The Central Lakes College Theatre Department is offering a couple of summer productions that arise from opposite ends of the yellow brick road.
A traditional production of "Wizard of Oz" -- zipped up with video and pyrotechnic special effects -- opens July 6 for a 19-performance run in John Chalberg Theatre.
Rehearsals with a cast of 55 community actors and singers began last week under CLC Director Dennis Lamberson.
By contrast, an improvisational comedy show -- with the unlikely but revealing title of "Mosquitoes Tore At My Flesh, or How I Spent My Brainerd Summer Vacation" -- rolls into the John Dryden Theatre every Friday and Saturday night in July, starting July 7.
Dorothy, played by Ellie Loschko, encountered The Wicked Witch of the West, played by Laura Miller, in Central Lakes College's Summer Theatre production of "The Wizard of Oz." Loschko has previously appeared on the CLC stage in "You're, Anne," "The Fantasticks" and "A Christmas Carol."
"I just wanted to do something a little unconventional rather than the typical scripted piece," CLC Director Patrick Spradlin said this week in an interview. "It has a different audience target than other things we could have done, and we're hoping to expand our audience base."
With its cast of three men and three women, "Mosquitoes" is patterned after Dudley Riggs' Brave New Workshop, Chicago's Second City and other improv comedy pioneers, Spradlin said.
"The title of the show sets the tone for what you'd expect to see and gives an idea that part of it is rooted in local history and current affairs," he said.
Spradlin selected the cast during recent auditions, which tested the applicants with a series of imaginary scenes, with themes such as "hot spot," "freeze tag" and "the party," the director said.
"Improvisational comedy requires the actors to accept whatever reality is placed before them," he added. "They must to buy into imaginary circumstances -- such as possessing suddenly a four-foot, unruly tail -- created at the moment and treat them truthfully."
Fourteen people auditioned for the "Mosquitoes" cast, including James Erfurth, who once operated the Low Key Caf in downtown Brainerd, where improv comedy shows were a monthly routine.
Two other cast members, Rande Erickson of Baxter and David Hemenway of St. Cloud, also have improv comedy and other stage experience, said Spradlin, who often performed in the Low Key shows.
The other cast members -- Katie Hawley of Emily, Heather Vaughan of Baxter and Anna Midthun of Aitkin -- all have CLC stage experience, Spradlin said, but are new to improv comedy.
"They are really quite good," Spradlin said in assessing his cast. "They need a sharp wit, the ability to think on their feet and respond in a moment to what is going on.
"From what I've seen so far, God help the heckler who comes to the show," he said, "because these actors will take them on and that will be the end of that."
The first half of each show will be casually choreographed with set skits and themes, Spradlin said, including takeoffs on local issues such as the Brainerd-Baxter "wars over who gets Highway 371."
The second half will arise solely from impromptu comedic responses to audience suggestions, the director said.
The Dryden will be shuffled around to include tables and chairs in nightclub style, and the performances are targeted for the late night crowd with a 9:30 p.m. start. Free popcorn will be served and soft drinks will be available. Tickets are $10.
The CLC production of "Oz" promises to be just as entertaining, considering the familiarity of the story and music to area audiences, who last saw it at the Brainerd campus in 1991.
Billed as a "multi-media centennial production," the musical will feature "live action and video animation along with special effects, wondrous sets and dazzling costumes," a CLC news release said.
The popular "Oz" -- written by L. Frank Baum in 1900, made famous by Judy Garland and Hollywood in a 1939 movie release -- attracted 147 community actors and singers for the 55-member cast, said Lamberson.
Ellie Close Loschko of Brainerd, a community theater actor and singer who is familiar to area audiences, will play Dorothy. She has appeared in CLC's "The Fantasticks" and "The Christmas Carol," among others.
Spradlin is handling the video special effects and CLC Technical Director Michael Harvey is designing and building the sets, some of which will be projected on three large television screens installed for the production.
"The Wizard of Oz" will play at 7:30 p.m. July 6-8, 11-15, 18-22 and 25-29, and 2 p.m. July 9 and 23 in the John Chalberg Theatre on the Brainerd campus.
Tickets are $5 for children 12 and under, $8 for senior citizens and $10 for general admission. Saturday performances will feature a family package for $22, which includes two adults' and two children's tickets, an $8 savings.
Tickets went on sale today and may be reserved by calling the theatre box office at 855-8199 or 800-933-0346, extension 8199, from noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.
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