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They're off to see the Wizard

The "Wizard of Oz" gang, from left to right: (back) Haley Lind (Tin Man,) Lily Swanson (Cowardly Lion,) Gabrielle Jensen (Toto,) Camille Benetti (Dorothy) and Kevin McCarty (Scarecrow;) (front) Makenna Sandberg and Morgan Tope-Yates (Yellow Brick Road.

Students at Valley Crossing Community School followed the yellow brick road right up on stage for its production of "The Wizard of Oz."

"'The Wizard of Oz' is an American classic," performance coordinator Suzy Wirta said. It's hard to find someone who hasn't heard of 'The Wizard of Oz.'"

A total of 75 students performed in "The Wizard of Oz" on Friday and Saturday.

Valley Crossing performed the play with help of two actors and directors from the Prairie Fire Children's Theatre.

Founded in 1987, Prairie Fire Children's Theatre is a touring theater company that brings theatrical experiences to the community.

Throughout the year, the professional actors and directors travel to various communities for a one-week residency. The local children fill the roles, while Prairie Fire provides the sets, the costumes, the direction and two actors.

"We just have to provide the students and a hotel room for the directors," Wirta said. "I have no theater experience and they have a lot of experience, so it works out perfectly."

Prairie Fire partnership

Wirta came across the Prairie Fire residency when she learned that Liberty Ridge Elementary had hosted the company.

Wirta went to the school PTA to pitch the idea.

"This seemed to be another creative outlet for our students," she said.

Prairie Fire had a collection of shows to choose from, but Wirta said she chose "The Wizard of Oz" because it is a show everyone can enjoy.

"We chose 'The Wizard of Oz' because to me, it just sounded like a great play that all the kids would enjoy," she said.

The way the residency worked was that the first 75 students, ages seven and up, to submit audition forms were selected for the show. The students then auditioned for the various roles.

The Valley Crossing students portrayed Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, Toto, Glinda the Good Witch, flying monkeys, Winkies, a guard and even the yellow brick road.

"I'm really impressed with how well they're picking up the lines," Wirta said. "They're like little sponges."

The two professional Prairie Fire actors, Kevin McCarty and ErinRose Sincevich, portrayed the Scarecrow and the Wicked Witch of the West.

"It's been great watching them work with the kids," Wirta said.

The actors rehearsed four hours a night for five days.

Wirta said having Prairie Fire help with the show has taken some of the pressure of the school, but it still is a challenge to put on a show within a five-day period.

"It's been very busy," she said. "It takes a lot of energy."

Wirta said she fully intends to host Prairie Fire again next year because the performance and partnership was such a success.

"Being on stage and having that stage presence really helps build the students' confidence," she said.

"A lot of our students have been to the Children's Theater, or other theater venues in the cities, but don't always get the opportunity to be on stage, but this gives them an opportunity to be on stage, experience it and find out if its something they like -- it helps foster their creativity."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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