PILLAGER -- You can't learn everything there is to know about theater in a single week. But the Prairie Fire Children's Theatre aims to prove that you can learn quite a bit.
The traveling theater workshop will present "Peter Pan" 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Performing Arts Area of Pillager School. Tickets are $4 for adults and $2 for students.
The play will include about 60 young actors, ages 5-18, from the Pillager area, along with two director/actors from Prairie Fire. Adam Stachowiak plays Captain Hook and Jessica Gast plays Tiger Lil' and Mrs. Darling. Stachowiak and Gast held auditions Monday and they've been leading rehearsals all week for the play.
The Pillager production is the third of Prairie Fire's 14 week-long presentations of "Peter Pan" this summer in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and South Dakota. No two of the productions will be the same, Stachowiak said.
Jessica Gast, a University of Wisconsin-Superior student, directed the cast in singing "We Play Ball" during the rehearsal. She also will perform the roles of Tiger Lil and Mrs. Darling.
"The kids always come up with new stuff," he said. "It's the unpredictability that makes it fun."
He said the two presentations of "Peter Pan" last weekend in Ogilvie didn't resemble each other at all. The Saturday show essentially turned into an improv act. But that's what makes the whole thing a blast, he said.
A Chicago native, Stachowiak is currently pursuing a musical theater degree from Millikin University in Decatur, Ill. He's in his second summer with Prairie Fire. Gast, from Rice Lake, Wis., is pursuing a theater performance degree from Wisconsin-Superior. This is her first year with the program.
During the week, Stachowiak and Gast teach the basics of stage and lighting terminology. But there's no mistaking that the emphasis is on fun, which is why Daniel Nordquist's adaptation of "Peter Pan" was the play of choice this summer. The play includes all the plot points of the original book, but it is defined by its 10 wild musical numbers.
Jessica Gast (bottom left) directed the cast in shouting "Charge" during the rehearsal. (Dispatch Photos by Clint Wood)
For example, the Indians of the play have been transformed into the Cleveland Indians baseball team. And before the play is over, they have been renamed the Cleveland Norwegians.
"'Peter Pan' is written specifically for kids," Gast said. "It's great because everyone has an equal amount of time on stage; they are part of a group. Adam and I are there to direct things. It's just up to the kids to have fun."
Still, adults in the audience will get a kick out of the play, thanks to a healthy supply of Norwegian and Minnesota jokes.
"It's fun for parents to see," Gast said. "Their kids don't know why the jokes are funny."
Shye Makarrall (left) and Tonya Ehlers simulated hitting a baseball during the rehearsal.
The Prairie Fire visit this week marks the culmination of over a year of planning by Pillager Community Education, said Program Director Robin Johnson. Like many small towns, Pillager doesn't have a theater program for elementary or junior high students. They hope this visit will spark interest in the high school theater program.
Stachowiak notes that in smaller towns, a Prairie Fire visit is often the big event of the summer. One time, they visited a city of 20,000 and got a turnout of 35 children. In smaller towns, they've gotten as many as 150 kids. In Pillager, every kid who auditioned got a role. About half of the parts are speaking roles.
"It seems like a quarter of the population turns out in these little towns," Stachowiak said. "People get more excited about it."
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