FARGO — The coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent need for social distancing shut down theatrical productions around the country, but one Fargo-based troupe is making the best of a bad situation.

Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre only staged a few performances of the comedy “Flanagan’s Wake" at Studio 6 in downtown Fargo, but once the remaining run was canceled and cast and crew were sent home, Judy Lewis, the organization’s education director, was left looking at an empty set.

The backdrop had been painted to look like a fieldstone wall, fitting for an old Irish church or pub.

Or a castle in a fairy tale.

“I was thinking how we could give something to the community, something to make them smile, to keep them entertained. Then I thought, ‘We’ve got a throne,' and that was that,” Lewis says.

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That was the beginning of “The Magic Castle,” a video series on FMCT’s Facebook page in which actors and educators read favorite childhood stories.

“The beautiful thing about FMCT is we’re hiring teachers or professionals in the education system,” Lewis says. “I love a good story read to me. Who doesn’t?”

The narrators, Rachel Rebischke and Michaela Pytlik, have pulled from their own bookshelves for readings and they get dressed in costumes from FMCT’s wardrobe.

Teacher and actress Michaela Pytlik reads from a book as part of the Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre's reading series, “The Magic Castle." Special to The Forum
Teacher and actress Michaela Pytlik reads from a book as part of the Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre's reading series, “The Magic Castle." Special to The Forum

Rebischke says the experience reminds her of playing as a kid.

“It offers a sense of play and we need that sense of play and creativity as we fill the hours of our day,” she says of the videos, which are between two and eight minutes.

Among the titles she’s selected so far have been some of her favorites, like “One Love,” Cedella Marley’s nod to the music of her late father, Bob Marley. Another, Tim Minchin’s “When I Grow Up,” holds a special spot for her, as it features lyrics from the musical “Matilda.” She is set to perform in FMCT’s production of the show, which is scheduled to open up May 29, though that show remains a question.

Even though all performances are on hold for now, Rebischke was excited to take part in the video performances when Lewis asked.

“I love FMCT and I’m happy they found a way to connect with the community, even if they can’t sell tickets to shows,” the actress says.

Parents are just as excited about the series.

Heidi Krauth Meline showed her daughter Clara the videos of the readings and the child posted a note to say hi to her FMCT teachers.

“She was happy to see people she knew when I showed her the stories. Being stuck inside and missing interactions with people, it helps her feel connected,” Krauth Meline says.

As a kindergarten teacher herself, she knows the value storytelling has with children.

“They are fun and engaging and a great way to keep kids excited about books during their time off from school,” she says of the videos. “At school we try to bring guest readers into our classrooms for variety. Always a highlight for kids. The online stories are like bringing guest readers into their homes.”

The videos, which Lewis shoots and edits, are posted to FMCT’s Facebook page around 3 p.m. every weekday. She encourages both parents and kids to leave notes after watching a story.

She would like to keep filming storytelling sessions, even after social distancing is lifted. She’s also looking to bring in even more guest readers.

“I think it would be a neat platform to having people come on, one at a time, of course. But you have to wear a costume,” Lewis says with a laugh.

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