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Anna G. Larson, Published May 04 2013

Fargo North students find local connection to play

FARGO – It took a minute to warm up, but the old Farnsworth radio picked up on Friday’s Twins game while Fargo North High School student actors listened in the company of Bryce Farnsworth.

Bryce, a retired North Dakota State University researcher and distant relative of inventor Philo Farnsworth, brought his radio to North High to give the students a taste of history while they were preparing for their final performances of “The Farnsworth Invention.”

The play by Aaron Sorkin tells the story of Philo Farnsworth inventing the television and the lack of credit and compensation he received because he was deceived by David Sarnoff, head of RCA and founder of NBC. Philo also founded Farnsworth Television and Radio Corp.

More than a decade ago, Bryce spoke with Philo’s widow, Elma “Pem” Farnsworth, when he was researching his family tree. Pem, a genealogist for the Mormon church, told Bryce he wasn’t related to Philo, but the two talked for hours anyway. Bryce later found out that he is distantly related to the inventor.

Bryce passed on some of his conversation with Pem to the student actors, saying that Pem was humble, proud of her husband, and even in her old age, she remembered the past well.

Pem died in 2006 at age 98.

Emily Breitbach, a senior at Fargo North who portrays Pem in the play, says it “opened her eyes” to hear the old radio and learn about Pem from someone who actually spoke with her.

“It was emotional because it really brought it out that we were telling a story that really happened and that had so much influence on history,” she says. “It’s an overwhelming responsibility that we have to play real people.”

Rachel Gillen, assistant director of the play, says the student actors were thrilled to learn about the local connection to the play.

“To be able to put a real face here, from Fargo, with the play that they’ve put so much into – I think that meant a lot to them,” she says.

If You Go

WHAT: Fargo North High School’s production of “The Farnsworth Invention”

WHEN: 2 p.m. today

WHERE: Fargo North High School

INFO: Tickets can be purchased at the door. The cost is $8 for adults and $5 for students and senior citizens.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Anna G. Larson at (701) 241-5525