Taking On Twain

Darrel Fickbohm, a South Dakota native who is part of the touring Flower & Flame theatrical group, stars in “An Evening With Mark Twain,” which will be presented Monday at Yankton’s United Church of Christ (UCC).

An old style of theatrics is going to be presented with a new script in Yankton next week.

Flower & Flame will be bringing a new show to town with its five-person ensemble.

Darrel Fickbohm — Flower & Flame’s sole actor and writer — told the Press & Dakotan that the group could easily have taken on a different name.

“We called it ‘Flower & Flame’ on a whim,” Fickbohm said. “What we should’ve called it was ‘Sound & Story,’ because that’s what it is. Long ago, they used to have actors take the stage, do a little acting, do a part of a scene and then have musicians play where the actors would leave the stage and the music would play for extended periods. It was called a melodrama — a melody drama — and audiences thought nothing of letting the music continue the mood of what just happened on stage.”

Next Monday at 7 p.m., Flower & Flame will be bringing the sound and story of “An Evening With Mark Twain” to the United Church of Christ (UCC). In addition to Fickbohm, the group includes a string quartet.

Fickbohm said that reception for the presentation has been positive.

“What we’re finding is modern audiences really love the idea and it works out just beautifully,” he said. “What will happen is I act out part of a story — in this case, it will be Mark Twain stories — and in between we have ragtime and all kinds of great music playing that kind of continues the mood of what I just did on stage. It turns out really well for audiences and it’s a lot of fun to do also.”

He said the old style is inspired by his love of reading.

“I think the most beautiful words in the English language are, ‘Once upon a time,’” he said. “It makes me feel like curling up, ready to listen and ready to travel somewhere else. … When I first got into this as a trained actor, (I was) looking for ways to stay in the Midwest and stay in South Dakota and apply my trade somehow and be somehow useful as an actor here. So we engineered this, all on our own, and I was able to say, ‘Once upon a time’ and edit these stories and make them just right so when I got to the stage, I could bring them out.”

Fickbohm said sometimes a bare-bones approach works for the best.

“I’m a little old fashioned that way,” he said. “I don’t need a three-ring circus in front of me. I don’t need screens all the time and it’s a relief to feel that. It’s a low-tech approach to storytelling and people are really responding to that — grandparents who bring their grandkids to these shows, younger kids who are coming in who are, just for a while, leaving their phones off  and getting lost in the stories.”

As for the show itself, Fickbohm said a fascination with Twain helped inspire the production.

“Mark Twain is one of my favorites,” he said. “I did masters studies on Twain and I’ve acted stories from his many different stories before. The reason I like Mark Twain is because, even though he existed in another time, he can write funny. He can still be very, very funny and it’s because he doesn’t hinge his humor on things that are happening right now and current trends. He hinges it on human nature, which is the same as it always was. People like to say, ‘People have changed so much. You can’t relate to certain things.’ Twain, you can always relate to. Mark Twain wrote for everybody for all time.”

This won’t be the first time that Flower & Flame has had Mark Twain-themed shows. However, Fickbohm said this will be a new experience for Yankton.

“I’ve done different kinds of shows with Mark Twain before,” he said. “This script I will be doing (Monday) will only be the second time we’ve done it. The first audience just loved it.”

Fickbohm said that he — along with Flower & Flame — are no strangers to the Yankton area.

“My people came from Burke, South Dakota, so as a kid, most of our weekends we went through Yankton to get to Burke from Sioux City,” he said. “I love Yankton. I love the cliffs looking over the river. I love the river side. I love the feeling of Yankton. Flower & Flame has performed in most of the grade schools there. We’ve performed at the Riverside Park band shell. We’ve performed at Mount Marty and we have performed at the (Summit Activities Center).”

According to a press release from UCC, the concert will be supported by free-will audience donations and that children under 10 years of age may find the program “a little out of reach.”

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