A group of students from Lyndon Institute will meet their perhaps unlikely hero Saturday: Garrison Keillor, host of "A Prairie Home Companion." The kids did their own version of the popular public radio variety show earlier this year and sent Keillor a copy. He liked what they did so much he invited them to a rehearsal and show.
Last January, during what the institute calls “J-term,” fine arts teacher Susanne Norwood wanted students to collaborate on a project that would showcase their talents. But she wasn’t sure digital natives would want to listen to, much less imitate, a throwback to old-time radio variety shows.
“Because the hardest thing was understanding the format of the show," Norwood said. “So the next day, I came back and we worked on it a little bit more and by the third day of J-term they were flying.”
Some of the original production cast, including director Katie Ham, have graduated, so a few still in school gathered for this story to reprise a few acts. They included Kodi-Anne Brown, Jacquie Kelley, Penelope Powers, Annie Stinehour, Christina Cassidy, Caleb Genereaux, and Mikayla Roy.
Caleb Genereaux satirized a classic "Prairie Home" bit with a fake advertisement for canned air.
“Five out of four doctors recommend that breathing is good for your health,” Genereaux said earnestly. “The fifth doctor fell unconscious because he lacked oxygen. So maybe it's time for you to get the boost of air you need. Introducing O2 to you, the 100 percent canned air." A few other actors told heart-rending stories about the difficulty of leading a normal life without a respiratory system.
Genereaux also mastered a skill "A Prairie Home Companion" fans have come to expect — sound effects.
“So this is a chicken, it’s one of my favorites,” he says before launching into a slow build-up of poultry lamentations, so authentic, if you didn't see the lanky teenager you would swear a chicken had straggled into the auditorium.
"The Lyndon Home Companion" writing team came up with skits about life in the Northeast Kingdom, including one about funny accents. There was even a "News From Lake Willoughby" monologue.
One of the young writers, Kodi-Anne Brown, is from Jamaica, so for her "A Prairie Home Companion" was totally unfamiliar.
“‘Cause I didn’t know what it was at first, I had never heard it before. But I think one of the things I learned is that there’s a lot of ways you can entertain somebody,” Brown said.
Early in their project, Keillor gave them a few tips. “Writing is the hard part,” he wrote to them. “Because you want to write a show that’s fun to perform, not have fun writing a show that is miserable to perform.”
Now they will get to meet the famous guy who gave them that advice, and apparently thinks they followed it.