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Community saves struggling Hillsboro performance about a struggling performance

Tom Dunn was in his second week as the director of a musical about a town producing a play despite a series of chaotic setbacks when he received some untimely medical news: His right foot, long riddled with infection, needed to be removed sooner than planned.

The problem, as Dunn saw it, wasn’t the loss of his lower limb.

“I’ve known for some time,” he said of the surgery. “The only thing I felt awful about is not being there for the rehearsals.”

Had things gone according to plan – which they rarely do in community theater, as Dunn will attest – doctors would have amputated the foot later this month, once the musical had completed its four-day run in Hillsboro.

But by mid-July, Heidi Edwards Dunn noticed her husband was returning home each night unusually exhausted, and surmised that something must be wrong. She recommended he seek medical attention, Dunn said. Within days, the 62-year-old was lying in a hospital bed, his foot and lower leg missing and the future of his production, which he wrote over the past two years, in serious question.

“We were scrambling for a while,” said Fred Sprague, an actor cast in the performance and board member of Hillcat Theatre, a community group in Hillsboro.

The irony of the situation was not lost on Will Ogmudson, the music director and songwriter for the production, titled Shiner Watson, since, as he described, it is “a show about putting on a show and all sorts of things going wrong.”

But then, as if ripped from the pages of his own script, friends and family began stepping forth to help finish what Dunn had started. Actors pitched in with lighting and set construction. A stage mother purchased props. Teachers helped publicize the show. And Edwards Dunn, who has some previous experience in theater, volunteered to replace her husband as director.

“It’s what you always hope any artistic endeavor should be, everyone working together,” said Dunn, who was released from the hospital Monday.

Though incapacitated, Dunn assisted from afar, fielding phone calls and emails about the show from inside his hospital room. At night he would often confer with Edwards Dunn about issues that had arisen during rehearsal that day. She even brought occasional video recordings for Dunn to view.

“We spent hours there discussing entrances and exits, who was doing what and how do we solve this problem, in between dealing with nurses and doctors,” Edwards Dunn said, adding, “It was very difficult for him to sit back and not be able to be there.”

But be there Dunn planned to be, at least last night, for the show’s debut at Hillsboro-Dearing Middle School.

“From what I’ve been watching and hearing, I’m really looking forward to seeing it,” he said.

The show continues tonight and tomorrow at 7 p.m., and on Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $7 for adults, $5 for seniors and students, and can be purchased at the door.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the surname of an actor in the play. It is Sprague, not Prague.

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