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Theatre
An acting class with little drama
Tiny Drummond advances in state competition

Angelina Castellano took a deep breath before she stabbed fellow student Dalaney Rasmussen Thursday.

Don't worry: Rasmussen was fine. Castellano only stabbed her with a candy cane as the Drummong High School students rehearsed for the One-Act State Festival later this month.

They were among 13 Drummond students who last week scored high enough in the sectionals to make it to the next round of competition that the Wisconsin High School Forensic Association held at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

One Act requires students to perform a one-act play of less than 40 minutes that then is reviewed by a panel of three judges who rate it on individual acting, ensemble acting, crew performance and directing. The highest-rated groups move on to the state competition, and Drummond advanced in the ensemble category.

English language arts instructor Amy Wiebusch has helped established a long-standing tradition of winning the competition over her past 25 years of teaching.

"If we don't get to state, I feel worse than the children because we gave everything, but it wasn't enough," she said while looking a trophy case full of awards from past One-Act festivals.

Each student brings with him or her different experience levels and personalities, and they use their strengths to work together and bring out the most in each other.

"Some of us are very experienced, while some are still good actors, but we're just new at this," student Sydney Marshall said while sitting with her cast mates.

"We have great chemistry backstage that follows with us on stage," Castellano added.

Their familiarity makes acting together come naturally and they help each other when someone is in need, she stressed.

"It helps a lot that we're all really good friends. We just got to stick together and work through the hard," Castellano said with a smile.

The fact that they get along so well is impressive because high school can be a tough time for students, Wiebusch said as her ensemble prepared to rehearse.

"They have great teamwork because there's no fighting or drama. In high school, you expect there to be drama, but there's none of that. They come from all walks of life," she said.

Many of the students have also been performing together in the Chequamegon Children Theatre co-taught by Cable resident Kennedy Fleming, who helped Wiebusch instruct the students for One-Act this year.

Students get to interact with and learn from Hollywood stars and the kids put on a real play, Wiebusch noted.

Their camaraderie was obvious as they improved together and cracked jokes prior to rehearsal. But when the spotlights came on, the wisecracks ended and serious acting began as the students performed two scenes from "Elf on a Shelf." Wiebusch said it's a play about a group kids who kill the elf their parents bought to keep an eye on them and how they try to redeem themselves in time for Christmas.

"It has a bit if Quentin Tarantino in it. It's "Pulp Fiction" meet s "John Wick" and "The Cleaner," she said.

In competition, the students have only 40 minutes to set up the stage, perform the play and then take everything down. One second too long and they're disqualified.

When they learned they had hit the deadline and advanced to state, the students broke down.

"We were shocked, in disbelief, and cried tears of happiness," student Sydney Marshall said.

Fleming was not surprised by the results.

"I didn't have doubts, but I was so excited. I was confident with the work they had put in. That validation was really, really awesome," she said.

Working with the students has restored the joy of acting for Fleming. She's been on stage in one role or another since she was 10 years old.

"They have re-inspired my drive for the theater. During the pandemic, it was kind of grey and hard to imagine. (They) reminded my where I came from and why I fell in love with it in the first place," she said.

The state competition and festival will take place Nov. 18-20 at UW-SP.


Economics
Bayfield parents working to save playgrounds

Heavy use by local kids and visitors — and the often-harsh climate of the peninsula — have taken a toll on Bayfield's two main playgrounds at Marina and Cooper Hill parks.

"At this point, because of safety concerns and the age of the equipment, it is just time to replace it," said Bayfield resident Matt Carrier. "But because of stagnant or declining revenues from the city, it's tough. When you have other issues to tackle, it's very difficult. The state ties our hands in many ways, so we can't get to a lot of these important city projects. We are really limited in how we can generate revenue and then we have all these increasing expenses. Streets are a big issue, for example."

With little prospect of the city rebuilding the playgrounds, a group of Bayfield parents now is trying to raise funds for repairs so kids can play safely again.

And safety is their big concern. At both parks plywood has delaminated leaving sharp edges, structural wood has rotted and it's all a giant splinter waiting to happen. At Cooper Hill Park especially, the wooden playground, which is well over two decades old, has reached the end of its lifespan.

"We've had volunteers step up and try to address some of the issues, but it's to the point now that it really needs to be replaced," said Carrier, who also is a Bayfield City Council member.

The group plans to start small, replacing most of the wooden play features at Cooper Hill Park.

"The hope is that we will be able to put in new structures, and perhaps keep a few of the older structures to keep the Bayfield theme," said Mollie Carrier. "Our first goal is to raise $30,000 to get the smaller park done."

How much work can get done depends on how much money the group can raise. It would cost as much as $500,000 to installed poured-rubber surfaces, for example, Mollie Carrier said. Whatever the amount that is raised, committee members say it will be money well spent.

"These parks are such an integral asset for the Bayfield community, the city and the town and the greater area," said member Annalisa Bermal. "Not only is it going to give back in improved values for people's property around here, it is also the overall experience that visitors will be able to have as well. When you think of the small-town charm that Bayfield has always had, having an outdoor recreation area that you can see neighbors gathering at and kids playing, that is not the picture in most of America anymore, but we still get to have that and celebrate it."

