Father and daughter performing together in Pine River production of 'The Princess and the Pea'

The Pine River-Backus Community Education production runs May 13-15

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Michael Lupella and his daughter, Sophie, are sharing the stage for the first time in the Pine River-Backus Community Education production of "The Princess and the Pea," which will be staged May 13-15, 2022, in the school gym.
Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

PINE RIVER — Community theater productions have a way of bringing families together, and that is true for the upcoming Pine River-Backus Community Education performance of "The Princess and the Pea."

Among this year's performers are a father/daughter pair made up of PR-B special education teacher Michael Lupella, playing Donald Dunce, and his 12-year-old daughter, Sophie Lupella, in the parts of Princess Zebrina of the Zynet Galaxy and Moppe, a member of Princess Purity's cleanup crew.

This is not the first production for either of them. Michael has long performed in various plays, both with PR-B and elsewhere.

"I was in 'Greater Tuna,' which I think was two or three years ago, pre-COVID," he said. "Then I was in 'Alice in Wonderland.' That was here. And then in Red Wing, before we moved back, I was in 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' and 'The Little Prince' and 'Rumors' in the Sheldon Theatre."

Daughter Sophie is just ramping up in her own theatrical experience.


"I've been in the Prairie Fire Children's Theatre 'Alice in Wonderland' and 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,'" Sophie said.

This is their first time on stage together.

"It's really neat," Michael said. "I enjoy it because it's kind of an escape where you can escape from the stresses of life and be a character and enjoy that. I've noticed Sophie has great imagination and can really bring things to life. It's good to see that applied to the stage, so that's something we can share. Life gets so busy so you don't always have time to share things as often."

They share two scenes when Michael is helping Prince Valiant, played by Miles DeSanto, to scour the surrounding kingdoms to meet the various princesses. Preparing for their parts, they helped one another not only by practicing lines together but to get in the mood for play acting.

"We practiced," Michael said. "Sophie helped me out with my lines. Then we've done a few home videos too. We did a spinoff of the 1966 'Batman' with the old-fashioned characters. We got some action figures and kind of acted those out and did our own episodes. We've done some stop action Lego stuff and just silly, goof around time. But it's good practice for dialogue and storytelling and stuff like that."

Both thespians are enjoying the lighthearted nature of the play.

"I play the simple sidekick to the prince," Michael said. "I get to do a lot of silly one-liners to kind of throw humor into scenes."

Michael enjoys his scene where he's figured out the plan to identify the kingdom's true princess.


"The rest of the play I'm kind of on the foolish side," Michael said. "Then I get to be the one that knows something nobody else does."

Sophie is particularly entertained by the antics of King Maximilian (Isaak Anderson).

"There's one scene partway through Act Two where Donald and Prince Valiant are having this talk about the secret test and Princess Olivia, and the king is in the background sighing all the time. I think his sighs are hilarious," she said.

"I like your alien scene too," Michael told Sophie. "The aliens behind Sophie are kind of reacting to what's going on. She rattles off some fancy terms and I don't know what's going on, but they do. It's that kind of contrast that I think is interesting."

Michael thinks the audience will find themselves entranced by DeSanto's Prince Valiant.

"He's easily likeable," he said. "He's trying to find the princess and I think people will really latch onto that. I think they'll also like the king and queen mother. They have a kind of dynamic where the king is trying to keep the peace and then the grandmother is very demanding."

Sophie thinks she will try theater again in the future if this production doesn't prove too nerve-wracking. The father/daughter pair is quick to encourage others to try out for local theater in the future.

"We have a big cast, a big script a lot of people can be part of," Michael said. "Some people want to be bashful or whatever. I say to anyone, give it a shot. Come try out. There's room for everybody. Jen (Anderson, director) has said many times we'll cast everyone and bring everyone out here. It's just fun to get a lot of different personalities and people out there and meet new people and try new things and just support the arts."


The Lupellas aren't the only family to appear on stage for this production. Also appearing are Katie Shetka and son Nathan Shetka, as well as Isaak Anderson and daughter Olivia Anderson under the direction of wife and mother Jen Anderson.

"The Princess and the Pea," by Michele L. Vaca

  • When: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 13-14, and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 15
  • Where: Pine River-Backus High School old gym stage
  • Tickets: Available at the door 45 minutes before showtime for $8 for adults and $5 for students and seniors

This play is produced in partnership with On Stage! Productions, Chicago, Illinois, and with funding from the Minnesota Legacy Funds distributed through the Five Wings Arts Council.

Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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