Dark theater stage
Dark theater stage

By Carlienne A. Frisch

Whether he’s entertaining a wide-eyed audience by juggling a live chain saw, keeping flaming wood in the air, playing his guitar and singing, working with theatre students or writing plays, Peter Bloedel enjoys his multi-faceted creative life.

Although he intended to become a chiropractor, he has flourished as an actor, playwright, set designer, theatre director, singer, and musician—a consummate artist and entertainer. As a professor at Bethany Lutheran College, he’s the head of the theatre department.

Bloedel explained his original career plan: “I had scoliosis as a boy and saw a chiropractor every week, so I decided I was going to be a chiropractor. I had no idea I’d become an actor, but I took part in musicals every fall at Park Center Senior High School in Brooklyn Center. Then, in my two years as a student at Bethany (formerly a two-year college), I became a music major, singing baritone-bass.”

Photo by Peter Bloedel - Peter Bloedel
Photo by Peter Bloedel – Peter Bloedel

After attending Bethany for two years, Bloedel went on to complete his undergraduate degree at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, where he chose speech/theatre as his major. He returned to Bethany to spend a year building sets and assisting the theatre director, Sigurd Lee, and had the opportunity to do some directing. During that year, Bloedel accomplished more than building sets for the theatre. He met his future wife, Sarah, a studio arts major who was directing a play.

 Bloedel said, “Sarah still paints as well as doing studio design. We have four children, all artistic—a son and three daughters. All are interested in the theatre.”

 A Love for theater

 When Bloedel left Bethany to attend graduate school at Minnesota State University, Mankato, he chose to concentrate on theatre rather than on speech because, he said, “I was much more interested in theatre’s artistic aspect.”

Despite his plans to become a chiropractor, Bloedel became an entertainer at a young age. He began juggling balls and clubs while in junior high school. The summer after he graduated from high school in 1986, his years of juggling practice resulted in a successful audition as a juggler at Valley Fair.

I didn’t start juggling chain saws until after I was married. For my wife, it’s old hat, but I had to hide it from my mom for a long time. Peter Bloedel

 “I got the job and was ‘forced’ to do six shows a day,” Bloedel said. “That was education right there. I learned how to keep an audience engaged for a half hour and to have them leave feeling great. I really do credit that job for my ‘presence.’ There were no flaming torches or knives, only balls and clubs,” even though he had begun juggling fiery torches while in high school.

Photo courtesy of the Rock Bend Folk Festival - Peter Bloedel juggling torches
Photo courtesy of the Rock Bend Folk Festival – Peter Bloedel juggling torches

When Bloedel later looked for a way to ramp up his act, he began to juggle a running chain saw. He explained, “I wanted to try something new and exciting. I didn’t start juggling chain saws until after I was married. For my wife, it’s old hat, but I had to hide it from my mom for a long time. Then, I think she saw it at a show.”

Three times longer than the Beatles

When high school students choose an instrument to play, many decide on a clarinet, a violin or percussion (drums). Not Peter Bloedel. He chose the mandolin.

It wasn’t until he enrolled at Bethany Lutheran College that he began to be serious about performing music. He explained, “I met Loren Halvorson, who played guitar. We added drummer Andy Overn and Eric Halvorson on bass guitar and began performing as The Divers in 1991. We’ve been together 30 years—three times longer than the Beatles. We still love playing together, but it has been difficult during COVID-19. We played in Wheeler Park last summer and at a social distanced fund-raiser at the Mankato Brewery. We have a couple of gigs lined up for this summer, including in Walnut Grove at the Laura Ingalls Wilder pageant.”

On stage, Bloedel has usually had comedy roles, including a role while in graduate school as the duke in Big River (a musical version of Huck Finn). One exception was his role in Romeo and Juliet as Juliet’s father, Lord Capulet. Bloedel said, “I really enjoyed the serious role.”

Teaching and directing

Bloedel teaches two classes at Bethany each semester. The list includes Introduction to Theatre, Acting, Playwriting, Dramatic Theory and Criticism, as well as Vocal Production. He usually directs two theatre productions each year, including Theatre Physics at the start of each school year in the fall. The show is a Vaudeville-style study of experimental theatre, with an emphasis on humor and unusual physical antics. He also has directed a variety of plays, including Hamlet, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and The Importance of Being Earnest.

Photo by Benji Inniger- Peter Bloedel on stage, speaking to Hamlet cast
Photo by Benji Inniger- Peter Bloedel on stage, speaking to Hamlet cast

As a playwright, Bloedel gave a nod to William Shakespeare in two of his own one-act plays. A Google Books review of Bloedel’s The Rules of Comedy describes it as “a side-splitting lesson in what’s funny and what’s not funny. To prove that the Rules of Comedy work, they are hilariously inserted into William Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet.” Another play, The Suessification of Romeo and Juliet, was described in one online review as “a whimsical reinvention of Shakespeare’s tragic love story, complete with rhymed couplets and creative wordplay.” (That play now is available in book form.) In another script, Hallmarks of Horror, Bloedel offers a creepy perspective on lines such as “let’s break up.”

Bloedel also has three full-length plays to his credit. They include Ice House, JamJar Sonnets (co-written with Benji Inniger) and Above Board, co-written with Bethany professor Emily Kimball.

Before COVID-19 curtailed public performances, Bloedel spent many years entertaining children and adults at public venues such as libraries. In addition to playing his guitar and singing, he offered a variety of activities as a magician and juggler. Bloedel has made sure that anyone interested in his performances can view them online, on a You Tube channel, by typing in ‘Hey Pete!’ His juggling and magic performances also can be viewed at perpetualpete.com.

When Bloedel looks back on his early career plan, he has no regrets about setting aside his childhood dream. He said, “Now I’m thankful I’m not looking at people’s backs every day.”