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Karen Bradley accepts her Oxcar award for Best Musical Direction in the Bemidji Community Theater’s production of “A Chrismas Carol” during Saturday night’s ceremony. She also shared an award with Mary Knox Johnson for Best Costumes in the same play. Bemidji Pioneer Photo

‘Oxcars’ honor theater work

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BEMIDJI — Northern Minnesota’s live theater excellence was honored Saturday evening at the first Oxcars Celebration.

The awards ceremony, held in the New City Ballroom, recognized amateur theater work from Bemidji Community Theater, Saarens Productions, Mask and Rose Women’s Theater Collective and Loon Opera Company in Bemidji, Minnesota Folklore Theater in Walker and Northern Light Opera in Park Rapids. Awards were chosen by a committee of theatergoers.

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Kevin Cease introduced the emcees, Catie Belleveau and Rob Thomas, and provided color commentary. Presenters were Kathryn Lavelle, DeeJay Arens, Julie Quanrud, Kay Sanders, Kevin Cease, Ann Cease, Paul and Pat Dove, Greg Gasman and Steve Saari, and Cease, Belleveau and Thomas.

When all the people who are part of theater, including the audience, “come together and say yes, there is theater,” Belleveau said.

“Thank you to all in this room who say yes,” Thomas added.

“The Oxcars celebration was created to honor the excellent work of our rich theater scene here in northern Minnesota,” Belleveau said. “Never be deceived in thinking that creative and powerful theater work can only be seen on both coasts or in the metro. We have fabulous talent in our region.”

Following are the awards, each of which came with an Oxcar statuette of Babe the Blue Ox, designed and created by Al Belleveau:

-- Best Light Design: Loon Opera Co./Abe Hunter, “Madama Butterfly.”

-- Best Female in a Musical: Kay Sanders, “Nunsense,” Minnesota Folklore Theater.

-- Best Male in a Musical: Mark Fulton, “A Christmas Carol,” Bemidji Community Theater.

-- Best Set Design: Colin Perry, Northern Light Opera.

-- Best Musical Direction: Karen Bradley, “A Christmas Carol; BCT; also “Pied Piper,” BCT; and “Paul Bunyan the Musical,” Mask and Rose Theater.

-- Best Costumes: Karen Bradley/Mary Knox Johnson, “A Christmas Carol,” BCT.

-- Best Male Actor in a Drama: Ivan Smith, “Ajax in Iraq,” Mask and Rose.

-- Best Female Actor in a Drama: Emily Quanrud, “Ruby Lips Above the Water,” Saarens Productions

-- Best Direction, Youth Production: Mary Knox Johnson, “Pied Piper,” BCT. BCT President Ernie Rall accepted the award on her behalf.

-- Best Comedy: “Murder at the Howard Johnson,” Saarens Productions, directed by Vicki Stenerson.

-- Best Director, Drama: Cate Belleveau, “Ajax in Iraq,” Mask and Rose.

-- Up and Coming Youth: Rowan Johnson, “A Christmas Carol,” BCT.

-- Lifetime Achievement Award: Greg Gasman, who received a “zombie” Oxcar.

Gasman has directed 150 plays in 30 years here. He recently chose to relocate to Duluth to explore the theater scene there and audition for acting roles in Minneapolis. He said he wants to create a theater company in Minneapolis to provide opportunities for talent from Bemidji and other small towns.

The night, highlighted by Wayne Hoff on the piano, included skits and banter, including a scene with Belleveau as Lady Gaga, wearing a bone dress instead of a meat dress. “We’re in a recession,” she explained.

In performances between awards, Hannah Allen sang a song from the Bemidji High School production of “Into the Woods,” Gail Haller sang “Climb Every Mountain” from the Northern Light Opera production of “The Sound of Music,” substituting for an ill Sara Parthun; Ivan Smith performed a scene from “Ajax in Iraq,” followed by Lavelle and Aaron Tank performing the song “Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier,” and Rowan Johnson sang a song from her role as the Ghost of Christmas Present in “A Christmas Carol.”

Patty Lester and Muriel Keaveny were judges of costumes, calling a selection of attendees up onto the stage to show off their ensembles.

Sarah Bull Photography took photos of Oxcar guests.

Sponsors were Creative Pear Design, Cease Funeral Home, Nancy’s Strings and the Region 2 Arts Council. 

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