Sponsored by the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation
by Stephanie Fong | Submitted Photos
Women of Medora features inspiring women who have made an impact on the world through their time living and working in Medora.
Candice Lively Wollan may be a Tennessee girl at heart, but North Dakotans have warmly claimed her as one of their own since she began performing as a Burning Hills Singer in the Medora Musical in 2009. (In fact, when the Musical rolled out a newly penned song about North Dakota in 2011, Candice was chosen to sing the ballad night after night—if every single North Dakotan who heard her sing “Always North Dakota” didn’t get a little choked up and want to invite her home for a hotdish dinner, then I don’t know what’s wrong with them…)
A performer starting at a young age, Candice always knew she was destined for the stage.
“I started singing and dancing before I can even remember—in church, and school plays. I also was a part of the Knoxville Performing Arts Institute when I was very young, so this is just something I have always done. I grew up knowing I wanted to be in shows in the Pigeon Forge (Tennessee) area. I started singing for a living there, and I haven’t stopped since!”
Audiences are drawn to Candice’s natural stage presence and soaring voice, which she brings to the Medora Musical stage for 100 nights every summer.
“I will never forget a moment from my first year, when I walked onto that expansive stage, and looked around at the backdrop. I was so excited to perform in that beautiful amphitheater. Definite butterflies! And now, that stage feels more at home to me than any other I have worked on!”
Along with performing her heart out all summer long, behind the scenes Candice is also the company manager, dance captain, and assistant choreographer.
While the Medora Musical has dominated her time during spring and summer months, Candice gets to showcase her talents in other productions across the country during the Musical’s off season, a challenge she relishes.
“Every show has its different challenges. For instance, last fall, our music director for Ring of Fire emailed me and said, ‘We would like for you to play the mandolin.’ I said, ‘Great! Sounds fun!’ Having never touched a mandolin in my life, I knew I had to get to work, but things like that always keep you growing. AND now I have a mandolin!”
Whether she’s learning the mandolin for a role or doing the Medora clog for the 85th time, Candice’s goal for each performance is the same.
“I hope that for any audience anywhere, that they get a little escape from the real world for a bit. That is what live theater is all about! I am very lucky to be able to sing for a living, and I never take that for granted. I hope that comes across in my performances.”
Candice has become part of the Medora family in more ways than one. Three years ago when Candice married Chet Wollan, she joined a family with deep ties to the Medora—husband Chet Wollan (host of the Musical), father-in-law Curt Wollan (director/producer), and sister-in-law Lexie Wollan Swenson (choreographer and former performer) have all played integral roles in the Medora Musical for years.
Of her husband Chet, she smiles, “He is so talented. Every summer, I watch Chet go through the stress of an ever-changing script, and watching him turn what is written on the page into the “Cowboy Chet” persona you see on that stage is a pretty incredible thing to watch.”
With Candice’s little brother Jacob cast as a horse rider and trick roper in the show this past summer, she was able to bring part of her family to Medora.
“Let me tell you, it was something very special to share the stage with him. I was so proud,” says Candice. “As you can tell, this show is definitely a family affair for me.”
Each year, Candice and her fellow cast members make an impression on thousands of visitors who see the Medora Musical under a North Dakota sky—transporting them, entertaining them, and hopefully inspiring them.
Medora has in turn made an impression on Candice.
“Medora has made such a huge impact on my life. It has been the place where I have lived, spring through summer, for most of my adult life. It’s where my relationship with my husband has grown. It’s where I have been able to hone my craft, and become a better singer, dancer, and performer. It’s a place where I have made irreplaceable friends who are more like family.”
Stephanie (Tinjum) Fong worked in Medora during her college summer breaks and then had the privilege to work as the personnel manager for the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation for seven years.