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The laughter experiment: Village Hall to combine humor and history in new Berlin theater

Jay Torrence (on stage) introduces the new members of Corn Beef and Cabbage: Next Gen. The popular local comedy troupe will reinvent many of Corn Beef and Cabbage's favorites, and the parent company, Village Hall, also will feature a number of serious exhibits that delve into the lore and history of the Amish and Mennonite culture.

Dave Mast

Carol Yoder has always had this idea floating around in her mind that someday she would invest in creating something that would create an enjoyable experience for locals and tourists alike to share in laughter while at the same time enhancing the artistic and educational opportunities to help blossoming comedy actors with a chance to grow in their trade.
Recently she found an old diary entry that she wrote some time in the 1990s where she listed her hopes and dreams for the years to come. Included in that list, she wanted "to make a difference in the world, to help put people’s gifts into action, to provide income and avenues for artists to express their gifts, to create an arts center for the community based on a godly environment, and to get paid for doing these things.”
“We’ll see. I don’t know,” Yoder said with a hearty laugh. “We’re on the road. We’ve got dreams number one, two and three going."
Teaming up with her cousin Jay Torrence, who was one of the founding fathers of the comedy troupe Corn Beef and Cabbage, the two hatched the idea of Village Hall, Berlin’s newest entry into the world of providing daytime and nighttime entertainment for tourists and locals alike.
The Village Hall theater, located on the west side of the Old Mill building on the square in Berlin, was the home of a fundraiser on Sunday, Sept. 2 when an exclusive group of people were invited to catch the vision that Torrence and Yoder have created.
“We see this as a little bit of what we like to call an experiment,” Yoder said. “We wanted some people to experience what we are trying to create in terms of entertainment for our community.”
Torrence has been busy teaching and acting on stage in Chicago, which has kept him busy. However, ushering in a new era of Corn Beef and Cabbage was enticing, and he, much like Yoder, had the same idea of bringing something new and unique that could provide entertainment to Amish Country.
“We knew we wanted to do Corn Beef, and over the last two years when I was doing Bluebeard, Carol and I stayed in touch,” Torrence said. “She kept saying that we need to try to do a run for the tourists in the autumn. This past year we started to put things in motion.”
Torrence has been tutoring a crew of six blossoming comedians in the new Corn Beef and Cabbage show. Torrence teaches a playwriting course at the University of Chicago, and between that and this new endeavor, he is going to be one busy man this fall.
The new Corn Beef and Cabbage: Next Gen show will open Sept. 21 and run through Oct. 31 with evening shows slated to occur each Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening. During that time Torrence will drive back and forth between Holmes County and Chicago, a lot.
“We have made a huge commitment to this show and to making this happen here in Berlin, so it will be an interesting next seven months,” Torrence said.
The new members of Corn Beef and Cabbage were introduced at the fundraiser. The list included Austin Yoder, Audrey Yoder, Mason Yoder, Matt Mast, Cameron Miller and John Hochstetler. They will be the crew who will hopefully improvise their way into the audience’s hearts during each of the Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances. Torrence said rehearsals have gone well, and the cast is picking up the nuances of Corn Beef and Cabbage quickly.
“Throughout the years Jay and I have worked on a variety of plays,” Yoder said. “I love to laugh, and I love to see other people laugh. When Jay called me this spring and asked me what I thought about this idea, I said, 'Yes, let’s do it.'”
While the Corn Beef and Cabbage comedy shows are on the humorous side, the Village Hall exhibitions will settle in on the more serious side as the shows explore the backbone of what makes up the Amish and Mennonite heritage.
While many might think of comedy when it comes to Torrence, he does have another side that wants to explore the lore and history of the Amish and Mennonite community, and the exhibits at Village Hall are designed to explore the Amish and Mennonite heritage and convey it to those who seek to learn more about it.
The initial exhibit titled "The Traditional Amish Wedding" features Torrence interviewing six local women who grew up Amish and were married as part of a traditional Amish wedding.
The women talk candidly about the experience and what it was like growing up Amish and participating in the uniqueness of an Amish wedding.
The exhibit is touching, and at the same time the sense of reality of these women and the humor they bring as they remember the many things that stood out during their weddings makes it easy to understand the intricacies that take place at an Amish wedding.
“A lot of the art I have created is built around history,” Torrence said. “Our history here is unique, and I find that history so fascinating. I love to delve into that, and that historical aspect of the Amish and Mennonite heritage is what these exhibits will feature.”
During the gala fundraiser a full house crowded into the 75-seat theater, where they enjoyed hors d’oeuvres before settling in to experience what a Village Hall exhibit will be like. It was very informative to many of the locals, who didn’t really have any idea as to what an experience at an Amish wedding would entail. Imagine what kind of an impact it could make on tourists who visit the area?
That is the impact Torrence and Yoder are hoping to present for visitors as they venture through Berlin.
"The Amish Wedding" exhibit features four 15-minute vignettes in which the ladies share their experiences, and those vignettes will loop as tourists come and go throughout the day.
"The Amish Wedding" is the first of what Village Hall’s owners hope will be many different exhibits.
“We are excited to see how it takes off,” Torrence said. “I have a ton of ideas for new programming that has to do with honoring local heritage and local lore that will make for fun, interactive exhibits."
As for Corn Beef and Cabbage, the initial production was from the creative minds of brothers Jay and Nate Torrence, who eventually included the casting of their friend Josh Ruth.
The founding fathers of Corn Beef had plenty of fun developing their own unique style, which included the clothesline format, in which two-dozen different skits are hung on a clothesline across the stage. The audience shouts out a number, and that skit is chosen as the Corn Beef talents set sail on a wild improvisational ride that leads to plenty of laughter.
Torrence said over the years Corn Beef has played to the local crowd, so it will be enjoyable and exciting to branch out into the tourism realm.
In order to get Village Hall up and running, they are currently seeking donations that will allow them to purchase all of the things necessary to create the presentation.
Once the Corn Beef and Cabbage troupe is rolling along, they will be available to be booked for Christmas parties, reunions and other events.
Anyone wishing to donate to the nonprofit organization may do so by sending any amount to Village Hall, 5052 Township Road 359, Millersburg, OH 44654.

Published: September 12, 2017
New Article ID: 2017170909951