Local actor moves from stage to director's chair

Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Giving stage directions to the cast of "Daddy's Dyin, Who's Got the Will?" director Ken Niehus prepares for the community theater play's opening night -- Thursday. The comedy unfolds with plenty of family antics and southern sass.

Ken Niehus stepped onto stage the first time in the early 1980s, now he's in his debut role as director of the Le Mars Community Theater's upcoming production.

Niehus, of Le Mars, will bring "Daddy's Dyin' Who's Got the Will?" to the stage this week and next at the Postal Playhouse.

For Niehus, moving from actor to director seemed like the "next logical step in my learning process," he said.

With Daddy (played by Wayne Marty), members and friends of the Turnover family gather in the living room on the set of "Daddy's Dyin' Who's Got the Will?" From left is Marty, Angela Riedeman playing "Evalita," Doug Opheim playing "Harmony Rhodes," Hilma Person playing "Mama Wheelis" and Lisa Opheim playing "Marlene Turnover."

When it came to choosing which play he would debut as director of, Niehus chose "Daddy's Dyin' Who's Got the Will?" because it has special meaning to him.

He met the author, Del Shores, when Niehus was acting in the play at the Sioux City Community Theater.

"It was a great weekend," Niehus said. "It was very exciting to meet the real author of one of the shows you're in."

In the middle of two Turnover sisters who are still trying to decide if they get along, Mama Wheelis, played by Hilma Person, gets excited about some Texas gossip. The scene comes from the upcoming community theater show "Daddy's Dyin' Who's Got the Will?" These two sisters are played by Danna Schuster, left, and Linda Kleven, right.

But it was also nerve-wracking, he said.

"It's natural to be a little nervous because you don't know who's in the audience," Niehus said. "But when the author shows up, that's a whole different story."

With that experience and acting in "Daddy's Dyin'" in both Sioux City and at the Le Mars Community Theater in 1998 behind him, Niehus felt doing the show was fitting.

"I wanted to do a comedy and was looking for a play that had a real strong message," he said.

"Daddy's Dyin'" offers both of those with its story of a family gathered to await the death of their patriarch, who has recently suffered a physically and mentally disabling stroke. The message is not about the dying of the patriarch or the reading of his will, but rather renewing the spirit of the family unit.

Cast members include Dan Delperdang, Linda Kleven, Wayne Marty, Doug Opheim, Lisa Opheim, Hilma Person, Angela Riedeman and Danna Schuster.

Niehus said he had been thinking about directing for awhile before throwing his name in the hat when the Le Mars Community Theater board put out a call for directors.

"I thought it would be kind of interesting to explore the play from the other side," Niehus said. "When you're acting, you just worry about your own character. The director has to have a vision of the whole picture."

Niehus has acted in productions at the Le Mars Community Theater, the Sioux City Community Theater and LAMB Productions, of Sioux City.

Niehus feels he has an advantage in his directing debut by doing "Daddy's Dyin'" because he's been in it before and knows it well.

"I feel like I'm one step ahead," Niehus said.

That doesn't mean his directing education hasn't been challenging, he said.

"I've got a great cast and crew. The people behind the scenes made things go really smoothly," Niehus said. "It's been a really rewarding experience."

Production dates for "Daddy's Dyin' Who's Got the Will?" are 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and March 3, 4, and 5 with 2 p.m. matinees Feb. 27 and March 6.

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