3 questions for ... Karen Bradley, singer, musical director for "Christmas Carol" and costume builder
Q: You once said when asked to define yourself that you "make things."
A: I love challenges and have made jewelry from up-cycled items. Last year I was a featured artist of the month and showed my pieces at the Wild Hare Bistro and had to keep restocking because they were selling so quickly. I have been knitting and selling my scarves for quite a time now. A couple of shows ago, when I was musical director, we needed a set piece and I said that I could do that and that's how this new interest in theater set pieces and costumes came to be. I made the bird puppet and the Chinese Dragon for Disney's "Aladdin" last spring.
Now I am making all the hats for "Christmas Carol," also the ghosts and their hands. It is so exciting. The ghost of Christmas Future is very vertical and as tall as possible. He's being played by Steve Beuning, a student at TrekNorth where I still teach as a substitute. It's his first play and he is loving it.
Working with students in these musicals is very fulfilling and there is a bonding that takes place within the casts."
Q: Building costumes is a far cry from your start as an opera singer. Can you talk a little about that part of your life?
A: I loved being the Madame Flora, the gypsy fortune teller in "The Medium" by Gian Carlo Menotti. Playing someone who is on the brink of destruction due to mental illness is very challenging.
Even now, when I hear "The Humming Chorus" from "Madame Butterfly" by Puccini, I just cry. I have sung Cho Cho San many times and the music still brings tears to my eyes. Probably another favorite is Rosalina in the operetta "Die Fledermaus" by Johann Strauss, II. I was once in a production with a director from the Boston Conservatory of Music and he let me have my way with the dialogue. I had so much fun. Although not an opera, I have sung Golda (the mother from "Fiddler on the Roof" many times but now I would have to play Yenta the matchmaker."
Q:Your love of music and teaching is legendary in this town. Is that why you picked this particular version of "Christmas Carol" to musically direct?
A: Yes, going to see "Christmas Carol" was a ritual each holiday season when my family went to the cities. But in this newer version the music is very different; it is not traditional Christmas music by any means.
It was written by an English team and this will be only the fourth time that it will be produced in the States. What I found is that each piece (song) is almost written like an operatic piece; there's a recitative which sets you up for the song, almost every piece changes keys within the music itself: it will go up a half step and then another half-step. I know why they are doing that; to heighten the drama and excitement of each song.
Pianist Wayne Hoff and I have been working together on this getting this production up and running, musically speaking.
The play itself is very close to the book and Charles Dickens appears on stage almost as one of the characters. Some of the dialogue is verbatim, the costumes are traditional and the overall effect is magical.
For whatever reason a person goes to see the show be it their children or friends in it, they are going to enjoy the music. When KG Entertainment turned over its annual production of "A Christmas Carol" last year, Bemidji Community Theater knew that it was taking on a cherished Bemidji tradition.
Director Mary Knox Johnson and I read many scripts and in the end, she liked this script and I liked the music of this version, so we went with it. We were fortunate to have many well-known singers and actors audition and some actors we are welcoming back to the stage of the Paul Bunyan Playhouse."
3 questions is a Q&A feature by Patt Rall that will be published one Sunday each month to give readers a chance to meet artists from the Bemidji area. Feedback is welcomed via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.