You’ve probably heard of the Laura Ingalls Wilder pageants in DeSmet, South Dakota, and Walnut Grove, Minnesota, but do you know there is a pageant in Mansfield, Missouri? This pageant is put on by the Ozark Mountain Players and is called Laura’s Memories.
What’s Different from the Other Pageants?
One major difference is that this pageant is a musical. Frankly I like the music better than the Little House on the Prairie the Musical that got a national tour. I’ve only seen it once in person (although I’ve also seen in on DVD), but I can still sing part of a couple of the songs. ♫♪”Farmer boy, Farmer boy…” ♪♫
Unlike the other two pageants it seeks to tell Laura’s entire life story rather than just a part of it or to dramatize one of the books. It plays off the only known recording of Laura’s voice using that as a set up as Laura shares memories from her life. A unique thing is that they rotate roles as time progresses so no one person has to learn an excessive amount of dialogue, which can be a little difficult to follow until you figure it out. Important to the audience it also features the most professional theater stage and the best back support for the seats.
Uniquely for the pageants it splits its dates every year with some during the summer and the rest in September as part of the lead up to Wilder Days. They were very late getting the dates out this year, so I’m taking this special post to share them. I’ve updated my events page with these and a couple of other things lately, so take a look.
July 14-15, 21-22, 28-29, 2017
Sept 1-2, 8-9, 15-16, 2017
Wilder Days: September 15,16, & 17, 2017
I can honestly highly recommend this pageant. So if you’re looking for a last minute Laura trip. Take a look!
Sarah S. Uthoff is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales striving to bring the History, Mystery, Magic and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation. Uthoff is a nationally known Laura Ingalls Wilder authority and has presented at five of the Wilder homesites, many conferences and numerous libraries, museums, and events around the Midwest. Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, and find her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and Academia.edu. Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.
It’s pageant travel time, the time of year when you can visit all three of the current Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageants and the new Mary Ingalls Pageant in Vinton, Iowa. I’ve certainly come a long way since my very first time when my mother surprised me for my birthday with a trip to the Walnut Grove pageant for the whole family. (I didn’t know anything about it, we were supposed to be visiting western Wisconsin and then she added another two days.) But she hadn’t done enough research. Other than the museum and the pageant itself we didn’t have a clue what to do. We still had a great time, but I wish I’d known what I know now, so here you have my best pageant travel advice.
Your first decision is what pageant or pageants to visit. It really isn’t a case where if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. I would recommend that any trip that you plan to include either Walnut Grove or De Smet also include the other if at all possible, but be sure to match your dates correctly. De Smet includes Sunday night performances, Walnut Grove doesn’t. To put it loosely, Walnut Grove’s pageant is more Hollywood with lots of neat special effects and a real drama, De Smet’s pageant is like eavesdropping on the Ingalls family and it rotates through telling the story of one of the books set in De Smet each year, and Mansfield’s pageant is a musical. Vinton’s Mary pageant is just getting off the ground, but gives you a nice look at what it was like for Mary to attend the College for the Blind. Check out my tips below for each specific pageant.
Fragments of a Dream aka The Walnut Grove Pageant
Check in to the night’s hotel or bed and breakfast or camp grounds before you go out to the pageant grounds because you don’t want to be hunting for your place to stay in the dark. At the Walnut Grove pageant you want a reserved ticket. You can still buy them at the gate, but reserved seats come with a folding chair and a place close to the stage. They also offer general admission tickets, but with them it’s bring your own blanket or chair and find your own spot on the hillside. I sometimes buy a second reserved seat just to be sure of a little room (the chairs are welded together), but either way the chairs are the best option. I personally like to eat at the community center in town about a block away from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum (service groups arrange them as fundraisers and they call them pageant suppers), but there are two other restaurants in town if you prefer. On the pageant grounds itself you can get high school sports concession stand type food (hot dogs, popcorn, etc).
