by AMELIA WEDEMEYER
This December Theatre du Mississippi (TdM) is bringing back its annual Christmas Radio Show for audiences eager to learn a little bit about Winona history while also enjoying the spirit of the season.
The family friendly Christmas Radio Show will have three showings the weekend of December 12 at the Historic Masonic Theatre on Fifth and Main streets.
“I think everybody will enjoy the music and the stories,” said Paul Sannerud, who wrote and directed this year’s show. As with the two previous TdM annual Christmas Radio Shows, this year’s production focuses on a particular year and includes historical details relevant to that time and location. Set in Winona during 1939, Sannerud’s Christmas Radio Show consists of three acts, all of which roughly center upon three generations of a Polish-American family and the events leading up to World War II (WWII). The first act sets the scene with grandparents Frank Sr. and Mae, who have taken in their granddaughter Mary while Frank Jr., Mary’s father, is away in Rochester working on a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) project. During the 1930s and '40s CCC was a public works relief program that was part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. “Mary’s mother, Theresa, is not in the picture at that point, but she returns to make amends,” Sannerud explained, adding, “but that is all I will say about that.” The second act follows the first act’s historical accuracy with a local twist and is presented as a new episode of “Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy,” which was a famous radio adventure series that lasted from 1933 to 1951. “I wrote a brand new episode of ‘Jack Armstrong’ and set it in Winona,” Sannerud said. “He’s the All-American boy who fights Nazis right here in Winona.” The third and final act is a variety show that features popular music of the time period. “Music has a way of transporting us across decades without us thinking about it,” Sannerud said of his decision to include tunes from 1939.
Inspired by his own family history, Sannerud began crafting his story after doing some research at the Polish Museum. “I was interested in exploring the feelings of the Polish community on September 1, 1939, which is the day Germany invaded Poland,” he explained. “My grandparents came over from Norway and when Norway was invaded in 1940, they were devastated.” Unlike his own grandparents, however, Sannerud said that he was surprised to learn that many Polish community members in Winona were not as affected by the invasion as he had thought they might be, “largely because many in the Winona Polish community had been here for several generations at that point,” Sannerud explained. By the time WWII rolled around much of the Winona Polish community considered themselves true Americans, and were part of the melting-pot mentality of that era. “A lot of Germans and Poles married,” Sannerud noted. “There wasn’t that kind of antagonism that you might have expected.” In continuing with his research, Sannerud created a story that focuses on the general American experience leading up to WWII with respect to the local Winona Polish community during the time. “All of the characters themselves are pretty much fictional,” he explained. “[But some aspects are] based on real people and real events.”
As for the actors and singers taking part in the production, which is expected to run about two hours with a couple of intermission breaks, Sannerud said that “all told, there will be 30-some odd people on stage sometimes.”
TdM’s 2014 Christmas Radio Show is sure to be a fun holiday story with a focus on local history told through different aspects of entertainment popular in 1939. “If you are old enough to remember [the time period], you will have a great sense of nostalgia,” Sannerud said. “If you’re too young [to remember the time period], it’s a great way for you to understand both the history of the area and the people in your life that are from another generation.”
TdM’s 2014 Christmas Radio Show will have three showings, on Friday, December 12, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, December 13, at 7:30 p.m.; and on Sunday, December 14, at 2:00 p.m. All performances are at the Historic Masonic Theatre. Tickets in advance can be purchased online at Brown Paper Tickets www.brownpapertickets.com/event/935650 and at Chapter 2 Books located at 121 West Third Street in Winona, $15 for adults and $7 for students. Tickets at the door are $18 for adults and $7 for students.