There’s no place like home—or, for the purposes of the Prairie Fire Children’s Theatre, there’s no place like the stage at the Hilde Performance Center. On August 17 and 18, Plymouth’s most talented youth between the ages of eight and 14 will take the stage in their own adaptation of the age-old classic, The Wizard of Oz, courtesy of the roving Prairie Fire Children’s Theatre.
Founded in 1987 by executive director Deborah Nelson Pick, Prairie Fire is a professional touring theater company from Barrett, Minn. Pick and her husband started the company with just one show—Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. She wrote the scripts and made all the props in her parents’ basement, and has since grown the company to include 11 tour teams that travel to different cities throughout the summer, and a twelfth team that stays in Barrett. For each production, Prairie Fire sends two professional actors or directors to a community for a one-week residency. The staff provides everything needed, from the sets, props and costumes, to scripts, music and direction.
Plymouth has been collaborating with Prairie Fire for almost 10 years. In fact, the program has become so popular among Plymouth kids that last year the parks and recreation department expanded it to include a winter program, as well as two summer programs. And this year is no exception. Last month, the group put on this rendition of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and will follow it up with next month’s performance of The Wizard of Oz.
“There is a crazy waiting list [for the program],” says city of Plymouth recreation supervisor Travis Karlen. “There are almost as many kids on the waiting list as there are signed up for the program.”
Prairie Fire offers a wide array of productions, including all the crowd-pleasers like Peter Pan and Pinocchio. Each play is an original musical adaptation with special twists that will bring smiles to an audience of all ages. And even though the plays are designed to accommodate people ages 7–18, Prairie Fire will adjust the production for more specific age groups as well.
“We try to create roles for all ages,” says Prairie Fire associate director Jeremy Day, who has been touring with the company for the past two years. “We also want to make sure we can accommodate the skills the kids have, and let those skills shine through.”
Prairie Fire holds auditions on Monday for all kids who register, casting a total of 70–85 kids depending on the play. All participants get some sort of role, whether it’s behind the scenes, in the chorus or a speaking part. The directors spend Monday and Tuesday teaching kids all of the blocking, choreography and everything they need to know about the show. Wednesday is spent running through the show for the first time, while Thursday includes the “double-time-overdo-it run-through,” where the kids do everything twice as fast and twice as big.
“We time them to see how fast they can do it and give them a goal to work at together,” Day says. “They have a good time because it’s big and crazy, but really, it’s probably just perfect for the performance.”
The group will rehearse at the Plymouth Creek Center for about four hours each day before unveiling their hard work at two performances. Karlen says he sees the same kids coming back year after year. “I think kids like it because they get to meet new friends, and also that the audition process is competitive,” he says. “The other thing is that they get to do something fun.”
And really, who doesn’t love a good song and dance (especially when it’s done skipping down a yellow brick road)?
IF YOU GO
7 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday
Hilde Performance Center
3450 Plymouth Blvd.