council.

“We make a great team as Mary-Beth has a marketing background and works well as our producer, while my strengths are in the art of stage craft, serving as the artistic director for the troupe,” Byng said.

Phoenix Players is based in Clintonville but has no home building. True to their mission, Byng and Kuester have big plans to travel around Northeast Wisconsin, bringing their theater group to any community or performance space that will welcome them.

“We are a little like a roaming caravan of gypsies,” Byng said. “We have been so lucky to be able to partner with several churches and schools in Clintonville to hold auditions and rehearse our shows in their buildings.”

Currently the theater produces two to three musicals a year. Past productions include “Christmas … On the Air,” “Once Upon a Mattress,” “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” and “Shrek The Musical.” While the theater organization has found that there is more interest in acting in and attending musicals, the hope in the future is to begin producing plays.

Performing in Oconto Falls holds a special place for Byng.

“I am an alumni of Oconto Falls High School, Class of 2002, and was very active in the drama club during my high school years,” he said. “I was never able to use the new PAC facilities, because it wasn’t completed until the year after I graduated high school. So, for me it is very exciting to be performing for the first time in the Falls Area PAC.”

With other local theater groups in the surrounding area, like Abrams Spotlight Productions Inc. and the Machickanee Players in Oconto, the two leaders say they believe a little healthy competition between theater organizations is a good thing.

“We don’t think there is ever enough opportunity for live theater,” Byng said. Live stage shows are a rare thing in rural communities, and to provide more opportunities for families and everyone in the community to attend or be involved in a live show is a good thing.”

Byng also hopes the Phoenix Players will benefit the community, too. Visitors from outside the community could patronize businesses, he said, and it provides area thespians more opportunities to be in a show.

“Auditioning for a show can be competitive at times, and the more shows that are available to audition for, the more people who can get involved,” Byng said.

Tickets for “Sister Act” can be purchased at phoenixplayerswi.com and at the N.E.W. Credit Union locations in Oconto Falls, Oconto, Suring, and Peshtigo. For more information, call the box office at 920-393-5324.