Seventy-six kids, ages 7 to 15. Two adult actors/directors. One week to audition, rehearse and put on a play, complete with props, sets, costumes and lighting.

The kids, along with Holly Dickerson and Mark Lamont Hance from Prairie Fire Children's Theatre, pulled it off with barely a hitch last week at the Lakeville Area Arts Center. Prairie Fire does three weeklong theater camps at the Arts Center each summer, one each in June, July and August.

The traveling actor/directors, in pairs of two, do the same thing year-round for community groups and schools around Minnesota and throughout the Midwest.

August's play at the Arts Center, housed in a beautifully restored former Catholic church, was "Sleeping Beauty." But this isn't the traditional telling of the fairy tale. Not even close.

This "Sleeping Beauty" is a play about making a movie. There's the entitled starlet and her overbearing showbiz mother (played by Dickerson); a beauty; a hero who's actually a diva (Dillon Brown, 14); an evildoer who's actually a nerd (Ryan Skille, 15), and a hypnotist (Hance).

There are henchmen, sheep and chorus girls, as well as the moviemakers: producer, director and assistant director, cameraman and choreographer. And a "Hollywood" reporter.

There is no true love's kiss.

Old friends

Every kid has a role. Many have been coming to the theater camps for years, and they run, screaming, to greet old friends the minute they enter the theater on Day 1.

Grace Maloney, 13, plays Mallory, the starlet who quits the movie in a huff rather than work with nasty, smelly sheep and is replaced by Rose, played by Eva Castro, 14.

"This is my 11th Prairie Fire," Grace said. "It's really fun. You spend so many hours with people you get to know them really well."

Ben Cochran, 13, who looks like a shorter Leonardo DiCaprio, plays The Producer. It's his first time in a Prairie Fire production, but he's done other theater, he said.

Getting ready

The production starts Monday afternoon with auditions. Hance and Dickerson line the kids up in a circle by height, then stand in the center and act out short lines using various intonations: happy, sad, angry. One by one, the kids repeat the lines.

"Make it memorable," Dickerson tells them.

One line is just an evil laugh. Another, "Look lady, it's not personal, it's strictly business." One boy repeats it as if he's an Army drill sergeant and salutes before stepping back into the circle. He says another line using the voice of the cartoon character "Yosemite Sam."

A little over two hours later, all the roles are cast and Dickerson is teaching the chorus girls a song and dance number. Hance, in another room, is working with the movie actors and production staff.


Wrangling 76 kids can't be an easy task, but Hance and Dickerson have their ways and make it fun.

Instructions and rules are followed by "Capisce?!"

"Capisce!" the kids shout back.

A rhythm of hand claps, first from the directors and then the kids, silences commotion or too much giggling.

Or a clap and "Take Five!"

"Thank you Five!" the kids respond with a clap.

Joe Masiarchin, manager of the Arts Center, can't say enough good things about the Prairie Fire instructors.

"They're phenomenal," he said. "This is really what their expertise is."

The whole show runs 60 to 75 minutes. Rehearsals are two to four hours a day, depending on the role. By Wednesday, everybody is on stage doing scenes from start to finish. Scripts are left on the floor below and the kids make only occasional stumbles in their lines. On Thursday, they'll add in sets and costumes. Friday is the dress rehearsal and first performance. The second and last performance is Saturday morning.

Prairie Fire, based in Barrett, Minn., has been around since 1987. The troupe has 22 traveling actors/directors and 14 plays in its repertoire, including "Alice in Wonderland," "Aladdin," "Peter Pan," "Pinocchio" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream." All have a twist on the original story.

"It's unfortunate that the [traditional] class play has become a thing of the past," said Deborah Pick, executive director and co-founder. "In a lot of schools we've taken the place of that. We can bring in a quality program that only takes a week. Sometimes, schools have programming themselves and this just complements it."

Pick named a few of the places Prairie Fire works: Rochester, Duluth and the metro area, including Orono, Maple Grove, Plymouth, Woodbury.

"We do quite a bit of Wisconsin," she said. "Marshfield, Appleton. We do some Indiana, Michigan and Iowa."

They've been doing summer theater camps in Lake- ville for 10 or so years.

Registration for the camps at the Lakeville Arts Center starts in April and fills up quickly.

"They're one of the most popular activities we run over the summer," Masiarchin said.