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Telling Laura’s story in a different way

‘Laura’s Prairie Summer’ goes online starting Friday

Submitted photo Cast members for the annual Wilder Pageant are doing things a little differently this season because of the COVID-19 pandemic with scenes being filmed for a six-part online series, “Laura’s Prairie Summer.”

After the Wilder Pageant was canceled for the season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers came up with a modern way to tell the story of a pioneer girl.

A series of six Facebook Live programs, “Laura’s Prairie Summer,” which includes a mix of live and recorded scenes, contests, pioneer crafts and interviews with “some of most respected authorities on the life and writings of Laura Ingalls Wilder,” will start at 7 p.m. Friday, July 10.

Five more episodes will follow on July 11, 17, 18, 24 and 25. The programs will be found live on YouTube or Facebook from the pageant’s homepage links at http://walnutgrove.org/pageant.html.

Scheduled interviews includes ones with Dean Butler, who portrayed Almanzo Wilder on the “Little House on the Prairie” television show, as well as authors William Anderson, who has written several books on Laura Ingalls Wilder and Pamela Smith Hill, the author of “Prairie Girl: The Annotated Biography,” a Laura Ingalls Wilder biography.

Pageant committee president Bill Richards said they had done auditions online and had 46 people who were interested in being in the cast.

When the Minnesota State Fair and other venues started canceling, Richards said the Wilder Pageant also canceled.

A sub-group of the pageant board did a “bunch of Zoom meetings,” Richards said, for different options.

“We came up with some ideas with what we can do,” Richards said.

That’s when “Laura’s Prairie Summer” came about.

“We looked over the current production and considered what was not included in Laura and Walnut Grove life that we could add,” Richards said. “Our digital work group selected some ideas they thought would be good to try, and I worked out dialogue.”

To create the episodes, Richards said he used a variety of sources.

“Including Walnut Grove history, biographical data of characters who were actual residents of Walnut Grove, Library of Congress and review of copies of some of the original manuscripts and letters by Rose (Wilder Lane, Laura’s daughter) and Laura,” Richards said.

Pageant director Erin Altmann said it’s been interesting and “very different from the norm” in putting together the digital programs for “Laura’s Prairie Summer.”

“It is a learning experience, and the cast has been wonderful in helping out and their patience,” Altmann said.

Rehearsals have been held over Zoom, Altmann and Richards said.

“(It) is not the same as being in person and of course, we have had some technical issues along the way,” Altmann said. “It is harder to work on hand gestures and talking through scenes as we would like them to play out when the videotaping is done. We hold two Zoom rehearsals and then the people in the scene come out to the pageant, we walk through the scene twice and then record. It is a much shorter time frame than they are normally given.”

“When technology works, it is fine, and when it does not, there’s not much to be done,” Richards said. “Zoom has allowed us to cover some basic read throughs with director comments and work and character and pacing, but it is no substitute for in-person practice. We have worked to keep in-person scenes to a limited number of people and apply as much social distance as possible.”

All episodes are based on the fundamentals of prairie life faith, family, and friends with some humor thrown in, Altmann said.

“Some of the episodes will look familiar as they have been done in the past, and some will be new that we are trying out this year,” Altmann said. “Tune in to see what the episodes are about. The storyline follows the Ingalls family from their arrival on Plum Creek to them leaving Walnut Grove for DeSmet.”

Altmann said Richards is doing the editing and most of the recording for the episodes, along with help from cast members and Richards’ wife.

The episodes are a half-hour to 45 minutes long, Richards said.

Live guest interviews and contests are part of “Laura’s Prairie Summer,” Richards said. The interviews will be via Zoom, and audience questions can be sent to Lauras PrairieChallenge@gmail.com. On July 10, the interviews will be with Dean Butler of the “Little House” TV show and Dale Cockrell, a specialist in American popular music, will talk about his work as founder of “The Pa’s Fiddle Project,” which is an “educational program dedicated to recording music of the ‘Little House’ books and reconnecting the nation’s children with the rich musical legacies embedded in them,” according to a news release. July 11’s guest is Sarah S. Utoff, an authority on Laura Ingalls Wilder, one-room schools, historic foodways and living history, who will talk about her Laura projects. Author William Anderson is July 17’s guest, and he has written extensively about Laura Ingalls Wilder. Melanie Stringer, a public historian and Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association co-chair will be interviewed on July 18, along with author Wendy McClure, who wrote “The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie.” Stan Gordon, the owner and caretaker of the Laura Ingalls Wilder dugout site in Walnut Grove, along with his wife, Hazelle, will be interviewed on July 24. Author Pamela Smith Hill is the guest on July 25’s episode. Hill Smith is also the author of “Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life,” along with many young adult fiction novels.

Contests include a “More than Laura-Nellie” contest, where contestants will be interviewed via Zoom and asked to do a few pioneer skills, which includes questions about Laura Ingalls Wilder, and demonstrating a talent, like “baking vanity cakes” or “dancing with your parents or even singing a song like ‘Ol Dan Tucker.'” There will be an initial round via Zoom and great performances will be chosen to share live on the pageant’s YouTube and Facebook channels.

“We’re going to have kids email us with their parents,” Richards said.

There is also a Pa Ingalls look-alike contest, asking for recent images of contestants who look like Charles Ingalls. Pictures may be emailed to LaurasPrairieChallenge@gmail.com. Deadline for emails is July 9.

Check the Wilder Pageant webpage at www.walnutgrove.org and the pageant’s Facebook page for updated information.

‘Laura’s Prairie Summer’ episodes

• 7 p.m., Friday, July 10, “A New Home and Dancing in the Blizzard”

• 7 p.m. Saturday, July 11, “Playing Games and Grasshoppers”

• 7 p.m. Friday, July 17, “Welcome Home, the Central Truth and Lemon Pie”

• 7 p.m. Saturday, July 18, “Brotherly Love, Missed Opportunity and Town Council”

• 7 p.m. Friday, July 24, “Justice With No Peace and Under the Stars”

• 7 p.m. Saturday, July 25, “Vanity Takes the Cake and Making Laura’s Dream”

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