Committee member Grace Hogan said parks in Bayfield are vital, even if most residents tend to be older.

"But there are a lot of younger families here, and there could be even more if we improve facilities for kids," she said.

The group hopes to raise $30,000 to begin with, which would allow it to apply for matching grants. The Carriers think that's do-able; residents have sent the city at least 25 letters of support, Matt Carrier said.

"I see the benefits personally for my own kids," Mollie Carrier said. "I want them to have fun at safe parks, and also for the kids of visitors. I own a small business in the area and rely on visitors so I want to give our guests a good experience in Bayfield rather than 'Hey, go play in the park that is rotting away.' I'd rather send them to a fun, safe park."

To contribute

Donations can be made at cityofbayfield.com. Press the "City Info" tab, and click on the "Other Payments" button, then click the "Pay Now" button and fill out the short form to make a donation.


Commerce
Bay-Area housing market still tight

Brandon Ehmke and Miranda Paetow of Ashland have been looking for a starter home in the Ashland area for more than a year, but like scores of other buyers, they've been stymied. They need a house that will accommodate them and 11-month-old son Phoenix, and after checking out yet another home on Vaughn Street Wednesday, they still came up empty. Like almost every house they've considered, this one needed too much work to be worth the asking price.

"A lot of the houses, especially in Ashland, just needs updating," Ehmke said as they checked out the kitchen. "So it's difficult."

The housing market in the Bay Area continues to mirror a national trend, with prices going up so quickly and stock so low that quality homes sell almost immediately, leaving scraps for buyers like Ehmke and Paetow.

Local housing prices

Ashland

• $107,000: median price of home in 2019

• $136,000: median price of a home as of September Bayfield

• $168,000: median price in 2019

• $240,000 median price as of September Wisconsin

• $198,000: median price in 2019

• $240,000: median price in September

Source: Wisconsin Realtors Association

The Vaughn home they were looking at, for example, probably would have sold for $40,000 pre-pandemic. Today, it's selling for $85,000, said Jim Moran of Anthony Jennings and Crew Real Estate.

"Prior to the pandemic, everything was OK. Then all of a sudden, to build a new house cost so much money that there's no new houses being built," he said. "So everybody's juggling around with these used houses and nobody's buying a new one. They look at a used one and ask how much would it cost to build and, because of the building prices, they couldn't afford it. So there's nobody's building houses and everybody's buying used houses. When you do that, the prices go up, up, up because the demand is there. This will sell for that price."

But the couple hasn't given up hope. For now, they're sharing a home they rent with Paetow's parents.

"It just takes time. You got to wait and find the right home," Ehmke said. "We just want a place of our own."

That's all that a lot of buyers are looking for, Anthony Jennings of Anthony Jennings and Crew said. And he didn't pull punches when asked how things look for buyers right now: "It sucks," he said.

It wasn't always this way. Prior to the pandemic, the area was a buyer's market with plenty of houses for sale. Then, about two months after the government lifted the stay-at-home protocol, everything changed.

COVID-19 has caused people from out of town to want to move to more rural places such as Ashland, he believes.

"Then it's just been busy ever sense. People are trying to move here to get away from congested areas. That's what I think," Jennings said.

With so many buyers looking to purchase homes, Jennings has had houses sell even before they hit the market. That doesn't always happen, he said; most often it takes an appropriately priced home in the Bay Area a couple of weeks to sell.

The question is, how long will the market remain this way? Neither real estate analysts nor Jennings can answer that.

"(I've) been doing this for 32 years. I've seen peaks and valleys. Never been able to predict it," Jennings said.

Finding a place to rent is just as difficult as find a home to buy. It only takes a few days after advertising an apartment for Lisenby Properties in Ashland to fill a vacancy, business manager Lynda Lisenby said.

"(It's) been this way for the last year or so," she said. She has a waiting list of people looking for a place to rent, but Lisenby said by the time an apartment becomes available, often they have found something else.

Those with a good rental history should have an easier time finding a place, Kevin Porter of Porter Realty pointed out. But even if a candidate is qualified, they may have to wait a while to find a place available.

"Rental units open up slowly," Porter said. "If someone a comes along and doesn't like the first unit, it might take another month for another."

Ashland city officials have been aware of the affordable housing problem for several years and are trying to address it, Mayor Debra Lewis said.

"It's a long-term solution. We've been encouraging development of all kinds of housing," she said.

People looking to rent in Bayfield face another problem, as property owners have been converting homes and apartments to Airbnb shortterm rentals. It's not uncommon for property owners to make more by renting a place to someone for a week on Airbnb than they would leasing to a tenant for a month, Moran said.

"They would rather have their own place for a week then get a hotel room," he said.

One solution to the housing problem is slated to break ground next year, as 50 affordable housing units are going to be constructed near Walmart in Ashland.

"It will help some, but it will just be a dent," Lewis said.

For now, Ehmke and Paetow will keep looking, keep waiting for the right house to come on the market at the right price.

"You don't want to buy it just to get into something. You want to buy something that can be your forever home," Paetow said.


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