Wilder Pageant opens this weekend

Laura Ingalls Wilder once said, “If enough people think of a thing and work hard enough at it, I guess it’s pretty nearly bound to happen, wind and weather permitting.”

Everyone involved in the “Fragments of a Dream” pageant in Walnut Grove are all hoping their hard work will pay off and the weather cooperates as they begin their performances this week. The entire cast, made up of more than 60 members, has been rehearsing for more than a month now in order to prepare for the pageant that kicks off at 9 p.m. on Friday.

There will be productions of the Wilder Pageant at 9 p.m. on July 12, 13, 19, 20, 26 and 27, all at the outdoor theater area in Walnut Grove.

“The show is different every year as different people play different parts. This doesn’t make it any better or worse from year to year, but it does change things up,” said Bill Richards, who directs the show.

Richards said roughly half of the cast are veterans, and the other half are newcomers.

“Last year, we had one of our biggest casts with 80 people, and this year, we have about 60,” he said. “Finding people who want to play the parts is not very difficult, but it is hard to find the tech people who are willing to work just as hard and be invisible while doing it.”

The time put into the pageant begins in April when auditions are held.

“After we assign actors to their parts, it is their job to memorize all of their lines. It is critical that all parts are memorized by our first practice in June, which is different from how most productions go,” Richards said.

“We have to be very considerate of people’s time at rehearsals. There are people who come from Marshall, Sanborn and even the Cities that are a part of this. Not everyone has to be here every night, but this is a huge commitment. Those involved don’t have much of a summer,” Richards said.

All of the practices that the cast members have are outside, which means they are out there sweating with the heat, bugs and any other pests.

“It is important that our cast drinks lots of water. It may not seem like we are doing much, but those dances can wear you out. We don’t want anyone getting sick,” Richards said.

Even though only a portion of the actors are from Walnut Grove, the pageant has a significant positive impact on the community.

“The pageant gives Walnut Grove something to be notable for. People come from all over the place to this small Minnesota town. Each year, between 6,000 and 8,000 people come to see our pageant. The museum has about 30,000 visitors annually,” Richards said.

“The actors get a sense of confidence from performing in front of 2,000 or more people at a given show. Also, it brings an overall good feeling to the community. Even if things aren’t going well, Walnut Grove always has something to look forward to,” Richards said.”This is an opportunity for involvement for the people of Walnut Grove and an outlet for their creative energy.”

One really fun aspect of the pageant is that stars from the “Little House on the Prairie” show have made guest appearances. There aren’t any stars coming this year, but plans are being made for next year.

“Next year will be the 40th anniversary for the TV show. We plan on bringing in as many cast members from the show as possible for the last weekend of the production. So far, we are planning on between 10 and 15,” Richards said.