The best public restrooms in town are at the museum proper, so I’d go there before heading out. If lines are long there, you can also use the bathrooms at the community center where the pageant dinners are held. If you still find lines, try two blocks away from the museum at the gas station on Highway 14. It’s a little farther, but definitely within walking distance although you may want just to drive over while you have to move your car between the museum and the pageant grounds anyway. Even when the town is incredibly busy people tend to forget about them so even during the 40th Anniversary event when the town was bursting at the seams I didn’t find lines there. At the pageant grounds the bathrooms are behind the concession stand with the doors facing towards the seating area.
Be sure to get a program when you come in, but if you miss one they give out programs and sell other souvenirs at a small stand across from the concession stand. The show starts with the pageant singers who are a local singing group, but sometimes they have a celebrity speaker, etc. before the show. I’ve heard advice from local people to nip in right before the pageant proper starts, but I normally go early to take in the whole show. Once the pageant starts especially watch for the early scene with all the live animals and then watch for the house to flip around 180 degrees and for them to build the church.
From Highway 14 if you turn on the main road toward the museum heading south, take the first right (now heading west) and then the first paved left (now heading south again) out about a mile and half or so from town.The parking lots have named rows with signs with the Ingalls family names to find your place. Going back you can mostly follow the crowd, but watch for intersections because people peel off when you don’t want to and there are several gravel roads that feed into the paved ones so it’s easy to think the road you are on continues when actually the pavement ends and it’s gravel there on out and you should have turned instead.
I recommend pants and taking along a sweatshirt and bug spray, but the last year I went it fooled me it was so hot and I had to take the sweatshirt off again, so you don’t know. Dressing in or bringing along layers are the key. Weather can also be a bit unpredictable, but don’t worry the organizers keep an eye on any severe weather that might threaten and have a plan to deal with it.
In De Smet the pageant grounds are right outside of town on the east end of town between Highway 14 and the Ingalls Homestead. The signage is good and you should see it right away. The only reason to buy reserved seats in De Smet is if you want to pay by credit card. You can do that up at the Ingalls Homestead before gate time. Otherwise just buy tickets when you pull your car in. They have wooden benches set up, but bring a lawn chair and set it up down front. The benches are spaced to allow a row of chairs in between so you can sit your chair pretty much wherever you want, but be sure to honor any space they have blocked out down in front of the stage area.
They give you a newspaper about the pageant and do a roll call of states, so yell loud for Iowa. They have different events going on to keep you busy before the pageant. They have stand up wagon rides, a display of some kind (old farming machinery, a model of the town, twisting hay – different things on different years), and a giftshop called the What Not Shop which has some unique Laura stuff take a look. They also give you a free ticket for the wagon ride (I usually give mine to a kid, although I do admire their on and off the wagon system so watch them load and unload). The wagon has no seats and the sides hit me about mid-thigh. When you’re on the outside it can feel like you’re going to fall off, although as far as I know they haven’t had an accident. Riding once was enough for me. Since they are shorter the sides keep the kids in fine. Look out for their stick your head through photo board and stop by the concession stand and ask if they are giving out free posters. They generally have extras, but you specifically have to ask.
They have the same kind of concession stand food available as Walnut Grove, but again you might want to eat in town. They have a country club (good but slow service) and a Dairy Queen and a Subway (the Subway has the best iced tea in town). Plus the Oxbow which is family restaurant that has been catering to Laura fans for decades. The Oxbow also honors the PBS discount card if you have one. I must give a shout out though to the creative additions the pageant concession stand made lately. In 2013 they had Long Winter Snow Cones and in 2014 they offered These Happy Golden Years wedding cakes (they were Little Debbie type things, but A for effort!). Take along the same clothes, bug stuff etc. as Walnut Grove, but more bug stuff, it’s right by a slough. Also, don’t forget the lawn chairs and/or blanket.
