Larry Sohrweid’s family history is steeped in the art of quilting. His mother was a member of the Ladies Aid Sewing Circle at their church, making quilts to commemorate the milestones of townspeople’s lives. Sohrweid’s family history as an adult is steeped in the art of theater.
An Evergreen resident for more than 50 years, Sohrweid has directed almost 80 shows for the Evergreen Chorale, Evergreen Children’s Chorale, Evergreen Players, and in the Evergreen community. It seems there is no more fitting way to celebrate the milestones of Sohrweid’s own life and his retirement from the theater than to attend a production of “Quilters” — Sohrweid’s directorial swan song for the Evergreen Chorale.
It is said that within the threads of a quilt lies a family’s history. Each block can tell the story of a birth, death or wedding. Stories of love, joy and sorrow can be found in each pattern. For pioneer women, quilting was a source of pride and social gatherings. The musical “Quilters” tells the story of one pioneer family and their experiences. First presented by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts in the early 1980s, the musical has become a celebration of the lives and history of pioneer women in the West.
Pioneer matron Sarah McKendree Bonham (played by Sohrweid’s wife, Elaine) and her six daughters weave a family quilt together to transmit their story to future generations in the show’s 16 loosely connected episodes that explore the concerns of womanhood on the American frontier. In telling these stories of girlhood, marriage, childbirth, spinsterhood, twisters, fire, illness and death, the seven players (Sohrweid’s wife, their daughter Lara, along with Shelly Krane, Lisa Hamm-Greenawalt, Mandie Cyphers, Janice O’Grady and Norika Zehnder) sing in complex harmonies, bringing together traditional hymns and folk songs of the American frontier.
Sohrweid selected the show as his final directorial piece because of his fond memories from directing “Quilters” more than 15 years ago.
“Elaine is reprising her role as Sarah from the Chorale’s first production in 1996,” Sohrweid says. “My daughter Lara was also in the original Chorale production. We are so fortunate to have a cast that spans almost seven generations. This show has such meaning to my family, and working with actors who truly represent all of the generations of pioneer life is such a gift.”
Sohrweid’s retirement from the Evergreen theater scene will not go unmarked. On opening night of “Quilters,” Friday, Feb. 17, the Chorale will celebrate with a public reception to honor Sohrweid. And there is much to honor. During his involvement with Evergreen theater, Sohrweid has worked with 162 different shows. He has directed 30 musicals for the Evergreen Chorale, 18 for the Evergreen Children’s Chorale, five shows for the Evergreen Players, 14 for Marshdale Elementary and 12 chancel dramas for Evergreen Lutheran Church. He has performed as a cast member in 41 productions. His incredible artistic talent has been seen in an astounding 149 different shows for which he created sets. Sohrweid was the Center/Stage building manager for 11 years. He was artist in residence for the Jefferson County Schools’ mountain area two different times. The Evergreen Chorale named him its resident director in 2006. Larry was named Person of the Year by the Evergreen Area Council for the Arts in 1999.
By the end of “Quilters,” the women’s stories will have been told and the curtain will fall on Sohrweid’s theater career as well. The 16 squares of the quilt will have been stitched together as a testament to the life and love of America’s pioneers and the life and love of an Evergreen theater pioneer, Larry Sohrweid.
Sara Miller, a freelance writer and a resident of Evergreen, lives with her husband, two children and a dog.