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The End of the Heidi Play?


I was nine-years-old during my first summer with the Heidi Play. My brother, Dennis, had been in the play the year before and was now playing the role of Peter, the goatherd. I remembered watching him on stage with the other actors and thinking that this was one of the best things that you could get to do! So my brother told the Director, Barbara Marty, that I was interested in helping and she immediately put me to work with sound effects and prompting. That first summer I learned that my job was not as exciting as acting on stage, but that I played an important part in ensuring a good production.

By the next year, I was lucky enough to get to play Heidi with my brother acting as her good friend, Peter. We were the first brother-sister duo to play those two roles and got a lot of attention for it (picture in Madison Magazine, interviews with the local paper, and a Swiss TV crew following us around for a couple of days). I remember my first time on stage as being both the most exciting and scariest thing that I had ever done. There were so many people in the audience and making them laugh, clap, and enjoy the show was our chief concern.

Every summer I looked forward to spending June with the Heidi Play, after all many of the cast including Willy Ruef, Jackie Elmer, and Marie Vetterli had been in the play for many years and treated the actors, new and seasoned, young and old as their family. We had rehearsals every night and often stayed late, thinking of new ideas for the play and remembering past years. My career in Heidi persisted until the end of college, by then playing the devious Aunt Dete to sweet Heidi. Thus, I have years of memories of the Play that I could share—the many on stage mistakes that the cast always enjoys re-living (there are many when you include all community actors, children, kittens, and goats on stage!), the great audiences that we had, some who came every year, and the friendships that we forged. I always felt that we were creating something wonderful every year that we got to share with all those who joined us in the audience.

When I moved back to New Glarus after living out of state for over a decade, I was dismayed to find out that the Heidi Play’s popularity had waned over the years, whereas before we had sold-out crowds in a much bigger venue, now we were barely selling enough tickets to fill half of the auditorium. I got involved again, determined to see if the old magic of Heidi could be re-captured. After all, the show used to be so popular that we added a second cast so that more local actors could be involved and we added another show time to accommodate larger groups. When I joined the Heidi Folk Festival board, I was happy to be part of a small but dedicated group of community members who all care about our mission which is both to bring a small piece of our Swiss Heritage to life on stage and to support local students with scholarships. As a person who received so much from the Play (both as a scholarship recipient and as an actor), I knew that our goal was a noble one but we definitely lacked manpower to help bring our vision to life. Despite different changes to our festival, getting fewer actors involved so we can have more practice time and perform a higher quality show, eliminating show times, increasing our advertising, canceling the play and concentrating on our craft fair in 2015, our numbers have continued to dwindle. Those numbers include the money that we raise for our scholarship program for high school students due to fewer audience members, but more disappointing is that we often struggle to find enough volunteers to fill the seats of our board or sometimes to help out with the play (as actors, crew, etc.) and the craft fair. We always have amazing actors and their families who contribute in so many ways so while we do not want to discount the hard work and commitment of our past volunteers, this has in recent years been the work of a very hard working few when it should be the effort of many.

The Heidi Folk Festival Board is at a crossroads, we need people who care about Heidi to step forward in small and large ways. We could use more people to sit on our board, we need actors and crew for our June 2017 production, and we need the community to come and support us. We have often found that our audience tends to be mostly tourists and out of town guests which we are grateful for but we know many people who live in New Glarus have never seen our play. This year, in an attempt to utilize our limited resources as best we can, we are holding the play on Friday, June 23, at 7:00 p.m., and Saturday, June 24, at 1:00 p.m., but are canceling our craft fair for this year. With many returning cast members from 2016, including the four children who turned in amazing performances as Heidi, Peter, Clara, and Seppi, we are eager to once again put on a great show to highlight the cultural traditions of our community. But for 2018 and beyond, we do not know what we can accomplish and are considering alternating the play with the craft fair, or only holding the festival every other year or regrettably canceling all together.

We know that New Glarus is a community that is dedicated to its own and many people give to other festivals and help out in countless ways. But the Heidi Festival is in danger of becoming a tradition that used to be instead of one that carries on; if you are interested in continuing this cultural institution that has stood the test of time for over 50 years in New Glarus, please let us know. Send us your thoughts, your ideas, your concerns, and let us know if you are interested in getting involved. You can contact us through the mail (P.O. Box 861), through email to, or through our Facebook page ( We are dedicated to the Heidi Folk Festival that has given many children and adults the opportunity to both be a part of and experience live theater, to share our Swiss heritage, and to support our many local students who require additional financial support to reach their dreams. We hope that you are with us and that we hear from you soon!

Ashley Holland, New Glarus

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