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Theater: Bemidji actor brings radio to life

Aaron Brown and Sara Breeze are seen on the stage of the historic Chief Theater during a live broadcast of the Great Northern Radio players in 2012. Breeze will be one of the actors in Saturday’s show at the Bagley High School Auditorium. Submitted Photo

BEMIDJI – People still like to listen to the radio broadcasts of live shows where the actors read from scripts and the sound effects man tries to keep pace. Just look at the popularity of “Prairie Home Companion.”

And if you want to participate in recording a live radio show, get to the Bagley High School auditorium on Saturday to watch the Great Northern Radio Show with Bemidji’s own Sara Breeze. She will lead a troupe of players who will spin stories of life around Bagley.

Admission to the live performance is free, but reservations are requested by calling KAXE at 218-326-1234. Audience members are asked to be seated by 4:30 p.m. Walk-ups are welcome on a first come, first served basis.

Breeze was born in a small South Dakota town near Mitchell. Her dad owned the movie theater where her brothers ran the projector, and she and her sister made the popcorn. It was the only movie theater for some 70 miles and the only entertainment around.

“I got to watch every movie four or five times,” said Breeze. “Sometimes my father would tell us that a particular movie was important for us to see. So he would sit down with us and then we’d talk about what we saw: ‘12 Angry Men’ or ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’

“I remember Katharine Hepburn in ‘The Rainmaker.’ I loved that movie.”

Although the nuns at the local Catholic school called the movie theater a den of iniquity, Breeze paid little attention because she was, after all, helping at the family business.

Breeze left her small town to travel to Lawrence, Kan., home of the University of Kansas, and obtained a performance degree. As a student, Breeze was Lizzie Curry the spinster who falls for the huckster rainmaker. She played Curley’s wife in Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men,” a play considered controversial to this day. The performing years Breeze spent in Lawrence were punctuated with directorial efforts and she was instrumental in starting a children’s theater before her acting career took her to the east coast.

While performing back east, Breeze attained an education degree at the State University of New York-Geneseo. The 10 years she spent in upstate New York were rich in performance opportunities.

“I am a performer who loves to sing, dance and act,” said Breeze. “I played Fannie Brice in “Funny Girl,” Lola in “Damn Yankees” and Nellie in “South Pacific,” in fact so many musicals that it’s hard to remember them all.”

When Breeze came here in the 1990s, she took a teaching position in Cass Lake and stayed there for 10 years until she went to Schoolcraft Learning Community, an expeditionary charter school in Bemidji. She has been with Schoolcraft since it started 13 years ago and teaches language arts to the sixth- through eighth-graders and is advisor to the drama club.

Ask just about anyone who likes theater in Bemidji and they will be able to tell you that they saw Sara at the Paul Bunyan Playhouse:  doing stand-up comedy with Greg Gasman or belting out a country western tune and perhaps “serious” music with a Gilbert and Sullivan production for Bemidji Community Theater.

It is little wonder that when Aaron Brown was looking for actors for his new venture, a radio show to be performed live, he looked to a person whose voice he heard on the KAXE and KBXE. One of the volunteers for the “On the River” show is Breeze.

“Aaron heard me do one of my characters on the air – Derry Broad, a tough old bird who owns the Derry Derrick and Hoist Business,” said Breeze. “Derry would appear during fundraisers and subscription events for KAXE. After Aaron recruited me to be one of the actors for his new radio show, he found out that I was Derry Broad and he wrote Derry Broad into the show.”

Derry will be only one of the characters Breeze will play this Saturday during the Great Northern Radio Show at Bagley High School.

In the upcoming show, Derry will break down in Bagley and who knows what kind of mischief she will get into.

Breeze will also reprise her own script about Sister Amata, a Bavarian nun who started the first hospital in Bemidji for lumberjacks at the turn of the last century.

Perhaps the audience will recognize Melinda, the president of the Presbyterian Ladies Church Ladies Literary Guild who is trying to run a book club. Then Breeze will change character completely and become a moose for the skit, “Moosing in Action.”

“It’s all just great fun for the community, our own Prairie Home Companion,” said Breeze. “We have one rehearsal the night before which is basically just about timing; there’s a stage manager who lets us know if we need to speed up or slow down during the actual live show.”

The skits are between the musical acts, monologues by producer and writer Aaron Brown and special guests. Anne Dunn, the Ojibwa author and story teller, will talk about maple syrup gathering from the old days.

A young singer/songwriter from Bemidji, Sonny Johnson, will appear along with the Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank.