4-H performers at state fair embark on grueling schedule of 18-hour days, they love it
FALCON HEIGHTS -- A tribe of cave dwellers traipses onto the stage, taking its cue from the band's version of "The Flintstones" theme song. For the next 35 minutes, the group wearing prehistoric-looking outfits and oafish expressions sings and da...
FALCON HEIGHTS -- A tribe of cave dwellers traipses onto the stage, taking its cue from the band's version of "The Flintstones" theme song.
For the next 35 minutes, the group wearing prehistoric-looking outfits and oafish expressions sings and dances its way through several musical numbers more befitting a high school theater production than a Minnesota State Fair act.
Cast members of the annual 4-H State Arts-In performance at the fairgrounds say the hectic show preparation and grueling 18-hour days are worthwhile.
The teens, ages 15 to 19, are scheduled for 38 performances of "Let's Work Together" during the fair, which ends Monday. But their hard work really began weeks ago.
Earlier this month, the 88-member cast hunkered down in the 4-H building on the fairgrounds to build a two-level set, design and craft all of the costumes and rehearse the musical.
The prep work was mostly completed in seven days.
"It's pretty much a miracle," joked Liz Cross, who works with the cast's performers and is a student at University of Minnesota Duluth.
Long a fair tradition, the 4-H Arts-In performance stresses teamwork, but the theme is different every year. This year's routine includes a "prehistoric polka," while the 2006 cast put on a 1940s-style game show.
Many of the performers have returned annually to the 4-H performance.
"This year was much easier because I knew what to expect," said Matthew Roggenbuck, an 18-year-old from Madison who like other soft-spoken cast members quickly sheds that persona when he hits the stage.
The production's theme is shrouded in secrecy until the performers report for "prep week" at the fairgrounds, where they eat, sleep and work for much of August.
"It's a big game," said veteran director Kirstin Delp.
The performance is as much a theatrical experience as a social gathering for the youth, who are involved in 4-H programs across Minnesota. They are inseparable for the fair's 12-day run, and then use e-mail and the Internet to stay in touch throughout the year.
"You're basically family," said Jessica Fenlason, who lives northwest of Alexandria.
The performance includes choreographed routines set to popular music tunes from the past few decades. Led by a 15-member student band perched above the stage and a technical crew handling behind-the-scenes tasks, performers mix song and dance to tell the story of cave dwellers' challenge. The message: a task is easier when everyone helps.
Some cast members, including Roggenbuck, are not heavily involved in theater back home, but others yearn for the spotlight.
"I love performing and I really like to be on stage," admitted Fenlason, one of four Douglas County 4-H members in the performance.
"I don't think anyone gets tired of the show," added Krista Montagne of Sturgeon Lake. Performers feed off the enthusiasm from the audience, which usually exceeds 100 fairgoers.
Directing dozens of lively teen-agers is easier than one would suspect, Delp said. The youth are interested in the project and most know what to expect.
"They all want to be here," she said.
There are benefits beyond stage experience. A variety of other jobs in and around the 4-H headquarters keeps the youth busy from sunrise to late into the evening. Those jobs - and the work involved in preparing for the performances - enhance their leadership skills and teach them to work toward goals, Delp said.
Cast members also leave the State Fair armed with better communication skills and a positive outlook.
"Many leaders emerge from the program," Cross said.