Keeping the faith a decade later

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Keep the Faith
About 300 students in grades 3-12 make up the cast of "Keep the Faith." The stage performance is combined with photos, video and news footage.
MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson

In 1997, Michaela Hill was in second grade. She sang in the chorus for the original production of "Keep the Faith".

This year, she's a high school senior with a lead role, and like most of the students in this year's production, her flood memories are mostly about being away from home.

Mikela Hill
Senior Michaela Hill says the musical may stir up old emotions for flood victims, but it will also give them a boost.
MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson

"I remember being separated from friends in school and I remember we were supposed to do our second grade program and I remember asking my mom, 'Are we going to go back and do the program?' And her being like, 'No it's not going to happen,'" says Hill.

"I was really too young to understand what was going on," says Mia Klaus. "For me it was like an extended vacation because that winter we got a lot of days off school and stuff."

Mia Klaus is a 10th grader at Central High School in downtown Grand Forks, who was in kindergarten in 1997. She watched old news footage to learn more about the flood.

"When you're a little kid you don't understand how bad it is," says Klaus. "But then I watched the tape before we started this, and I started crying, because the fire was a couple of blocks from Central, and that's where I am today. It's personal even though I wasn't here during it." The students may need to be reminded about the flood disaster, but that's not the case for the directors who created the show 10 years ago.

Stage red
"Keep the Faith" recreates the chaos of the flood and fire disaster, but ends on a note of hope and rebirth.
MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson

Dean Opp says they started production several months ago by watching a video of the original show.

"We were taking notes and planning what we were going to do and when it got to the part of the show where the sirens go off and the evacuation starts, we all quit writing and our eyes were wet," says Opp. "I'm sure it's less intense (this year) but it feels pretty intense right now."

The intense emotions aroused by memories of the flood are not welcomed by everyone. "I've had some of those folks that have talked about, 'I just don't want to see it. I don't want to hear anything about it. I'm sick of people talking about it,'" says Opp. "Yet when they come watch this production, they'll walk through a rehearsal and they don't go away, they stay."

Students have also heard from those who don't want to stir up old emotions. The response was different in 1997 when thousands of people filled the theater for show after show.

"It helped them group together as a community and it was a step of closure and I think coming back the second time around for a lot of people it's hard because it's reliving those bad memories and they feel like they were whole again and this brings back the memories," says Michaela Hill.

Mia Klaus
Junior Mia Klaus has few memories of the flood of 1997, which happened when she was in kindergarten.
MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson

"My mom like loved the show last time but she's nervous because she's afraid she'll start crying," says Mia Klaus.

"But I don't think it will break people down again. I think if anything it will build people up," adds Hill.

This years reprise of "Keep the Faith" has a new ending that highlights the renewal and rebuilding that's happened in the past ten years. A decade ago, this musical was group therapy for thousands. This year, the emotions are still intense for many, but for others it's just a history lesson.