The Mansfield pageant is unique in several ways. It has the best seating with back support (no need for folding chairs here). It is a musical. Frankly, I think the songs are better than in the Little House on the Prairie: The Musical. I came out of the Mansfield pageant singing and can still do a bit of a song or two.I came out of Little House on the Prairie: the Musical being wowed by their staging which was great, but with not a single tune in my head. Staging is not the first thing you want to think of when you come to a musical.
Laura’s Memories tells the story of Laura’s entire life as a series of musical flashbacks. They bookend them with scenes of older Laura talking to an unidentified woman, but clearly references the only known recording of Laura’s voice. They don’t want anyone to have to learn too many pages so they swap out who plays what role a couple of times during the performance which can be a little confusing until you figure that out. The pageant grounds are located right by the high school connected with Laura Ingalls Wilder Elementary with you entering through the park. Reserved seats aren’t required here either.
Their Facebook presence is a closed group that is more designed for participants than attendees.
Mary Ingalls Pageant
The pageant that is newest on the block is the Mary Ingalls Pageant which was first held last summer. It tells the familiar story with a different twist, sharing Mary’s point of view rather than Laura’s. While the beginning follows the familiar story, the middle shares what it was like to be a student at the Iowa School for the Blind. This section was constructed with help from alumni of the school to make sure it accurately reflected the experience. That was my favorite part and it ends with a reenactment of Mary’s graduation in the very place where it really happened (note that the auditorium has been expanded since then, but still). The final part picks up Mary’s life in De Smet after the school based heavily on “Grandpa’s Fiddle” by Rose Wilder Lane as published in The Little House Sampler, William T. Anderson, editor. It really gives you a better feel for this time in the Ingalls Family lives as well. I strongly recommend you visit this pageant.
The pageant is held at the Iowa School for the Blind in Vinton, Iowa. There are a couple of motels in Vinton and a much larger selection in Cedar Rapids, an easy drive away. There are plenty of restaurants in town, including a McDonalds and some nicer places as well. No food is sold at the pageant. One of the most difficult parts of the location is the lack of nearby parking. The next door parking lot is incredibly small, but several nearby businesses including the elementary school have agreed to open their lots. Volunteers are available to drive up attendees on golf carts, giving you car to door service.
Unlike the other pageants this one takes place inside so most of the things listed for take alongs don’t apply. I did however bring a pillow to sit on which I was very grateful for, but no one else in my group seemed to have any issues, so that’s totally optional. Most of the seating is unpadded auditorium style chairs and folding chairs. Be aware that there is also seating in the balcony overlooking the stage through the staircases on either side of the auditorium doors inside the door of the auditorium. Unfortunately their location close to the inside of the doors of the auditorium proper can lead to congestion at high people traffic times.
You want to get there early because most people seemed to aim for door opening and the place was full to bursting already the first night when I got there at about 6:15 pm. People also didn’t seem to move around much once they got a seat despite various activities which makes it harder for everyone to get in and out of rows even if you wanted to. Outside the doors to the auditorium is the main hallway which is abundantly large at most times, but got terribly clogged both before the play started and after it ended. Be patient and hang out in your seats or talk to other fans before trying to push through. Bathrooms are down the hall from the auditorium. If your back is to the front door entrance of the building and you are facing the doors to the auditorium, the women’s room is on the left side and the men’s room is on the right. The doors to each are around the corner were where the hall quits following the interior wall of the auditorium, makes a turn, and heads off down the wings.
Reviewing the Basics
Bring Bug Spray
Dress in Layers or Bring Jackets and Blankets or Both
I’ve decided to add a pillow to my bring alongs, maybe I’m just getting old, but these benches and chairs are getting HARD.
For Walnut Grove, make reservations for both tickets and lodging as soon as possible.
For De Smet, bring along a lawn chair and/or a blanket.
You may want to eat or go to the bathroom before you head out to the pageant grounds.
