As Karla Haij’s theater students at Coon Rapids High School (CRHS) were preparing for their winter play, “A Sueussified Christmas Carol,” they were going through their usual discussion of “What if…”
On a whim, Haij threw out, “What if we invite the playwright, Peter Bloedel, to see the play?”
Isaac Quick, a theater captain, took Haij’s “what if” seriously and contacted Bloedel, who teaches at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato. Bloedel’s answer was “yes.”
“When Isaac got the text from Peter saying he would like to attend, he and Ruby, another theater captain, came bounding into my classroom between classes,” Haij said.
“I think we all shrieked a bit and laughed. As an entire group we were very excited he said yes.”
Bloedel, who visited CRHS for two performances Dec. 19, said it was a nice surprise to receive the invitation from Quick.
The 20-year professor checked his schedule and was pleased to see his students’ finals were complete and he had the day free to travel to Coon Rapids.
A native of Brooklyn Center and graduate of Park Center High School, Bloedel participated in musicals during high school.
Boedel entered college with a plan to be a music major, but one thing led to another and the theater and writing became his life’s work.
He began his college career at Bethany, but at that time it was a two-year school so he had to transfer to Gustavus Adolphus to finish his undergraduate degree.
With a goal of teaching at Bethany and knowing he’d be the only theater teacher at the college, Bloedel learned as much as he could about the theater and earned a graduate degree from Minnesota State University, Mankato.
With about 10 plays under his belt, Bloedel wrote “A Sueussified Christmas Carol” about two years ago.
Bloedel had success with “sueussfiying” Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and his publisher asked for another Dr. Suess parody.
“I tried to think of something universal, something everyone would know,” Bloedel said.
“I started to think about Scrooge and then started thinking that Scrooge really is the inspiration for the Grinch. I ended up writing a one-act and full version of the play.”
Although students near Rochester had come to Bethany to show Bloedel their rendition of the one-act version, his visit to CRHS was the first time Bloedel has seen the full play with lights, staging and an audience. He loved it.
“I wrote this about two winters ago, so many things came back to me when I was seeing it; it was really a lot of fun,” Bloedel said.
“And I’m impressed with how tight knit the group is and how much respect they have for Karla and for each other.”
During his visit to CRHS, Bloedel said he enjoyed talking with students about their favorite scenes and said he got a kick out of young Scrooge singing “A Christmas Carol.”
Bloedel also enjoyed seeing the reactions of the elementary school students who attended the performances, he said.
Bloedel was hopeful that his father, Carl, who was an elementary school teacher in the Osseo Area Schools for years, would have a chance to catch one of the performances.
His mother, Ardelle, who had worked as a kindergarten teacher at King of Grace Lutheran School, died earlier this year.
According to Haij, the students really appreciated Bloedel’s visit.
“It was a day the kids will reflect on and remember over a lifetime, not because of something concrete they learned, but because of the experience and opportunity that was given them,” Haij said.
“They had the opportunity to perform for the playwright and Peter thought their work was fabulous.”
Haij said the CRHS Theatre is committed to doing quality work.
“Students have opportunities to do comedy, drama, musicals, Shakespeare, children’s plays, one-act and short plays, and we are either in rehearsal or production for all but about three weeks of the school year,” she said.
“We often say that 2:30 p.m. is our favorite time of the day, not because school is over, but because rehearsal and the incredible creative process begins.”
“It sounds trivial, but there is a feeling of family in our program, and anyone is welcome to the family.”
The school’s next production is “42nd Street.”
Haij said it’s a “big old Broadway musical with lots of tap dancing.”
“Kids started taking tap last summer and have continued throughout the school year,” she said.
“Lessons were paid for by fund-raising and picking up trash at the Renaissance Festival; it will be a great show.”