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Posted on Sun, May 26, 2013 : 5:52 a.m.

'A Prairie Home Companion' actress offers behind-the-scenes glimpse before Hill Auditorium show

By Jenn McKee


Sue Scott plays all the female roles on the radio program, "A Prairie Home Companion."

Photo provided by APHC

You might not be surprised to learn that Sue Scott, the actress who plays various characters on Garrison Keillor’s radio variety show, “A Prairie Home Companion” (coming to Hill Auditorium for a live broadcast on Saturday, June 1), has long had a flair for theater roles that required her to play multiple characters and improv.

“It all lends itself to what I do now, except with this, I don’t have to keep running backstage to change my wigs and costumes,” said Scott.

Plus, radio plays allow Scott to play with an eclectically broad range of voices. “Some voices I would never be able to sustain on a stage, because you have to project, and reach back of the house,” said Scott. “For radio, the mic is right there, so you can use really intimate voices, or strange, scratchy voices I could never do for 7 or 8 performances a week on a stage. So it’s fun to find whole different category of voices. … I come from theater, but (fellow APHC actor) Tim Russell comes from radio, so we meet somewhere in the middle.”

Scott has been with APHC since 1992, when Keillor returned to St. Paul (from New York City) and revived the show, after it went off the air in 1987.

So after more than 20 years, Scott is well familiar with the way the show works from the inside.


”A Prairie Home Companion”

  • What: The Ann Arbor Summer Festival and Michigan Radio present a live broadcast of Garrison Keillor’s beloved radio show, “A Prairie Home Companion,” with special guests Ellis, Radoslav Lorkovic, Kenni Holmen, and Steve Strand.
  • Where: Hill Auditorium, at 825 N. University Ave. in Ann Arbor.
  • When: Saturday, June 1 at 5:45 p.m.
  • How much: $35-$75. Visit or 734-764-2538.
“When we come to Ann Arbor, we’ll see the script for the first time Friday evening at 6 or 6:30, and we’ll rehearse on stage with microphones,” said Scott. “It’s a great 'heads up' for the cast, but the main purpose is to do it for Garrison, who’s the head writer, and often the only writer, … to see how (the script) flows, and what works, and what doesn’t work. And it can change a little or drastically between Friday and Saturday.”

On Saturday afternoon, another rehearsal happens, this time with “more of the bells and whistles”—which could be taken literally, given the radio show's penchant for storytelling sound effects—and often the integration of the show’s guest artists. Changes are made in the script after this rehearsal, too; but according to Scott, the script is never officially “locked.”

“Sometimes during the show, Garrison will decide we’re running long and … he’ll edit on the fly while we’re doing a script on the air, live,” said Scott. “I stand next to him, … and I’ll lean over and see that he’s crossed out half a page, and he’ll motion to me to let the other guys know. … But you have to make it sound seamless. … Garrison is the king of the save. He can always save a moment and turn it into something funny. There’s rarely a train wreck.”

The spontaneity forces Scott and the other performers to stay on their toes during the live broadcast, of course, and this is part of what keeps it fresh and fun.

“There are weeks when I’ve called my husband that night after the show to check in, and I’ll tell him, ‘I’m glad this week was not my first time on the show,’” said Scott. “Because just a few weeks ago, Garrison had a wrong version of the script. … So he was out there on stage with an older version of the script than what we had, and we were noticing that he’s halting in some of his lines. While he was talking, conversing with Tim for ‘The Lives of the Cowboys’ or something, he leaned over me and was comparing notes. Script 1 is what we get Friday night, and there’s a 2, a 3, sometimes 4. We realized he had a 1, and we all had a 3. … I, of course, gave him my copy, since I wasn’t speaking then anyway. … I’m a bit more used to this now. And live audiences love seeing a commotion when we’re experiencing something unexpected.”

In Robert Altman’s 2006 film of “A Prairie Home Companion,” Scott played the makeup lady for the show - which is ironic, since the show doesn’t actually employ a makeup person (“I don’t mean to bust that myth,” Scott said). But big stars, who were often longtime fans of the radio program, lined up to star in what would be Altman’s last film, shot at APHC’s home turf, the Fitzgerald Theatre in St. Paul: John C. Reilly; Woody Harrelson; Lindsay Lohan; Meryl Streep; Lily Tomlin; Virginia Madsen; Kevin Kline; and Tommy Lee Jones.

“Everyone checked their ego at the door, and it became like a big family,” said Scott. “It was a ton of fun.”

And although Keillor announced a few years ago that he would retire in 2013, he has since changed his mind, and Scott has no idea how much longer the host plans to continue.

She does, however, have ideas about why people love the show so much that they were mourning it before it even left the airwaves.

Though many assume APHC primarily appeals to people who grew up in small towns in the Midwest, Scott’s met enough Brooklyn native diehard fans to know that that’s not it.

“I think the attraction is … the variety show aspect,” said Scott. “They don’t really do variety shows anymore. When I was growing up, I loved ‘The Carol Burnett Show’ - things that combined music with humor. We don’t have that anymore. There’s that. But also, you have a more intimate relationship with radio. When you’re listening, you might be in a group of people listening, or you might be in the car, or on the porch with a glass of wine. We’re live … when people are gearing up for Saturday night. And you have to use your imagination when you’re just listening, and I think that sucks you into it so much more than television shows or movies.”

Jenn McKee is an entertainment reporter for Reach her at or 734-623-2546, and follow her on Twitter @jennmckee.



Sun, May 26, 2013 : 4:06 p.m.

I really like PHC's music but it would have been nice to see some local talent offered. We do have some, and he really didn't have to bring the people listed in from...where? I must be really out of it but who are they??


Sun, May 26, 2013 : 12:17 p.m.

I saw APHC at Hill in December 2003(?) -- even though we were in the last row of the last balcony in a completely packed house, it felt intimate and was an exceptional show. [BTW, it is Meryl StreeP, not StreeT.]

Dan Ezekiel

Sun, May 26, 2013 : 10:58 a.m.

Thanks for the peek behind the scenes. Can't wait to attend the show on June 1. Sue Scott is one of my favorites, and I didn't know anything about her. The best news of all, Garrison has changed his mind about retiring this year!