For Vinton, remember you’ll be inside, but you’ll probably be hot. There is air conditioning, but it really isn’t designed for that large a crowd. Come early and plan on mostly staying in your seat once you’ve gotten one.
I was just doing a quick check on the time the pageant grounds open before the De Smet pageant (this year their production will be By the Shores of Silver Lake) and found that they’d completely redone their website. There is no other way to describe it than visually stunning. I love the new tag also, “Theater on the Prairie,” which is a nice twist without being too on the nose. I like the About section with the history of the pageant and almost all the information you need is right there.
That said it is set up more for a tablet or a smart phone than a computer monitor. The links at the top are anchors, not true links. The main page slides through nicely on a smart phone or a tablet, but its organization is a lot less clear than the old page. Also, the links to the FAQs and Contact Us, which do open as separate pages, are buried all the way at the bottom of this main page.
So take a look at the gorgeous new site yourself and remember to keep digging if you don’t see what you want right away. And I do believe that’s my favorite pageant Almanzo in the slide show at the top of the site that starts if you stay on the page long enough (although I would have cropped the sole of Royal’s boot off) :).
Last year I decided that I need to make it easier to find articles on certain topics and it was time to hold a good old-fashioned round up. I got Pepin and Independence done and then I got distracted with other projects and topics. I still think it’s a good idea so I’m picking up where I left off.
These posts are all about De Smet, South Dakota, the Little Town on the Prairie and Pheasant Paradise. De Smet is the county seat of Kingsbury County and so it is a fairly large small town with multiple restaurants and hotels.
UPDATED September 17 2016: I updated my signature block, but that’s about all I needed.
Sarah S. Uthoff is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales striving to bring the History, Mystery, Magic and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation. Uthoff is a nationally known Laura Ingalls Wilder authority and has presented at five of the Wilder homesites, many conferences and numerous libraries, museums, and events around the Midwest. Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, and find her onFacebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and Academia.edu. Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.
I mentioned that I was looking for a particular Ozark Watch episode and that’s how I found the ones about the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum in Mansfield’s future plans and the one on Rock Architecture, but I finally found the one I was looking for and this is it, it’s on the Ozark Mountain Players and Laura’s Memories Pageant. The episode features four guests and talks about the history of the pageant. If you’ve only been to the pageants in Walnut Grove and De Smet, as great as they are, you’re missing out a great and totally different experience. I hope you can plan a trip to Mansfield during the pageant soon.
Opening scene repeats later in the episode until 1:04
Dale Moore the host does the introduction.
First 2 guests, Terry Spyres, the playwright, and Pat Allen, the composer and lyricist.
The pageant started in 1974 as part of Wilder Day. Their first production wasn’t Laura related it was a traditional Melodrama. (Includes photos) 3:00 Were then called the Silver Palace Players and started in the Legion Hall.
Stills of early shows, footage from last years show 5:30
Spyres worked at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum to get background, flavor, and find out what people’s favorite stories were. 6:30
Allen describes the creative process where Spyres would set up the scene and describe the kind of song she wanted and Allen would write the music. Their background was as elementary music teachers. 8:00
More footage of last year’s musical. The production isn’t static and is changed each year depending on make up of that year’s cast participants. Scenes evolve and some are new each year. 8:30
Muscians during performance 9:40
At least 7 families are 3 generations of participants 10:15
Talk about Neta Seal 13:15
Early photos including one of Garth Williams with the cast Alison Argrim, Kevin Hagen, and Dean Butler also get shoutouts 14:00
Switched interviewees to Eric Spyres, who has been with the group since melodramas was Pa for 1st 16 years, and Phil Bennett more old photos 16:00
Phil Bennett tells how he got involved. 17:30
Talking about family connections in the stories and the pageant 20:00
Locations of pageant 22:00 (Truly the auditorium seating is the best of any of the pageants. Comfortable plus back support) Thanks to Hutchinson Industries for helping make the seating.
