Local youth find the summer stage again

The cast of the Greenbush Prairie Fire Children’s Theatre production of Alladin and His Magic Lamp posed for a group photo following a performance at the Greenbush Community Center on June 14. (photo by Mara Gust)

The Vagabonds group, including (L-R) Teresa Cudnik, Abigail Prestegord, Nathan Gust, and Matthew Lambert, posed for a small group following a performance of the Prairie Fire Children’s Theatre production of Alladin and His Magic Lamp at the Greenbush Community Center on June 14. A total of 22 children participated in this year’s Prairie Fire children’ Theatre production. (photo by Mike Korczak)

Twelve-year-old Landon Nelson played the role of “Sultan” in the Prairie Fire Children’s Theatre performance of Alladin and His Magic Lamp in Greenbush. He found this role, for the most part, to be funny, but in another respect not so much due to an interaction that he has with Ava Novacek, who played his daughter “Serena.”

“One part we have to hug. I’m not a big fan of that one,” Nelson said.

Ava Novacek suggested others participate in Prairie Fire Children’s Theatre for a reason that Nelson alluded to.

“It really puts me out of my comfort zone and I look forward to it every summer,” Novacek said.

Prairie Fire Children’s Theatre (PFCT) returned to Greenbush this summer to provide 22 youth the opportunity to experience theatre, including the chance to get out of their comfort zones. Two PFCT directors, Sara Sanderson and T.J. Lewis, held auditions and rehearsals on Monday, June 10 and by Friday, June 14, had these youth presenting the show twice to audiences at the Greenbush Community Center.

Both directors brought in much theatre experience. A native of Tuscon, Ariz., Sanderson graduated from Arizona State University and there earned a Bachelor of Music in Musical Theatre degree. She has played the role of Sophie in Mamma Mia! and Shelby in Steel Magnolias. She also taught musical theatre and acting to students through the Charleston Stage Company, according to her bio on the PFCT website. She played the role of “Genie in the Lamp” in Alladin and His Magic Lamp.

Sanderson enjoys putting these show together in such a short period of time.

“They do put this entire show together in five days, more or less,” Sanderson said, “and you get to see that hard work and that passion that kids bring to it that sometimes you don’t find in adults.”

A native of a small town in western Kentucky called Cuba, Lewis graduated from Murray State University with a Bachelor of Science in Theatre and a minor in Gender and Diversity Studies. As for his experience, he has taught musical theatre to elementary students and toured with an educational theatre company called Bright Star, according to his bio on the PFCT website He also originated the role of T.S. Miller in The Great White Buggy. In Alladin and His Magic Lamp, he plays the Evil Magician.

Lewis appreciates particular moments that he witnesses during his five-day period with these youth.

“I also appreciate those little ‘aha’ moments the kids have because we are working so quickly, so they have to figure things out a little bit faster than they typically would,” Lewis said. “So all those little moments (when) you see in their faces, they realize ‘Oh!’ and it just clicks… They’re just beautiful little moments.”

Greenbush’s next Prairie Fire Children’s Theatre play, Beauty and the Beast, is scheduled to take place around the same time next year in June. Why is this a worthwhile program to join? The directors answered this question.

“Coming into these types of areas and these small towns up here, if Prairie Fire didn’t go travel around,” Sanderson said, “a lot of these kids wouldn’t be exposed to the arts the way that this is doing.”

From a small town, Lewis did have community theatre opportunities growing up and felt fortunate to have them. Now, he’s helping give those opportunities to youth, and in the process helping some get out of their comfort zones.

“There’s so many communities that we contribute to in this area that don’t have other outlets for the kids for theatre. And theatre’s one of those things growing up that you learn social skills, you learn skills that are literally going to impact the rest of your life,” Lewis said “… Getting into theatre at an early age for these kids, it’s a no brainer. It’s just going to improve their lives tenfold. It’s been a blessing for me so I can only imagine if they look back ten years from now and be like ‘Prairie Fire, I see where that got me now.’”

To see the complete story, read the June 19 issue of The Tribune in print or online.

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