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Harrowing night at the Playhouse, but show goes on

BEMIDJI - As I drove by the Jaycees Water Carnival about 6:30 p.m. Monday, I wondered why people were still on the rides when lightning was brightening the skies over Bemidji. My mind was caught up navigating a tight parallel parking spot in front of Keg N' Cork and only after exiting did I heard the sirens off in town.

The cast for the new show going on stage for the Paul Bunyan Playhouse was waiting for me to arrive for an interview with one of actors and then the start of the technical rehearsal.

We all went into the theater to start the show when yells were heard, "It's raining inside the building!"

The rain water was flowing in from the roof and down the aisles. Technical Director Caleb Fricke was frantically using the shop vac for damage control.

We were all told to go downstairs into the bowels of the theater below the stage because it would be safer for us. The cast gathered for a line reading of the play, we all shook hands and introduced ourselves and the action began. But the lights started to flicker and then went out - save an emergency light on the stairway.

Not to worry because we all had some kind of small, hand held lighting instrument by which to read the script and feel relatively calm during the obviously frightening events happening in the streets.

"It's green outside," someone shouted from upstairs, "but don't worry because you're safe down here."

The actors spoke their lines, created their own sound effects and sang the songs that will be part of production so as to keep the pace going. They even used some of their lines to joke about what was happening outside but truth be told, it was eerie downstairs with small globes of light interspersed in the darkness.

The one that pointed to the ceiling finally failed, and the small clip-on that I use to write notes finally died as well. Not to worry, the director, Terry Carlson, used the light on his power drill and someone gave a small flashlight to Adam Rausar (Roy) and I got to use a small emergency light owned by Erin Mae Johnson who plays Catherine. Heidi Berg who was last at the Playhouse in "Cabaret," stayed pretty much in the dark (literally) and Peter Simmons, her love interest, disappeared upstairs from time to time. Brody was back there somewhere in the dark and then would re-appear as needed. It was an ensemble effort that reminded me how much I admire "theater folk."

Probably most people do not know that I spent a good part of my working life in theater. I think the bug hit me at Camp Birchbrook in North Sutton, N.H., just after my first year of college. That started my interest in technical theater which covered community productions to costumes and set pieces for children's theater at the Chief with the Paul Bunyan Playhouse and at Bangsberg Fine Arts Complex with Bemidji Community Theater.

In the musical, "Annie Get Your Gun," the action starts with a solo singer setting the mood with "There's No Business Like Show Business," a song made famous by the late Ethel Merman.

Even if it means staying up all night to restitch a flimsy costume, reset the lights or make sure the final touches are finished on the set, the show must go on.