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Folklore theater curtain to rise in Akeley

Fred Rogers plans to offer affordable theater for families this summer in Akeley, as well as a creative outlet for area adults and kids.

When the director of the musical comedy, "Guys on Ice," greeted his audience departing Long Lake Theater last summer he posed a question.

"What would you like to see on stage?"

A recurring request was folklore. Tales and legends - with a bit of superstition adding spice - have stirred the human imagination for eons.

Theatrical director and costume designer Fred Rogers is answering the call.

This summer, the Akeley Regional Community Center's original gym/theater will be the site of plays and musicals staged by the Minnesota Folklore Theater, Rogers choreographing the initiative.

The Bemidji State University graduate has returned to the north woods after a theatrical career spanning four decades.

His résumé includes costume designer for Burt Reynolds dinner theater in Jupiter, FL. He opened Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede horse arena and dinner show in Orlando. And he will be designing costumes for the Phipps Center for the Arts' production of "Fiddler on the Roof" next fall, his swan song.

"I want to devote my time up here," he said of "retirement."

The curtain will part for the season opener Thursday, June 11 with Paul Bunyan engaging audiences with a bluegrass musical.

This is the Midwest premier of New York playwright Dan Eiler's tale of the big lumberjack's return from the West after villains invade his home turf.

Babe will be off stage, the big blue ox's presence to be known via bellow.

The "Hubbard Prairie Radio Show," a 1945 broadcast, will debut July 9. The production will feature Big Band music with fictitious characters based on actual historical letters penned by people with Hubbard County ancestry. The audience will witness a potato soup contest while bogeying to Chattanooga Choo Choo.

The August performances will focus on "Women of the North Woods," with two one-act plays.

Anne Dunn's "Long Legs," is an Ojibwe mother telling stories of herons and cranes.

"An Early Fall" written by Rogers, recounts a woman's experiences in the northern forests after her husband dies.

October will bring a Halloween production of "Sleepy Hollow" with a party Halloween night.

"A Smokey Mountain Christmas" will be staged in December, a musical that takes place in the 1940s when a family celebrates Christmas while sending their children off to war.

But the genre will not be limited to folklore, Rogers said. Future plans call for classics - productions staged at the Guthrie and plays "that have made history."

The theatrical works will unfold - aptly - on a stage constructed in 1937, one of the last Works Projects Administration auditoriums still in existence in Minnesota, Rogers said.

Show times will be 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday with 3 p.m. matinees Sunday. But the schedule can be adjusted for groups, Rogers said.

All profits from the productions will go into an auditorium restoration fund. "This is community-based, not commercial," he said.

Rogers is currently seeking grants for the auditorium, recently approved for approximately $4,000 from Valspar for paint.

Tickets may be purchased beginning May 1 online at or at the theater's box office.

Volunteers are welcome.

Rogers' long-range aspiration is for Akeley to become a Mecca for artists of all media, engaging the senses via art and entertainment.