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Courting laughs: ‘Spamalot’ showcases WF’s theater program

From left, Jonathan Wells, Cody Gerszewski and Izzy Dahl rehearse a scene from “Monty Python’s Spamalot” last week at West Fargo High School. Carrie Snyder1 / 4
Adam Pankow, left, helps Cole Girodat with a prop during a rehearsal of “Monty Python’s Spamalot” last week at West Fargo High School. Carrie Snyder2 / 4
Actors sing the number “He Is Not Dead Yet” during rehearsal of “Monty Python’s Spamalot” last week at West Fargo High School. Carrie Snyder3 / 4
Walker Degerness plays a historian who opens the play during rehearsal of “Monty Python’s Spamalot” last week at West Fargo High School. Carrie Snyder4 / 4

It’s midmorning. Director Adam Pankow gathers the cast of “Spamalot” on stage to review the previous day’s practice.

They are the best he has ever directed, says West Fargo High School’s eight-year theater director.

“Monty Python’s Spamalot” is an outrageous musical comedy “lovingly ripped off from the cult classic motion picture ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail,’ ” reads the online show bill. The final three performances are tonight, Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m. at West Fargo High School.

This fall Pankow will transfer to West Fargo’s new Sheyenne High School to launch its theater program.

“It’s really bittersweet to be leaving here, because it’s been a big chunk of me for over half of my life,” said the 1998 West Fargo graduate.

West Fargo High is where Pankow honed his theatrical skills.

“This theater opened the winter before my freshman year,” he said of the older high school.

Now in its fourth year, the West Fargo summer theater program, open to area high school and college students, has grown from 18 participants in 2011 to more than 100 this year. That’s with the addition of a middle school program in June.

“Spamalot” is the largest show, in terms of cast, technicians and orchestra members, that the summer program has performed, Pankow said.

Claire DeJong, a 2014 West Fargo graduate, is the play’s stage manager.

“It’s fun to see this program grow because I’ve seen it since the beginning,” said DeJong, who was involved in theater from her freshman through senior years.

The construction aspect employed in theater set building played a role in her decision to attend North Dakota State University to study mechanical engineering, she said.

“That’s why I love theater, because it’s kind of shaped my path in life,” DeJong said.

Summer theatre a hit

“I really feel this program in on the cusp of becoming something really big for our school and our community,” said Pankow. “It’s really become a fabric of our summer culture in the metro area.”

Last year West Fargo’s summer theater performed the musical “Chicago”.

“We’re hoping to build on some of that stamina that we got last year,” said Pankow. “Every year has built on the success of the previous year.”

It’s neat, Pankow says, to see how West Fargo’s fine arts have grown in participation and audience attendance.

“There’s been a small culture shift in how these things are valued,” he said. “I think that’s fantastic.”

From actor to teacher

After graduating from Concordia College with a theater and communication degree, Pankow headed for a bigger stage.

“I was just kind of hell-bent on being a performer,” he said.

Stranded between gigs, Pankow ended up living in his parents’ basement.

That’s when the West Fargo job opened up.

Pankow applied and was hired in 2006. Between 2007-2009 he earned a bachelor’s degree in English/Education at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

Acting, he said, tends to be self-serving.

“Working with students reminded me of the spark I maybe had lost on the road,” Pankow said. “The best role I’ve played yet in theatre is to be a mentor and director.”

This particular group of cast members is 100 percent committed, he said, to telling this rendition of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.

“This is the best and strongest cast of individuals I’ve had a chance to work with. They are so spot on in their execution of the elements. They are really topnotch,” Pankow said.

“That has made putting this silly, dumb show together even that much more of a joyous experience.”