UPDATE: Not a lot new to add here since this post is just from last year, it has been very popular. I’m still trying to get some of the folks behind the pageant to come on the podcast. I hope it works out soon. I’ll also point out that Phil Bennett who is one of those interviewed has commented on this post and also called in twice to my Laura Ingalls Wilder birthday episodes.
This year I finished up my LauraPalooza trip with a brief stop in De Smet, South Dakota. Any stay in De Smet is too brief in my opinion (in fact I’ve
started a new game with my mother when she starts to complain about something, I ask her “You know where that doesn’t happen?” and she actually guessed I was going to say De Smet the very first time I did it). This really was a flying visit just over 24 hours. I breezed into town (to use a good Rose phrase from Faces at the Window) and was just barely late for my meeting with a camera crew (watch this space for more on that) and after they were finished with me ended up spending a good chunk of time at the Ingalls Homestead catching up with many old friends both on the Homestead
staff and LauraPalooza people coming through. After the conference, it was nice to be able to just sit and enjoy the prairie winds and the clip clop clip clop of the horses hooves.
After getting checked in at the hotel and hitting Subway for supper (I really wanted Dairy Queen, but there was a super long line I didn’t want to spend time waiting in, so I settled for Subway sandwich and the best iced tea in De Smet). Then I retreated to my motel room and I worked some more on the paper that was due that night that I thought I’d have finished before this (I did get it sent in before the Midnight deadline – got an A-) and then headed out to the pageant grounds.
As I mentioned in my post about the Walnut Grove pageant this year, I’ve long advised people if they were doing one pageant Walnut Grove-De Smet pageant, to do the other one too. They are such different experiences and so close geographically that once you’ve made the investment to get to one, it’s just sort of silly not to go that little extra to do both.
If you’re planning on going to the De Smet pageant (Walnut Grove and De Smet coordinate pageants the first three weekends in July, but Walnut Grove no longer does a Sunday performance), I’d recommend that you start planning now. This is primarily due to Walnut Grove where early reservations are the key for both hotel stays (there aren’t any motels or even bed and breakfasts in Walnut Grove proper so getting a reservation close by requires early action) and seats at the pageant. In De Smet itself early reservations are not that important. There are two hotels and an assortment of bed
and breakfasts both in town and close by, I have still known the town to be fully booked, but usually even a week or two notice will get you a room somewhere, guaranteeing you get a room at the particular place you want might require earlier action, particularly if you want to stay at one of the bed and breakfasts. There is no reserved seating for the pageant. Instead cement blocks and boards form benches. I strongly recommend bringing along lawn chairs and you are invited to set them up in the large gaps between the rows of benches so you can get good seats right down front with them. Before the pageant visit the What-Not Gift Shop which always has some unusual souvenirs (the pin I have that was replica of the one Almanzo gave Laura for Christmas one year was purchased there), snag a wagon ride with your ticket that they give you at the gate
( I’ve done it as a adult, but it’s really set up for children physically, I’d leave it to them and give a kid your ticket for an extra ride), check out the incredible collection of antique farm equipment (back near the gate), get your photo taken at the photo board (thank you pageant people for changing the angle of the board, the last 2 times it’s been against the sunset and impossible to get a good photo there, this time they turned it so the sun wasn’t a problem), and be sure to get a bag of popcorn at the concession stand (this year they also added Long Winter snow cones which were just inspired).
This year was a different experience for a couple of reasons. The weather this year left the pageant grounds almost bug free, a remarkable accomplishment with the Big Slough right there and probably mainly due to the earlier start time and
the extremely dry weather this year. It was also the warmest I’ve ever been at a pageant. I changed into sweat pants like normal and took along my sweatshirt and blanket, but I really didn’t need them. Instead of getting chilled I was actually hot throughout the performance which was definitely a new experience. It was also strange because with the new earlier start time and the relatively short length, the sun hadn’t finished setting when the show ended. This was definitely a different experience because normally I love to sit there and look up and see the stars. I missed that. I could see how it would be easier on people with little kids, but I wish it could have gone at least a little longer (split the difference at the half hour?). Unlike Walnut Grove that uses the darkness as a definite part of its special effects pallet, the darkness isn’t nearly as important to De Smet, but I think it does add something to the sense of intimacy and eavesdropping on the Ingalls Family which I’ve always felt was truly the hallmark of the De Smet pageant and I can’t help but wish it went at least a little while after dark.
