B y M a r g a r e t R e g a n
IT'S A LAKE Wobegon kind of a day at Sue Scott's house in Minneapolis. Scott's been home from an acting rehearsal only a few minutes when the phone rings for an interview. She's just launching into the tale of her happy life journey from Tucson to the Midwest, from the stages of Cholla High School and the University of Arizona to the stage of A Prairie Home Companion in St. Paul, when the rude buzz of the doorbell interrupts her melodious voice.
"This is Day One of roofing," she says, just a tad frantically. "They're at the door now. They want their downpayment."
As she hurries off to hand over the money, the murmur of muffled voices and the slam of a door sneak onto the phone lines. Then, just as Scott warms to her story again, getting to the part about her first big professional break at a theatre in Garrison, Iowa, ("My life revolves around the name Garrison," she jokes) a neighbor starts waving through the window. It seems the roofers have left some lights on.
"That's all right, I'll go get it, Al!" she shouts. Then, in an aside into the phone, she stage-whispers: "My neighbor is at least a hundred years old."
If Scott's good on the phone, improvising her lines through unexpected interruptions, vividly recreating her household drama solely though voice and sound, she's even better on the radio. Tucsonans regularly get to hear the voice of this hometown-girl-who-made-good on Saturday evenings on Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion, a nationally broadcast program heard locally on KUAT-FM. This Saturday afternoon, they'll get a chance to see what Scott looks like.
A Prairie Home Companion will be performed live at Centennial Hall, complete with the all-star St. Paul cast which has made the show so beloved to its two million regular listeners around the country. Keillor, the show's creator, writer, principal voice, monologist, storyteller and all-around sine qua non naturally will be on hand. Then there will be Scott, who does all the female voices on almost every show, actor Tim Russell, sound-effects maven Tom Keith, keyboardist Rich Dworsky and the Guy's All-Star Shoe Band. A lineup of Tucson artists ferreted out by a local talent search will also perform on the two-hour show, to be broadcast nationally.
California born and Arizona bred, Scott's nowadays a specialist in the Scandinavian-tinged Minnesota accent ("it's that 'o' ", she says: "Minna-SEW-ta") and the flat Midwestern twang of the fictional residents of Lake Wobegon, Keillor's mythical all-American town.
"Growing up in Tucson, I had the beauty of starting life as an actor without having to get rid of an accent," she says. Her parents still live here in the Old Pueblo.
"I went to Sam Hughes Elementary, Mansfeld Junior High and Cholla High School, when it was the groovy experimental school.... I was only in the second graduating class (class of '74). I learned a ton at that school. It was an incredible experience. There was an emphasis on the arts, the theatre department. It really played into all my needs."
Scott went on to study theatre at the UA and it was a UA contact that led to her first professional gig. "A student from the UA had been a founding member of the Old Creamery Theatre in Garrison, Iowa, population 300. It was like a Judy Garland movie, 'OK, kids, let's find a barn and start a theatre!' "
As a troupe member, Scott toured the Midwest and did "show after show after show." She eventually found her way to Chicago and studied with Second City for two years. Some Iowa theatre friends had had good luck in the Twin Cities, so she moved there.
"I thought I'd go and check it out. Here I am, 14 years later."
Before she hired on to A Prairie Home Companion three-and-a half years ago, Scott established herself in her new home as a character actor and radio voice. She's worked in theatres throughout the Midwest, including the prestigious Guthrie in Minneapolis, provided voice-overs in hundreds of radio commercials and worked on a radio show called Good Evening, a replacement for APHC when it went on hiatus for two years in the late '80s. All that experience came together when she auditioned for Keillor, along with 99 other hopefuls.
"I get to combine all my skills on the show," she says.
Live radio is a strange hybrid of reading and acting, of strict adherence to the script and wild extemporizing. Scott stands still on the stage, wearing a headset, her eyes glued to the script, but, she notes, "I'm a stage actor first, before radio. So I'm facially performing."
Sometimes the loquacious Keillor meanders far from the text and the rest of the actors have to keep up with him.
"We extemporize off Garrison's lead," Scott says. "We make it make sense. It can be demanding. Sometimes we're given rewrites during the show. You have to pay attention. Lots of times there are last-minute changes because of time or a mood. You never know. It's all live. When you hear it, we're doing it!"
Scott sees the show as an honorable revival of an art form that had been on the wane. "Tim Russell and I did a show of George Burns and Gracie Allen material. It seemed familiar. A Prairie Home Companion is definitely a re-creation of the golden age of radio."
A Prairie Home Companion begins with a warm-up at 3:45 p.m. Saturday, November 18, at UA Centennial Hall. The show proper, broadcast nationwide, will be from 4 to 6 p.m. (KUAT-FM, 90.5, carries it on delay at 6 p.m.; with additional broadcasts at 10 a.m. Sunday on KUAZ-FM, 89.1, and KUAT-AM, 1550.) Tickets to the live show are $26 and $36, available at Centennial Hall box office and all Dillard's outlets. For more information call 621-3341.
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