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‘Celebrating Community Theater’: Vene and Friends brings out local performers for a night of musicals

Karen Bradley and Joe Vene co-host Bemidji Community Theater's fundraising event "Vene and Friends: Celebrating Community Theater" on Wednesday night. (Jordan Shearer | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 2
A small group of performers with Bemidji Community Theater gathered for the fundraiser "Vene and Friends: Celebrating Community Theater" Wednesday night. They included, back row from left, Becky Marty, Kristine Cannon, Paul Conklin, Karen Bradley, Steven Mayer, Helen Bartlett, Julie Kaiser, and Joe Vene. Front row from left, Hannah Fletcher, Anne Beaulieu, Carla Norris-Raynbird, and Anna Mayer. (Jordan Shearer | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 2

BEMIDJI -- To walk into the Chief Theatre in downtown Bemidji on Wednesday night was to walk into a patchwork of musicals from across the spectrum.

Between two acts, a small cohort of singers gave performances from Bemidji Community Theater’s productions of “Kiss Me Kate,” “Mary Poppins,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” and the “Sound of Music,” among others.

Dubbed “Vene and Friends: Celebrating Community Theater,” the event was held  both to showcase the theater’s portfolio and raise funds for the organization's goals.

Although Bemidji Community Theater has held productions every year, this marked the first time in many years the organization has held such a fundraising event. Organizers hope to continue the trend in the future, although there hasn’t been any future plans solidified.

“Bemidji Community Theater has never done this kind of fundraiser before,” said Mary Knox-Johnson, one of the organizers for the event and a longtime Bemidji Community Theater director. “So we call it ‘a Celebration of Community Theater.”

The fundraiser came amid the theater’s production season, sandwiched between two performing weekends for its production of “The Sound of Music.” The second weekend of which was sold-out days beforehand.  

Bemidji Community Theater used the event as a fundraiser for its search for new storage space and workshop needs. The theater has a handful of locations for its various props, costumes, and sets. Knox-Johnson said they’re not necessarily looking for a new performance space, but rather a location to store all of the group’s accessories that it uses for productions.

“Right now, we’re spread all over the city,” Knox-Johnson said. “We’re trying to find a space where we can have all of that in one place.”

Joe Vene and Karen Bradley were the hosts for the performance. Together they sang numbers from “Gigi” and “Fiddler on the Roof,” harking back to when the two performed together as Tevye and Golde from a previous version of the play.

“Joe and I have sung together for longer than I can remember, so it seemed like a natural fit,” Bradley said about taking part in the production.  

Vene and Bradley were  joined by other fellow members of the theater’s ranks in evening wear attire, including Kristine Cannon who served as MC for the evening.    

The idea for the fundraiser came up several months beforehand when the theater’s leadership had been batting around ideas about possible projects. From that, the idea for the performance mash-up came to the surface, with Vene and Bradley at the helm.

Once the project was set, a notice was sent out for volunteers and ideas for what performances they could include in the program. From there, the night of “celebrating Community Theater” came together.

“It was one of those moments when time stands still,” Vene said about the reception from the audience after the performance.