Both Sides of the Curtain

From Thief River to California and Back Again

Jane Anderson grew up on a small grain and beef farm, five miles west of Thief River Falls.

She attended school in Thief River Falls, graduated from Lincoln High School, and went on to Bemidji State University, where she majored in vocal music performance. After earning her degree, she traveled for six years, picking up odd jobs and finding work as a performer in Minnesota, Montana, and California.

After six years of what she refers to as a “gypsy life,” Jane decided to come back to Thief River Falls to finish up a second degree in education. Her plan was to finish the degree and move back to California.

She finished her education degree, and although her intention had been to move back to California, she ended up landing a job at Northland Community and Technical College in Thief River Falls.

Even though she was happy to be back with family and friends, she missed performing. “I can’t live in a town without a theater and performance opportunities,” Jane said.

What happens when you put a performer in a small town without a community theater? Jane was about to find out.

Humble Beginnings

It started when Jim and Jan Strandlie approached her about getting a community theater off the ground. “They kept hounding me,” Jane said, “saying, ‘we need a community theater in this town.’ My thought was, yes, you should start one, and then I’ll perform in it and maybe direct a show or two.”

Jane, Jim and Jan Strandlie, and several other like-minded community members banded together to form a community theater committee. As it turned out, a nonprofit theater organization had already been launched. It only needed someone with a background in performance to bring it to life.

Jane, Executive Director of Thief River Falls Area Community Theater (TRFACT), describes the organization as a true grassroots effort. “We are always thinking about the people in the community,” she said. “We have sprung out of the community and continue to grow and create branches.”

High Quality Shows for Local Audiences

The mission of TRFACT is to provide local performance artists with outlets for creative expression and to provide high quality shows for local audiences.

While TRFACT endeavors to stay current, Jane said “sometimes you have to go backwards.” She learned that lesson a few years ago when the theater board decided to do the Sound of Music.  “Don’t get me wrong,” Jane said. “I love that show. I’ve always loved that show, but I’m somebody who has been in the business her whole life, been in the show twice, seen it on stage at least ten times, and I’ve probably seen the movie a hundred times—I don’t ever need to do that show again.”

But Jane’s perspective changed when the show was announced to the community’s high schoolers and middle schoolers. “They were just ecstatic,” she said. “Social media blew up. I realized that I had my chance to do that show in high school. Now, it’s our turn to give our kids a chance to do this great show that was written so long ago and let them enjoy it.”

In addition to youth performances, they produce larger scale adult musicals and a variety of other shows, including small cast serious plays. They did “Death of a Salesman” in 2019, a play that isn’t performed all that often because it’s difficult. Although it was a major project, Jane was immensely proud of the outcome. “There were a lot of people in the audience that had read it but had never seen it on stage. It was a show that people really talked about afterwards, how it affected them.”

Choosing which shows to produce is an art of its own. “Sometimes, it’s for the growth of the people on stage,” said Jane. “Sometimes it’s for the growth of the audience. We work for people on both sides of the curtain.”

Click here to download a PDF version of the 12-page “Come Home to Thief River Falls” publication.

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