My Minnesota: Firefighter helps kids bring down the house

  • Updated: March 16, 2013 - 10:01 PM

Sometimes the unsung heroes are the ones who get others to sing. In this case, show tunes. Julie Flaskamp was co-producer of a Minneapolis middle-school production of “Beauty and the Beast,” which finished its run last Friday.

The beastly part: wrangling 62 kids into a big musical from scratch. The beauty: sold-out performances, appreciative ovations and the looks on the kids’ faces.

So, you’re a professional theater-type person, right?

“I’m a firefighter, so I have a lot of time off. I’ve always enjoyed the theater — I could watch shows every day and never get sick of them. But I grew up in a small town by Mankato, and we didn’t have a theater program. I studied a bit in college — but I knew I wasn’t an acting person.”

There’s more to theater than actors, of course. She had skills in stagecraft and makeup, and put them to use later in local schools. With co-producer Staci Owens, “we put on a huge production at Armitage — 85 kids! — and we wrote the scenes, had vignettes from Broadway musicals. Every kid got a solo. By the time they get to middle school, they’re confident and polished.”

It’s volunteer work. The producers have to wrangle the costumes, the sets, the parents who want to help.

“It takes a village, as they say. It’s hundreds of hours of work, but when you see the kids beaming and exhilarated, it’s thrilling.”

The rest of the firefighters pitched in, sort of: They went along with it.

“It drives my crew nuts, because when you’re sitting around waiting for a fire — it’s slow during the day — I was sewing or doing the thatch for the roof, getting hot glue and glitter all over. I ruined a suit with glitter.”

Too bad. It would brighten up a fire if one showed up in glitter and sang “Beauty and the Beast” tunes. Here’s our hose! Hold your nose! The black smoke can be quite toxic / Mind the ice, it’s not nice, you can slip and hurt your coccyx.

By the way, how did you end up battling blazes? “The guy I was dating at the time was a firefighter, and he proposed on a hook and ladder, on Oprah Winfrey. Later, in college —”

Hold on.

He proposed on a firetruck? On Oprah?

Indeed. She said yes for the camera — all the world being a stage, and all that — but afterward, well, no. After more college for broadcast journalism, “I didn’t find my calling. I fell into firefighting while I got my master’s.”

That’s multitasking.

So: Which has more fires to put out, a 48-hour shift at the firehouse or dealing with 62 middle-schoolers?

You can guess the answer to that.

(Disclosure: My kid was in that production, which was directed to sprightly perfection by Tinia Moulder. Most adults don’t make a habit of going to random middle-school plays. But you know what? After seeing something as delightful as the kids the grown-ups created … well, maybe we should.)

JAMES LILEKS

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