For those of you that haven’t heard the pageant this time was The Long Winter. So good gripping stuff right there. They have announced that where previously if they liked a script they might keep it the same for 2 or even 3 years, now they are going to regularly flip through the books (a different one each year in order, skipping The First Four Years which didn’t do very well as a pageant) in hopes of making it easier for families to plan to come and see them all. Certainly a worthy ambition and one I hope will bring increased attendance. I’m also pleased to report that their collaboration with theater professionals is definitely continuing to show for the better. I’d say it was a better overall performance than the last time I saw The Long Winter. Performances were good, the pace and plot were good. There wasn’t much gratuitously stuck in and nothing that stood out like a soar thumb (in one year’s show “Laura” wore short sleeves and a scooped neck all the way through the winter). This was the show they started the pageant with (based on the Hallmark radio show script) and I have postcards from the 1970s with them pulling similar props out of a similar barrel, so they are very familiar with this story.
Although I question the need to have an old Laura be the narrator in every pageant (which seems to have developed in the last few years) and
would hope if they were going to put her in they would flesh it out a little bit – was I the only one wanting an older Almanzo to show up and pester her and for her to be a little bit more of a character and not just a voice if she is going to be there? – I have to say she was the most effective I’ve seen yet in a De Smet production. For one thing they anchored old Laura in one place (the loft above Pa’s Store building) and kept her there. When her voice started we always knew where to look (instead of having to look all over the large set to figure out where she had popped up this time) and she was clearly remembering and writing the story which was a big plus over when she is just doing random things like dragging out a needlework project and showing up at seemingly random at different points on stage. This time old Laura was anchored by a purpose and a physical location which both helped the flow of the production.
The thing that probably sticks out the most in this production was the representation of the blizzard snows by dancers in white dresses who danced in dropped scarves to represent the drifts and left. It’s been a couple of months since July and I still haven’t decided if I liked them or not yet. It was definitely a physical representation that would be hard to do any other way. I definitely did like that when the spring came they danced back out and picked them up again. It made a nice cycle, but it was so different than the rest of the production, kind of like if the ballet dream sequence in Oklahoma, but instead of one big bit of different, it was broken up into parts and scattered throughout the show, that I just can’t make up my mind whether it was truly a help or hurt the suspended disbelief. Likewise the Christmas songs at the beginning to try to set the mood for winter were a nice idea, but I think it would have been better to include the words to 1 or 2 and do a general sing along rather than pull people out of the audience and I think I’d pick songs more on the snow angle, rather than on the religious side. Another thing I really liked was that they pulled kids out of the audience for one scene where they had school. Outfitted with sunbonnets and straw hats they weren’t nearly as completely costumed as the rest of the cast, but I loved the involvement. I’m sure it was something that the kids themselves will never forget and everyone loved the scene, plus it made for a realistic sized crowd without having to have that many more kids make and keep a months long commitment. It was a great idea, well executed.
I’ve seen big improvements over all in the pageant and I’m excited to see what they do next. It’s hard to remember how recently it was that the cast mimed to a audio recording and the cast and crew get better and better each year.
After the pageant I returned to my room, electronically turned in the paper, and turned in for a good night’s sleep. I make it a point to not burn daylight by staying in my hotel room when in a Laura homesite town and while I wasn’t up quite with the birds this time, I still was up early enough to run an errand before meeting Connie over at the Prairie Manor for breakfast. Thanks Jenny for the happiest breakfast in the world. a pancake man. After a lovely time there visiting, I went over to the Memorial Society. Everyone I talked to pointed out the Memorial Society had made changes in the program and I wanted to check them out for myself.
