Chalamet lights up Dylan’s old stage

Actor Timothée Chalamet, front center, poses for a photo with the Hibbing High School Drama Club, framed by the ornate architecture of the school’s historic auditorium. (PHOTO: Emily Law, Flom Designs & Photography)

Aaron J. Brown

Northern Minnesota is cool. Literally. We’re known for our cold weather. But in terms of social cachet, we are not cool. We handle attention and celebrities about as well as we do hugs. Which is to say, rarely and awkwardly.

But drama students in Hibbing recently helped our region take a bold step forward in pop culture relevance. A big time movie star paid them a surprise visit at one of their one-act play rehearsals. And the students kept their cool.

Timothée Chalamet, star of “Wonka” and “Dune” among other films, recently traveled to Duluth and Hibbing to research for his upcoming role as Bob Dylan in the biopic “A Complete Unknown.” He scheduled a tour of Dylan’s alma mater, Hibbing High School, with historical society tour guide Mary Palcich Keyes and her husband Joe Keyes. 

When Chalamet booked the tour, he asked Mary if he could meet with the school’s drama club. As it happens, they would be rehearsing their one-act play, “The Girl in the White Pinafore,” the next afternoon.

With the sub-section competition fast approaching, the play’s director, Megan Reynolds, wanted to focus on the dress rehearsal. But when Palcich Keyes told her Chalamet wanted to stop by, Reynolds cleared room in the schedule. 

“I held this secret in my heart for 24 whole hours,” Reynolds told 91.7 KAXE in a Jan. 26 interview.

The next day, after school, students performed run-throughs. As they neared the end of the scene list, the doors opened and closed in the back of the darkened auditorium. In walked the tour guides and a young man with frizzy dark hair wearing a plain grey sweatshirt. At a distance, he easily could have passed for a wandering student.

Reynolds called the students to the stage for a cast meeting before introducing Chalamet. 

Shock. Gasping. Nervous laughter. Many words have been used to describe the students’ response in the moment that followed. In fact, the story resembles lore surrounding student reactions to Robert Zimmerman’s performance of a Little Richard song on the Hibbing High School stage 66 years ago. Just like then, nobody knew what to think. 

Regardless, students soon accepted the strange reality of a Hollywood star in their midst. They chatted, asked questions and talked about theater and the film industry for 45 minutes. Chalamet took pictures with the students and wished them well on their upcoming performance. 

Timothée Chalamet
Timothée Chalamet met with Hibbing drama students on Jan. 25, 2024. (PHOTO: Emily Law, Flom Designs and Photography)

“We live in an area where sports programs can really dominate the school community, and receive the vast majority of community attention,” Reynolds told KAXE. “In this instance, I was so glad my incredibly hard-working arts students got to meet a professional and mentor in their own field, and see themselves in him.”

Students maintained a brief moratorium on social media posts to allow Chalamet to safely finish his tour. Later that evening, the floodgates opened.

Reynolds told me she did eight interviews the next day with media outlets throughout Minnesota and beyond. For a solid 48 hours, Chalamet’s visit to Hibbing swamped local social media feeds. Surely, some young Chalamet fans rued their decision not to join the drama club.

We’ll be interested to see what Chalamet does with the meaty role of Bob Dylan. Filming for “A Complete Unknown” is supposed to start this spring. Perhaps some small inspiration from his time on the Iron Range will make its way into the production. But Chalamet’s visit will have lasting impact on the students and drama program in Hibbing.

Reynolds said that Chalamet’s talk inspired the group’s best-ever rehearsal that evening. It also led to the best outcome for a Hibbing one-act team in many years. Two days later, the students qualified for the Section 7AA one-act contest, which takes place today in Zimmerman.

Zimmerman, Minnesota, that is. No relation to Bobby.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.

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