by Suzanne Vernon
For the Pathfinder
March 26, 1998
Teacher Sharon Teague was using several donated copies of the Cabin Fever book to archive local history information when she said she "literally tripped into this project."
"The play just fell into our laps," she said. Through the University of Montana Outreach Program she was introduced to Doug Harry of the Montana Repertory Theatre in Missoula. Harry offered to help eighth grade students at Seeley Lake produce their annual play, a traditional activity which began some twenty years ago with the late Cliff Nelson. After searching for other screenplays that might focus on Montana history and coming up empty-handed, Harry wrote his own play based on Cabin Fever. The Cabin Fever book turned out to be the perfect resource, he said. It contains a detailed timeline, nearly 200 photos, and dozens of stories organized by subject which give the reader an overview of the history and folklore of Seeley Lake.
Harry's drama, called "Our Entry" begins when students discover a magic diary that transports them back through time in Seeley Lake. Scenes portray a chronological history of the area, beginning with the Native Americans who encounter missionaries here. The play also includes scenes at the local post office, store, bar and lumber mill. The play ends with the students writing their own entry in the diary.
Twice a week Harry has traveled to Seeley Lake to coach students about the finer points of theatrical productions, teaching them to develop characters and memorize their parts.
To encourage students to better understand the time frame of the play, teachers invited several longtime residents of the area into their classrooms. Bud Moore visited with students about the history of the Forest Service. Don and Warren Skillicorn shared stories about early-day logging and community life. Butch Townsend talked about growing up in the Blackfoot and Clearwater valleys. Jay Haveman, retired game warden, shared stories about the natural history of the area. In addition, Doug Harry and teachers Sharon Teague and Linda Bower, met with three people who participated in the Cabin Fever projectRod Kvamme, Mildred Chaffin, and Suzanne Vernonto learn more about Seeley Lake's colorful characters and significant events in the community.
According to Teague, bringing eighth graders and community elders together has helped students better define local history. The projects have also enabled them to focus on subjects that they enjoy in the play.
"In the beginning, there was not much interest," Teague said. having fun. "They're having a good time acting out history," she said.
Several local residents, parents and non-profit groups have helped with the play this year. Michael Umphries, director of the Montana Heritage Project, has met with teachers and helped them incorporate cultural programs into their curriculum. Funding for equipment and expenses comes from the Liz Claiborne/Art Ortenberg Foundation. The University of Montana Outreach Program has been instrumental in helping to produce the play, through the Montana Repertory Theatre. Local artists, Rick and Feather Sherman are directing set construction efforts, and several parents have volunteered their time to help with costumes and set design.
"Our Entry" will be performed twice daily in the school's multipurpose room on Thursday April 2 and Friday April 3, with matinees in the afternoon and one evening performance each day. The public is invited to attend.
(Editor's Note: The Cabin Fever book is out of print. Copies may be found at local libraries.)