The Memorial Society has actually made quite a few changes in the last few years, some I’m really glad about (I think the yearly display of artifacts is great and while I’d rather actually go upstairs in the Surveyors House, the mirror is actually a pretty clever logistic compromise, and I’m glad to see a lot more use of documents in their displays and signage which are very interesting and rarely seen elsewhere) and some I’m not so glad about (ripping out a really well done and period appropriate one-room school restoration for an OK hands on discovery center, getting rid of furniture actually owned and used by Rose in favor of blank periodish generic bedrooms in the upstairs of the Third Street house). The major change this time is throughout the route of the tour they have added in hands on stations, these are similar things to the hands on activities that were situation around town last year for their pageant 40th anniversary event. It extends the length of the tour, but I think it’s definitely worth it, especially for making it meaningful for the kids. Adults were encouraged to try the hands on stations too. It wasn’t as a completely different experience as some of the people I talked to led me to believe, these were more add ons rather than a different overall tact or style of tour, but I think the responses I heard reflect how much of a tactile experience even adult Laura fans want and how much being repressed into not touching anything really bothers them. The changes have made a big, positive impression on many fans. If you’ve visited this year, I’d like to hear your impressions of the changes.
After the Memorial Society tour and spending some more time with the temporary exhibit, I headed over to the Loftus Store which always has something new and different and I got my favorite new T-shirt of the trip there (which is actually usual several of my all time favorite shirts are from the Loftus Store). One more stop at the De Smet News and I paid up my yearly subscription (I love having real business in town, it makes me feel much more a part of it rather than a visitor). Then one more swing by the Subway for another to go glass of the best iced tea in De Smet and I was on my way home with one last stop at the ponds outside of town which Connie had pointed out to me were heavily filled with muskrat houses this year. They really were and I’m pleased with the photos I got, look for them when I get my Laura breeds and species program put together.
I was delighted to once again this year get to do the Walnut Grove and De Smet pageants back to back. This is the second time I’ve been able to do
that and I highly recommend it. All of the pageants are such different experiences and I really recommend that if you go as far as seeing one during pageant time that while you are in the Walnut Grove – De Smet area that you do both.
Planning to do Walnut Grove
If you’re planning on going to the Walnut Grove pageant (Walnut Grove and De Smet coordinate pageants the first three weekends in July, but Walnut Grove no longer does a Sunday performance), I’d recommend that you start planning now. Early reservations are the key for both hotel stays (there aren’t any motels or even bed and breakfasts in Walnut Grove proper so getting a reservation close by requires early action) and seats at the pageant.
Take Your Seat
At the Walnut
Grove pageant the reserved seats are color coded and numbered folding chairs. Personally I really like to sit down front and so try to order as early as possible. I also prefer to try to buy a second seat especially if I’m with a group. The chairs are welded together so there isn’t a lot of wiggle room and having an empty chair to add to the space, hold your stuff, etc. is well worth the cost of an extra ticket.
Reserved seating stretches up the hill to the technical booth and beyond that is unreserved seating (chairs not provided) which spills out over the rest of the hillside so if you prefer to bring lawn chairs or a blanket you can. Personally I feel the reserved seats are the best option by far, but I have known people who bought reserved seats to abandon them for a blanket on the hillside so I guess to each his own.
The pageant doesn’t start until 9 PM and makes full use of the gathering darkness in several special effects. You can usually get in the grounds around 7 pm. There is a concession stand
(think sporting event type food, hot dogs, popcorn, etc.) if you want supper there. Otherwise keep it in mind for a snack and eat in town either at one of the restaurants or the Pageant Supper which is served in the community building near the Wilder Museum and is an annual fundraiser for various groups in town.
