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100 and counting: Latest BCT production will be 100th stage show directed by Mary Knox-Johnson

Bemidji Community Theater’s production of “Dragonsong” features 35 actors and actresses all from the Bemidji area. (Maggi Stivers | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 5
Mary Knox-Johnson, director of “Dragonsong,” takes notes during a rehearsal held earlier this weekend at the Historic Chief Theater. Bemidji Community Theater’s production of “Dragonsong” will be Knox-Johnson’s 100th show. (Maggi Stivers | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 5
Bemidji Community Theater’s production of “Dragonsong” will feature the use of puppets. (Maggi Stivers | Bemidji Pioneer)3 / 5
Charlotte Saxton, who plays Menolly, sings a song during a “Dragonsong” rehearsal held earlier this week at the Historic Chief Theater. (Maggi Stivers | Bemidji Pioneer)4 / 5
Jacob Rogers, left, who plays T’Gellan, and Paul Conklin, who plays Yanus, rehearse a scene during a “Dragonsong” rehearsal held earlier this week at the Historic Chief Theater. (Maggi Stivers | Bemidji Pioneer)5 / 5

BEMIDJI—People would often ask Mary Knox-Johnson how many stage shows she's directed, and she never knew the answer.

Until now.

"They kept asking and asking and I thought, 'You know what, maybe I should just count,'" Knox-Johnson said, "I actually sat down and counted all of the shows that I had done and it happened that this was No. 100."

Indeed, Bemidji Community Theater's upcoming production of Dragonsong will be the 100th show that Knox-Johnson has directed.

Mary Knox-Johnson, director of “Dragonsong,” takes notes during a rehearsal held earlier this weekend at the Chief Theater.

"Dragonsong" will be on stage at 7:30 p.m. March 31, April 1, 7, 8 and 2 p.m. April 2 and 9 at the Historic Chief Theater in downtown Bemidji.

Knox-Johnson's interest in theater began when she was in high school.

"I volunteered at a community theater in Fargo to usher because you got free tickets when you ushered," she said, "I knew I didn't want to be on stage but I liked the backstage activities. So first, I ushed and then I started doing backstage-type activities."

While attending college at North Dakota State University, she chose to study English with a minor in speech and theater. Following graduation, she was worked as an English teacher in LaMoure, N.D., for one year and then was hired at a school in West Fargo, N.D.

She was teaching English and speech, but was involved in the school's theater department.

"There was another lady doing theater, the directing, and so she asked if I would like to help with the tech," Knox-Johnson said, "When she left, I said, 'Hey I would really like to take over this theater position.'"

And that's what she did, teaching at West Fargo for total of 31 years.

Following her retirement, Knox-Johnson moved to Bemidji for an adjunct speech position at BSU. A BSU theater department graduate named Rob Thomas introduced her to the Bemidji Community Theater program.

"He said they needed some advice," she explained, "At that time, I was teaching a design class. So I had my students design models for the BCT and so they took some aspects for the show."

From there, she stepped into the role of director, leading two shows each year, a children's show and a musical.

'Dragonsong,' the 100th show

In her spare time, Knox-Johnson reads play scripts and that's how she came across the script for "Dragonsong."

"I was really struck by the story because the story is so important to young people, the concept of following your creativity," she said.

"Dragonsong" is set on the planet Pern where dragon riders rule the sky and harpers teach the children their lessons through music.

Menolly, the main character played by Charlotte Saxton, is a gifted musician.

But in her small fishing village, girls are not allowed to become harpers. Within the story, the character of Menolly tests the historic traditions.

"My character loves to play music and she's a very creative. But her parents don't let her be creative with her music and don't let her write her own music," Saxton said.

The production will feature something new to the BCT, the use of puppets made by puppeteers Karl Warnke and Ezra Bartsch.

"They were made for the kids because he took the measurements off their hands so when the kids run them, they can get their mouths and everything to talk,"said Knox-Johnson.

The production will feature nine fire dragon puppets operated by nine children.

If you go. . .

What: Bemidji Community Theater's production of "Dragonsong"

When: 7:30 p.m. March 31, April 1, 7, 8 and 2 p.m. April 2 and 9.

Where: Historic Chief Theater, 314 Beltrami Ave. NW.

Cost: $12 for adults, $6 for children. Tickets available at Iverson Corner Drug and Ken K. Thompson Jewelry.

Maggi Stivers

Maggi Stivers is a Multi-Media Journalist at the Bemidji Pioneer. She covers art and entertainment in the Bemidji area. She is a 2013 Bemidji State graduate majoring in mass communications with a minor in sociology. Contact her at (218) 333-9790 or

(218) 333-9790