FARGO — One of the major casualties for now from this pandemic is the lack of live performing arts. One of those casualties is the Trollwood Performing Arts School of Fargo-Moorhead. Trollwood is a fixture in our community with its wonderful teaching programs and mainstage musicals, which attract more than 20,000 people every summer. This summer’s musical was going to be "Cinderella." My two daughters were in Trollwood programs for several years, and it was very meaningful for them.
Two of the many people connected to Trollwood are Michael Walling and Becky Gulsvig. Walling, 64, has directed the last 29 Trollwood musicals. Gulsvig, 37, from Moorhead, starred in three of those musicals. Gulsvig has since gone on to a very successful acting career, with leading roles in the Broadway shows of "Hairspray," "School of Rock," "Legally Blonde," and "Come From Away."
“There’s a sadness about cancelling the show,” Walling said. “I love the community, students and collaboration. There’s no other venue in the country that gives you this opportunity.”
“I am sad about Trollwood,” Gulsvig said. “Trollwood is a huge burst of light in the community. It gives such joy to the community. It’s so special. I loved it so much.”
Walling and others at Trollwood had been working on "Cinderella" for a year because it’s such a vast production and involves so many people.
“I feel bad for the students and for all the people I’ve hired,” Walling said. “They’ve already lost their other jobs. 'Cinderella' was going to be something important to this community.”
Walling and Gulsvig share something else in common. They both live in the epicenter of the pandemic. Walling lives in New York City, which is the hardest hit city. Gulsvig lives in New Jersey, which is the second hardest hit state.
Walling takes walks early in the morning when no one else is around, teaches one class online, collects mail for out-of-town friends, and goes to pharmacies to buy basic needs for senior citizens.
“You see no one. I maybe see two people in this entire building,” Walling said. “It’s scary. I’m apprehensive. No one I know is employed. New York is following the rules. If you don’t follow the rules, you’re in trouble.”
Gulsvig was going to perform in a show this summer in Cape Cod, but that has been cancelled, as have auditions to other shows. She mostly stays home with her husband and 8-year-old daughter, but walks the dogs twice a day. She knows dozens of people who have been infected.
“It’s a very stressful and nerve wracking time,” Gulsvig said. “It’s very disheartening to see everything shutdown. Theater gives people such joy.”
Still, Walling is looking forward to next year’s show, and Gulsvig is looking forward to being back on the stage.
“Trollwood will be back and strong,” Walling said.
“It will be so extraordinary when there are shows again,” Gulsvig said. “People can get together to laugh, cry and applaud. It will be really thrilling.”