Lykens Minstrel Association to hold final show
LYKENS - The "circle men" have come full circle.
Now, they're saying goodbye.
Members of the Lykens Minstrel Association will hold their 39th and final show at 2 p.m. Nov. 17 at Williams Valley High School in Tower City. After years of providing much-needed funds for local organizations, the group has decided to draw the curtain on an era of homegrown entertainment.
Three long-serving members, Dale Calnon, Earl Seip and Sally Reiner, recently reflected on the association's history and the call for former members to reunite for one last show.
Calnon and Reiner have participated in every show since the beginning. Seip, too, was in the first show as a soloist, then took a few years off, but returned to participate in the majority of the minstrel's productions.
"We've had so many talented people in this group," Seip said. "I was always happy to be involved in it. When you saw people make the audience participate, it really reinforced what we did by the reaction of the audience."
Although crowds may have seen some remarkable performances over the years, there was really no talent requirement to be involved.
"If you had a pulse, you were in," Calnon said, chuckling.
"We've had a lot of fathers and sons, and relatives join in and there was really no age limit," said Seip of the volunteer group, which has about 40 members today.
They explained the minstrel performers entertain on stage, and are set up with the vocalists positioned in a circular pattern, thus the "circle men" reference. The "interlocutor," or emcee, usually guides the program and interacts with the men on stage, as well as the audience. Calnon has served as interlocutor since 1988.
On the sides of the stage are the "end men," who have traditionally provided comic relief, and have easy access to the backstage in order to undergo costuming changes and prop changes quickly.
Reiner has had to come up with some creative ways to design some of those wardrobe transformations and on-stage props over the years.
Costumes and props
"There were no patterns for these people. I prayed a lot," Reiner said, about meeting the challenge of costume designing and making sure the outfits would work for the various skits.
"We did an Adam and Eve skit and I made the fig leaves for the pink body suits," she said. "But the 'Harem Girls' was my favorite to make." Reiner said for that costume, she had to buy large-sized bras to decorate for the men's tops.
Reiner also designed one of the audience's favorites - the "Little People" costumes. During that skit, performers would wear a huge hat in which their arms would be raised above their heads, and their bare bellies would be exposed. A face was painted onto the singer's belly, with the person's belly button serving as a mouth. The "Little People" would then "whistle" a tune with their belly buttons bulging to the music.
She made most of the props out of cardboard. Some of her creations included guitars for smashing, a kettle with fake flames and a choo-choo train.
"We recycled a lot," Reiner said.
Each May, the minstrel association has selected an organization or community cause that will benefit from the show's proceeds. Over the years, the association has raised approximately $300,000 for various community groups, Calnon estimated.
According to the "Lykens Minstrel Association, 25 Years of Memories" booklet, the minstrel shows were performed in the Lykens area at the turn of the century, and became popular in the 1930s and 1940s, before dying out in the 1950s.
The current minstrel association began in 1975 when former Lykens Mayor Miles Kott shared how successful the old minstrel shows were. Kott, who was on the borough's Bicentennial Planning Committee and had been in minstrels himself, planted the idea of a minstrel show as a fundraiser.
The first show was held in 1975 as the Lykens Area Bicentennial Minstrel, and was initially thought to be a one-and-done event. The show's popularity, however, created an annual demand, for 39 more years, until this year's closing.
Seip said, unfortunately, there were several reasons the group decided to end the shows this year. He said fewer and fewer people were able to participate due to health issues, family concerns, work commitments and relocation.
Expenses continued to climb, too, with the cost of insurance, music purchases and the need to rent items. Getting sponsors was also difficult and it was becoming tougher to find volunteers to solicit for advertising or to take tickets, for example, on the day of the show.
Call for members
Any former members wishing to join in for the last show, can call Calnon at 717-453-7811 or 717-877-0374. The association practices 7:30 p.m. Thursday evenings at the Lykens Borough Park Building.
The association would also like to share its inventory of costumes, vests, shirts, bow ties and a few props with any organization that may be interested. For more information, call Calnon, or visit the website, www.lykensminstrel.com.
Members hope the one-day performance, titled "Saying Goodbye," will draw a full house. This year's show benefits Williams Valley's STAND TALL organization, which assists students in making positive choices and encourages a safe, after-prom party.
The minstrel program will include "The People's Minstrel March," "The Banjo's Back in Town," "When Irish Eyes are Smiling," "76 Trombones," "Armed Forces Salute," "You Raise Me Up," "I've Been Everywhere," "Dry Bones," "Spiritual Jubilee," "A Wink and a Smile," "Put on a Happy Face" and a few more. The Little People will also offer up the "Col. Bogey March."
Other skits scheduled are: The Lone Ranger, Hee Haw, The Chipmunks, Dragnet, Martha & Herbert retire and Men in Tights.
This year, a special part of the show will include a memorial tribute to deceased minstrel members.
Seip said he hopes that the minstrel show will go on in future years.
"We hope someone else will pick it up afterward. We've really enjoyed doing it," Seip said.