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Saaren Productions: Trio takes over Wild Rose Theater

Dee Jay Arens stands next to a banner of the Wild Rose Theater, which Saarens Productions will reopen in September with a musical review of "Side-By-Side By Sondheim." Pioneer Photo/Patt Rall

When you go into the Masonic Temple at 501 Bemidji Ave., you'll see the freshly painted main hall and the new padded chairs.

When you walk upstairs, you'll find Betty Arens, her son DeeJay, and Steve Saari making the finishing touches in the Fleur de Lis Gallery. Saaren Productions has taken over the management of the Wild Rose Theater. Rental agreements are signed, the first show will open in a few weeks and the gallery will be open on a regular basis.

"Cate Belleveau approached us and asked if we would like to take over management of the Wild Rose Theater while she is away teaching in Kyrgyzstan," said Saari. "We are a for-profit company, and people have asked us what we are doing. The answer lies in our flyer, we want to provide a space for community artists and patrons to experience and enjoy the arts."

For example, the Fleur de Lis Gallery will be open from noon-4 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, during events and by appointment. Two well known local artists, Don Knutson and Marlon Davison, have already placed two of their works for display. Regional and local art work will be on display either on a rotating or permanent basis.

Some of the long time favorites like the First Friday events, First City of Dance Christmas Show and Sister Song will be remain; Mask and Rose Women's Theater Collective has gone into hiatus, but the costumes are stored there. The box office space is reminiscent of an old New York theater with pictures of former movie and theater greats on the walls. Just for fun, John Barrymore's picture is placed above the "No Smoking" sign - he was a well known inebriate and smoker.

One of the upcoming shows, "Steel Magnolias" by Robert Harding, has been in pre-production for about a year, and it is finally going to be presented in January. In late April, Saarens Productions will showcase "I Never Saw Another Butterfly" by Celeste Raspanti. It is a drama about children in a concentration camp. The production is scheduled to coincide with Bemidji Symphony Orchestra's concert, "Testament of Defiance," a tribute to those children who were in the Terezin Concentration Camp. A new musical by Saari, "Playing the Bill," is going through final revisions and will be ready for the stage in August 2011.

The upcoming musical revue, "Side By Side By Sondheim," a collection of songs by Stephen Sondheim, will open as their premiere event on Sept. 16. This show was pre-cast, but in the future, Saari said, there will be open auditions. Friends, former acting colleagues and supporters of Saari and Arens are coming together to perform this opening production. The entire Cease family will be on stage or behind the stage on lights; Kevin is the narrator, Ann and Allison will sing and Brett is backstage. Sarah Einerson, better known for her dramatic emoting, will sing, and a newcomer to the Bemidji audiences, Mike Lamon, joined the company.

Because they are a for-profit enterprise, Arens and Saari will shoulder the expenses themselves without grants. They have consumer-friendly ticket prices; $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and $5 for children 12 and younger.

"When we started back into theater," said Arens "we were looking for rehearsal and performance space, and this opportunity presented itself. We've kept the ticket prices affordable and hope to pay the bills. If we do make any profit this year, we'll put it into a fund for next year's performances. We hope to do a full-scale musical. We are also hoping to make this a co-op whereby after we pay the bills, the profit will be split among the actors."

Saaren Productions chose as its motto, a quote from Oscar Wilde, "The stage is not merely the meeting place of all the arts, but the return of art to life."