By Kris Gruber
Eloise Breikjern has been the Executive Director of Fargo Moorhead Community Theatre since 2013. She will retire in December.
High Plains Reader spoke to her about the strength of her staff, the importance of the patrons, and the skills and creativity gleaned from working during COVID-19.
HIGH PLAINS READER: There must be countless special moments that you have experienced with your staff in your work with FMCT. Is there one that jumps to mind, that you can share with our readers?
ELOISE BREIKJERN: For me watching the reactions of the patrons at shows is always special. If the performance made them cry or laugh, their reactions to attending performances told me that we were doing the correct thing. The special moment with the staff is this past year when the trusses failed, and we had to contact patrons to let them know the show was canceled. The staff worked together, making a clear statement to our patrons. Then as a team, they continued to work together through some very difficult times.
HPR: You have worked with the Red River Boys Choir, the Fargo Theatre, Trollwood Performing Arts School, and the Minnesota Orchestra. How have these roles complemented or contrasted with what you have learned in managing FMCT?
EB: With each organization, you learn and experience different things helping you grow and learn. Learning how to best develop a team takes experience, you don't learn this in a book. With all of the different arts groups I've worked with, I learned more about teamwork, I learned more about artists, more about finance and more about the functions of nonprofits.
HPR: For years now, Fargo has attracted notice from the greater theatre community. To what do you attribute the growing presence of theatre and the arts in the FM area?
EB: Fargo is a destination for people outside of our immediate area. FMCT has patrons from California, Tennessee, Texas, New York, and more. But even more important are those that come from less than 300 miles away. They are coming for a purpose and want to be entertained while they are in Fargo. Fargo has an amazing talent pool. The actors on our stage are all local individuals, some of who have not been on a stage in years. We have a large theatre education department where children are encouraged to use their skills in acting, dance, and music. These are the future patrons of the arts. Both are important to the growth in the arts.
HPR: Are you able to share any insight into the transition that FMCT and theatres, in general, are undertaking, due to COVID-19?
EB: Of course, this is a difficult time for all arts groups. FMCT is showing 10 Minute plays every Friday until December 11th. For this project, playwrights from across the country submitted plays; ten were selected and are being produced and recorded. We are having our very first virtual production, Clue, this weekend. It took different skills to block, video, and edit these productions. Everyone is learning virtual programming as they
go. Really, all the actors and technicians want to get back to the stage and perform. Our education department did not stop. FMCT had virtual classes, classes with less than twelve students, virtual productions, and we have had a great response to this programming. All arts groups are trying different things, finding what will work best for them. During this time, we need to think out-of-the box, we have creative minds, and we need to push ourselves into programming that will work during COVID-19.
HPR: What do you want patrons to know or remember about FMCT?
EB: FMCT is alive and active, even though the building is currently in disrepair. What I would like our community to remember about FMCT is it is here to enrich our greater community through engaging theatrical and educational opportunities of high artistic quality.
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