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Seedy and scandalous: Animating La Crosse's dark history in Radio Show

Seedy and scandalous: Animating La Crosse's dark history in Radio Show

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Barry McKnight performs in the Dark La Crosse Radio Show

Barry McKnight performs in the Dark La Crosse Radio Show.

Seedy. Sordid. Scandalous. These are not words usually associated with La Crosse. But the second coming of the Dark La Crosse Radio Show will shine a light on the city’s murky past, revealing hidden tales of crime and corruption.

The sinister production, an incarnation of the popular Dark La Crosse walking and trolley tours offered by the La Crosse Public Library Archives, returns to the Pump House next week, using local actors, live music, visuals, costumes and props to recount a century’s worth of local drama. Jazz pianist Luke Thering, storyteller Micheal Scott, and library staff members Barry McKnight, Jewel Aagaard and Scott Brouwer are the featured talent, with each show introduced by La Crosse Public Library Director Kelly Krieg-Sigman.

The fall shows feature all new stories set to dim lighting and scores by Thering, creating a throwback atmosphere and immersing the audience in the experience.

“The radio show is the full expression of what we can do with the Dark La Crosse material,” said Brouwer, La Crosse Public Library archivist and the show’s narrator. “In terms of making it come alive, this is the best kind of entertainment to showcase the research. I really enjoy telling history in a new way where we really get to animate it.”

Brouwer praises the talent of the cast, crediting Thering for setting the vibe for each story, McKnight for infusing his characters with accents and emotional range and Aagaard for the musical interludes peppered throughout the show.

“Micheal Scott, he speaks for himself,” Brouwer added of the local entertainment legend. “He wrote the script. His DNA as a storyteller is all over the production.”

Material for the show is gathered throughout the year, with most discovered while conducting research for library patrons. When a bold headline or scintillating subject catches an archivist’s eye, the material is set aside for further exploration. At times, the cases remain open-ended. Brouwer says many audience members become so intrigued they continue to research show topics on their own and offer suggestions for future content during the question and answer session that closes each show.

“We tell the history not usually told,” Brouwer said. “The dirtier elements of La Crosse tend to pique peoples’ interests. We have 100 percent positive feedback. We talk about some sketchy things that people might not expect from the public library.”

Attendees can expect vignettes on a civil war mob, an 1852 murder — the first recorded in La Crosse — and copious amounts of prostitution, which once plagued former red-light district Pearl Street. Stories are told from the views of the subjects themselves or bystanders to the crime.

“We have lots of material to work with,” Brouwer said. “Murder, dirty journalists, a jailbreak, mob violence — something for everyone. If you liked last year’s show, this year you’ll love it.”

Brouwer cites the retelling of a 1930’s car chase and killing — complete with a kidnapped police officer — as a favorite.

“Its a very emotional story, told from the perspective of (the cop’s) partner,” Brouwer said of the armed robbery turned crime spree.” The story evokes the old shootouts with cars like you’d see in a gangster movie with people hanging off the side bar. Like a Bonnie and Clyde scene in downtown La Crosse.”

Brouwer expects the compelling tale, the show’s closer, to be an audience favorite as well.

“This is something that will stick in peoples’ minds. They’ll talk about it well after the show,” Brouwer said. “The twist ending will be very surprising — this is the one that’s going to take down the house.”

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