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Staging 'Wizard of Oz' in a week

The Wicked Witch's slaves, played by Laura MacArthur elementary students, listen for the return of the witch in the Prairie Fire Theater production of The Wizard of Oz. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)1 / 3
Prairie Fire Children's Theatre co-director Alexander Watson directs Toto, played by Arthur Dahl, while Dorothy, played by Alex LaFreniere, meets the Tin Man, played by Daniel Kuehnow, in the Laura MacArthur Elementary production of The Wizard of Oz. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)2 / 3
Prairie Fire Children's Theater co-director Amy Maniscalco also plays the Wicked Witch in the Laura MacArthur Elementary production of The Wizard of Oz. Here she directs her winged monkeys. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)3 / 3

Last week Denfeld High School's auditorium was taken over by lions and witches and munchkins — oh my! — as the students in Laura MacArthur's prepared for their Prairie Fire Theatre production of "The Wizard of Oz."

Fifty-three energetic students auditioned for the first Prairie Fire production at Laura MacArthur. The students go through a weeklong production schedule. They are cast on Monday, have to memorize their lines by Wednesday and perform the show on Friday.

"It's a little crazy, but also really fulfilling," said Alexander Watson, one of the two Prairie Fire directors who traveled from the company's headquarters in Central Minnesota to direct the show. "One of my favorite parts of the week is seeing the kids who can barely step out and say their name for the audition line, come up at the end of the week and shine on stage."

Prairie Fire Children's Theatre is a professional touring theatre company based in Barrett, Minn. and has been bringing a theatrical experience to communities across the upper Midwest since 1987. Jody Peck, second-grade teacher at Laura MacArthur, used to volunteer Prairie Fire productions in her hometown in Wisconsin.

"Prairie Fire is very popular in my hometown and neighboring towns. My kids have been involved in productions. I've volunteered through there so I was able to see firsthand how amazing it is for the kids," Peck said.

When Peck moved to Duluth two years ago, she wanted to take the theater experience with her. Last summer she talked with fellow teachers and brainstormed fundraising sources. She wrote grant letters and received funding from Irving Community Club, Duluth Rotary 25, and Hermantown Rotary and received donations from The Duluth Grill and AmericInn Duluth South to put on the show.

After arranging the funding, Peck needed to find a theater space to host the show. She reached out to Denfeld drama director Matthew Pursi.

"I've been wanting to do a collaboration between our students and the younger kids for a while now, so when Jody called to ask about the auditorium I said 'Are you kidding? Absolutely! We'd love to help,'" Pursi said.

Pursi recruited a handful of high school drama students to help with the technical and backstage crews. The elementary students had their first day of rehearsals in the auditorium on Wednesday.

"It's been really fun to have them here. They're just so excited. We've been giving them tours to show them where stuff is and they're so curious about everything," Pursi said.

The Prairie Fire Children’s Theater and Laura MacArthur Elementary School production of The Wizard of Oz will be held on Friday March 3 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, March 4 at 1 p.m. in the Denfeld High School Auditorium, 401 N. 44th Avenue West. Tickets are $5 for adults and $1 for students.

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Budgeteer.

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