"Who can bark the loudest?"
That was a challenge directors Derek Brookens and Danae DeShazer leveled at a group of wanna-be Totos during tryouts for a Wizard of Oz production last week at Blooming Prairie High School.
The production carries the footprints of another professional and successful theatrical performance of the Prairie Fire Children's Theatre.
This stop by two highly acclaimed actors was Prairie Fire's eighth visit.
Prairie Fire is a professional touring theatre company based in Barrett, Minn., near Alexandria.
The Prairie Fire theatrical experience has been brought to communities across the upper Midwest since 1987.
Prairie Fire tours offer a variety of original musical adaptations of classic tales.
Tryouts were held last Monday afternoon after school. Practices continued daily until the production went on stage before the Blooming Prairie Elementary School student body Friday afternoon and before the public Friday night. Both performances were in the Blooming Prairie High School gymnasium.
Eighty-three elementary kids in grades 2-6 were involved in the play, including 79 on stage as actors and four were back stage hands.
Brookens, 28, was making a return visit to Blooming Prairie, having directed and acted in Snow White two years ago. He played the role of the Huntsman. He was on his fourth tour with Prairie Fire, also acting in Alice in Wonderland and Tom Sawyer.
DeShazer, 32, made her first tour with Prairie Fire. Prior to this tour with Prairie Fire, she acted in other children's theatre company productions. She also acted in the McLeod Summer Playhouse in Carbondale, Ill.
Both call themselves freelance professional actors.
Brookens’ hometown is Port Allegany, Pa. while DeShazer comes from Overland Park, Kan.
The characters in these Prairie Fire productions are the same as the original. "We bring the production to life with our own special choreography and staging which adds our own little flair," said DeShazer.
Brookens played the scare crow during Wizard of Oz, and DeShazer brought her talents to the stage as the Wicked Witch of the West.
"The kids fill in every role including that of Toto," Brookens said.
DeShazer says she enjoys playing the Wicked Witch role. "It's more comedic, silly and over the top," she admits. "It's kind of me, a little bit wicked and a little bit silly," she added.
In leading tryouts, Brookens and DeShazer made the kids state their name and age. They were encouraged to make their introduction in a happy tone and then in a sad tone.
"We were looking to see who they are," DeShazer said. "It was rewarding to see the kids break out of their shell," Brookens interjected.
Following the Friday performance, the duo headed for McLeod where she planned to direct “Pokadots" and "The Drowsy Chaperone" and then planned to act in "The Full Monte." Brookens planned to act in "The Full Monte" and in "Gypsy."
Both Prairie actors strive to continue their acting careers. "I enjoy traveling regionally and working several companies," said DeShazer.
Blooming Prairie was one of the duo's smallest venues. They performed 24 times in 12 groups. Both Brookens and DeShazer said they received good feedback from parents of the young actors.
"It's been a fun experience and nice to see the kids grow during the week," smiled DeShazer.
Brookens urges young actors "to be yourself and we want to see you be a version of yourself."
"Study, learn and take lessons if you wish to continue acting," DeShazer said in directing her comments to aspiring young actors.