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Cottage Grove-area actors part of Black Dirt Theater's "Sound of Music"

Maria (Jane Burditt) has arrived at the Von Trapp home and is connecting with some of the children. RiverTown Multimedia photo by Jane Lightbourn

She has been performing in theater for years -- it is her major at college. He is a Hastings High School teacher and is new to this acting role.

Together, Jane Burkitt and Bill Ruder are the leads -- Mari and Captain Von Trapp -- in the Black Dirt Theater production of "The Sound of Music" scheduled for performances beginning Friday, July 27. The cast is comprised of more than 100 people from south Washington County and the greater metro area.

"I have been performing in theater as long as I can remember," said Burkitt. "My mother got all of us -- there are six of us involved in the theater."

Burkitt is now a junior at Carthage College, working for a degree in theater arts.

Her connection to the Black Dirt Theater Co. and this particular production began as family one. Her sister Libby is co-director with Andy Langenfeld.

"She called me at school and said there's this play I think should back here for auditions," said Burkitt.

She drove back to Hastings, auditioned, and then returned to classes.

"The next morning I found out I had the lead," she said.

Burkitt is very comfortable being on stage -- I grew up with it," she said.

And she very much enjoying this musical and being part of community theater.

"It is just beautiful to be working with people, who are sharing their raw emotions," said Burkitt. "It is such a learning experience as well; I'm learning so much from Andy. This is the best part of my day."

Ruder is a relative newcomer to the stage. He was part of the ensemble in last fall's "Tis a Gift" production of the Back Dirt Theater.

"For me, it is a creative process I don't normally do," he said. "It is so different -- I'm out of the box so to speak. And the community part of it is great."

He praised the leadership, "who have displayed the passion and vision for this theater."

Caitlyn Parson is Liesel, the oldest of the Von Trapp children.

"I have been in many, many plays," she said. "I love theater, but I haven't been able to do because I have been in college. I'm learning an incredible amount and it is a great group of people."

Ellie Gullicks is Brigitta, another of the Von Trapp children. She was in last summer's production of "Oklahoma."

"We have so much fun and getting to know each other is the best part," she said.

There are about 50 people in the cast. More are involved behind the scenes.