New location, new look: Fred Rogers brings decades of expertise to the Madrigal Dinners

BEMIDJI -- For those paying attention, the new location at Concordia Language Villages was not the only thing setting this year's BSU Madrigal Dinners apart from years past.

Hannah Jenson plays the jester and Megan Riedel plays Madam Shire during the BSU Madrigal Dinners at Concordia Language Villages. (Jordan Shearer | Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- For those paying attention, the new location at Concordia Language Villages was not the only thing setting this year’s BSU Madrigal Dinners apart from years past.  

Fred Rogers

For the first time, Fred Rogers from the Minnesota Folklore Theater joined the cast and crew, working as the costume designer, set designer and theatrical director. A BSU alum himself, Rogers has spent years helping actors and singers around the country bring their performances to life.  

“Having him on staff has been particularly great addition,” BSU Director of Choral Activities Dwight Jilek said about working with Rogers. “He comes with a long list of credentials and successes in his professional career. We’re thankful to be able to work with him.”

Coming into the role, Rogers knew he wanted to complement the show’s new setting with the cast’s attire -- to use both the new location and the artistic license at his disposal to submerse his audience in the experience of Deep Manor.


For those quick enough to snatch tickets, the evening would have began with a drive to the other side of Lake Bemidji and deep into the woods surrounding the Concordia Language Villages.

Walking up to “Deep Manor” from their cars, the dinner guests likely were heckled a bit by poor beggars in tattered clothes asking for a bit of charity before they were able to resume walking into the dining hall at the Salolampi Finnish Language Village. From there, the royal court, commoners, a jester, and a handful of other characters all would make appearances.  

“The building dictated a little bit of change in how I approached the costumes,” Rogers said. “It’s a distinct look that I wanted to convey.”

Paul Brandvik, who founded the university’s Madrigal Dinners in 1968, wrote the script for this year’s rendition of the Madrigals.

All told, Rogers has worked in the industry for more than half a century. He previously worked with Burt Reynolds in Florida as the resident costumer at the Jupiter Theater. He worked as lead designer on Dolly Parton’s “Dixie Stampede” in the early 2000s. “He also designed for HBO and N’Sync’s 1999 National Tour,” according to a brief biography of his career.  

He also has a number of credentials from his home state, one of which was as a featured speaker during the Minnesota State Capitol rededication. His work has also thrust him into smaller venues, such as those in Bemidji, Brainerd and his current home of Walker.

“When your passion is the arts, all projects are equal,” Rogers said. “I try to instill that in these students that this is an important show.”  

Although this is the first year he’d worked with the Madrigal Dinners, Rogers has worked with BSU previously during its opera productions. He also will contribute to the upcoming opera in March, which will be his sixth.


And now, after experiencing the Madrigals for more than 30 years from the perspective of the audience, he finally got to put his hand to the helm and help lead the program.

“You can see it in the quality of acting; you can see it in the colors,” Jilek said about Roger’s influence on the Madrigal Dinners. “In years past, it was always a beautiful event. But I think Fred, because of his past, has been able to add his own touch.”

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