University Letter

UND's faculty and staff newsletter

Empire Theatre Company opens new season at Grand Forks County Fairgrounds

This season, the Empire Theatre Company is introducing theatre goers to work never before produced in the region.

Shows set to debut are: Hands on a Hard Body (Aug.), School of Rock (Sept./Oct.), Lifespan of a Fact (Jan./Feb.), and Tony and Tina’s Wedding (June/July), in addition to The Holiday Show, a variety show featuring professional performers home for the Thanksgiving weekend, emceed by Misti Koop.

“We’re excited to produce this slate of shows,” said Executive Director, Debra Pflughoeft-Hassett.  “They will appeal to a broad group of people, some who may not think of themselves as musical theatre fans.”

ETC launches the season with Hands on a Hard Body, Aug. 13-21, at the Grand Forks County Fairground. This musical is based on the 1997, award-winning documentary of the same name.  The “hard body” in the title is none other than a truck.

“We couldn’t get the truck into the Empire, so we are producing this show at the fairgrounds, which actually lends itself to the story,” Plughoeft-Hassett said.

Ten down-on-their-luck Texans compete to win a new truck (provided by Rydell Cars of Grand Forks). The last contestant standing with one hand on the truck drives it home. Their stories are told through a combination of rock, country, and Gospel numbers. The audience is invited to bring a folding chair. GF Fairgrounds will have food for sale.

Hands on a Hard Body is co-produced with McFarlane, Inc., directed by Kathy Coudle-King, UND teaching assistant professor of English, with musical direction by Michelle Henning, a UND music graduate student, and choreography by Brook Hickerson.

As part of the marketing for the show, readers should keep their eyes out for Matchbox trucks hidden around town.  Each truck has a code on it which can be turned in for two tickets to the show.  Clues to the trucks’ locations will be given each week on the Empire Arts Center’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages.

CAST: Jessica Allan, AnneMarie Brack, Walter Criswell (UND Theatre Arts alum), Mark Diers (NDUS Systems Analyst), Jace Erickson (UND alum, music), Ashley Fredricksen, Alejo Ibarra, Emily Johnson (UND alumna, social work), Gretchen Kindseth, Sophia LeMire (UND undergraduate), Mario Rydell, Casey Pearson, Patrick Pearson (UND alum), Matt Stavens (UND Theatre Arts alum), Jace Toutenhoofd (UND undergraduate).

CREW: Dean Whitlock, stage manager; Barb Whitlock, prop mistress and costume assistant; Pat Garry, technical director; Sara Larson, lights and sound operator.

TICKETS: $26.25 general; $21.25 students/seniors/military with I.D.; $21.25 groups of 10 or more, when booking at same time; $17.25 youth (12 and younger).

Season tickets are on sale until Aug. 21: $100 for a packet of four tickets to be used at any single show or combination of shows from Aug. – June.

Go to  or call 701-746-5500 to reserve.  *Occasional strong language.