by Peter Jakey–Managing Editor
Everything was set for Saturday’s performance of “Mamma Mia!” including director Mike Marx, who came out for his pre-show speech at the corner of the stage.
However, unlike the previous two nights, Marx had a surprise to spring on one particular member of the audience.
Karl W. Heidemann, who has been the assistant director on the current production was about to receive the Dorothy Arnett Service Award.
“Is Karl in the house?” Marx said at the end of his speech.
“Come forward?” Heidemann asked, a bit bewildered, sitting four rows back.
“Yes, there is somebody who wants to meet you,” Marx replied. It was Betsy Willis, president of the Community Theatre Association of Michigan (CTAM), who had been waiting just behind the curtain.
“I am here for a special reason tonight, and I know that you (the audience) are here because you want to see ‘Mamma Mia!,’ ” she said.
“We are going to hold you up just a second on that because, if it were not for the man standing to my left, there is a very good chance you would have never had the chance to see ‘Mamma Mia!’ in Rogers City.”
The Dorothy Arnett Service Award has been given out to one person annually since 1987. Willis said the nomination was received from the Rogers City Community Theatre (RCCT).
As Willis continued to speak, the entire “Mamma Mia!” cast and crew made their way out from backstage and stood on the ramp on the opposite side of the stage to take in the special moment.
After a thunderous round of applause, Karl quipped, “I need a chair.”
“In 2003, Karl purchased this building with the thought of making it into a theatre, and indeed he did,” Willis continued. “He led the effort to make this into a nonprofit community theatre and that’s when the RCCT was really formed and born.
“He’s taken it upon himself to mentor directors, young and old, male and female, that have gone on to direct community theatre and professional productions.”
Willis also mentioned that Karl and his wife, Dr. Mary Ann Heidemann, gifted the theater building to the Presque Isle District Library in 2016.
“Making it possible for two nonprofits to share different forms of art in one space,” said Willis. “Karl! That is amazing.”
There were two unnamed quotes that were sent in with the nomination:
“When my wife and I moved from a large city to tiny Rogers City, we were worried that arts and culture would be hard to come by. Connecting to Karl and RCCT has created opportunities for us to not only access the arts, but grow from simple performers into accomplished technical, staff, directors and choreographers under Karl’s kind and proficient instruction. Karl and the program that he has created made us the artists we are today.”
The second quote:
“While Karl’s work has focused on the theater, it is the individual lives that he touched along the way that will be his legacy. Over the years, (Willis became choked up) he challenged young people and adults under his wing, using the theatre to create a home for those that needed one, teaching the skills and building a resilient community.”
Karl was visibly moved with a tear streaking down his face. His daughter Heather Nordenbrock emerged from the audience and presented him with a large bouquette of flowers.
“I would like to thank my family and all the people who have helped me along the way. You know, a person cannot do this alone. Mostly, it’s Mary Ann my wife that’s helped me through everything,” said Karl, his voice breaking at the mentioning of his wife.
“CTAM has been very, very important to me and to many of us in this organization. We appreciate all that you do for Michigan theatre.”