Before the Curtain Goes Up
Sometimes they have a celebrity from the TV show signing autographs and giving a speech before the pageant starts. They always have a group called the Pageant Singers perform. You can also visit with your fellow Laura fans. I like to get there early and soak up the atmosphere, but locals have told me you don’t have to go until practically the last minute. If you do come later and either there is a speaker or the Pageant Singers, please go up and around and don’t
walk in front of the stage. It’s really pretty rude to block people’s view and it truly isn’t that far around the stage or wait until a lull, although lots of people seem to walk in front anyway.
I think this year’s production was really a tighter production than the last couple I’ve seen so definite kudos go to the actors, the director, and the support staff. Performances were sharper, the pace of the production was better, and they added several new special effects including using real lighted torches in their efforts to fight off the plague of grasshoppers. Really the only place I had a problem with the pace was during one of my favorite sequences where they actually build a church on stage. The last step is to have someone climb up the church tower and plant a cross on the top. It’s a significant moment of accomplishment for the town and normally the person stays up there a minute for everyone to pause, take a beat, and bask in a job well done. This time I didn’t even have to time to snap a photo before he started down again and I don’t think he could have gotten down much faster with a fireman’s pole.
May I Have This Dance?
I was also impressed by how much dancing was included this time. Normally I say that dancing is the first thing cut from most community productions of musicals (and there was enough music and dancing this time that it bordered on a musical, even if the songs didn’t advance story as in a true musical). The dancing is the first thing cut because many more people are under the delusion they can sing than under the delusion they can dance. However, this pageant not only did many characters dance, the vast majority danced very well. I was definitely impressed. They even fit it naturally into the story except for one dance solo where Laura seemed to suddenly know what appeared to be Irish step dancing. I was also impressed with the comic timing of several of the supporting characters who rang belly laughs out of what are by now pretty old bits to most of the audience.
I should explain that originally the pageant was written by Walnut Grove resident James
Merchant. It was a poignant piece called Fragments of a Dream and featured Caroline Ingalls (Ma) as the main view point looking back on how the golden dream they had for Walnut Grove being the land of milk and honey and been broken, with some comic relief mixed in. Since that original production, most productions of the pageant, for some reason felt the need to tinker with the script, to add things and change it around. The biggest change was making the narrator an adult Laura instead of Ma. Frankly, while I understand their thinking, I don’t think it really worked as well with the story. Other bits and pieces and scenes were added or moved around. For example, for awhile they included the family’s move to Burr Oak, Iowa in between the two stays in Walnut Grove. This time while some of those additions remained and a few more were added, they stripped back some of the accumulated jetsam from past years and restored more of the clear vision of the original work. While Laura remained as narrator, Caroline had a couple of key speeches restored that were either missing or downplayed in the most recent productions I’ve seen. They really add emotional depth to the piece and I greatly appreciated the restoration.
They Recreate the PHOTO!
Probably the best light hearted touch was that they reproduced the famous photo of the three sisters. They recreated the dresses from the photo and put the characters in them for several major scenes in the second half of the play and featured the recreated photo in the pageant program. Carrie’s dress was exactly perfect. I think the might have taken the sepia tone of the material as it appears in the photo of Mary and Laura’s dresses a mite too literally, the style of Mary and Laura’s dresses were also absolutely perfect. I think it was truly a brilliant thing to have done and enjoyed it very much. I hope they put that photo front and center. I think it would catch the eye of every true Laura fan and I applaud them for having this brilliant idea.
UPDATED January 8, 2016: I really didn’t have much to update this time. I added my current signature block. Broke a couple of paragraphs and added some section headings.
Sarah S. Uthoff is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales striving to bring the History, Mystery, Magic and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation. Uthoff is a nationally known Laura Ingalls Wilder authority and has presented at five of the Wilder homesites, many conferences and numerous libraries, museums, and events around the Midwest. Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, and find her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+,LinkedIn, and Academia.edu. Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.