MOORHEAD — Last year at this time, students from across the community were preparing for a big production. As they put the final touches on “The Wizard of Oz,” the cast, crew and orchestra found a shared sense of place on the Gooseberry stage, proving that there’s no place like home.

But while a full production is not possible this year, the team behind Gooseberry Park Players has shifted gears to provide classes to students from 23 different schools across the community.

“This year is different in so many ways,” says Lauren Brandenburg, Gooseberry's co-artistic director.

The students might not get to hit the stage this year to perform for friends and family, what they are doing is keeping that theatrical spirit alive by bursting into song and dance from the comfort of their own homes via Zoom.

With almost 50 kids from 23 schools around the Fargo-Moorhead area, virtual classes are standing in place of a live production for Gooseberry Park Players this year because of gathering restrictions due to COVID-19. Gooseberry Park Players / Special to the Forum
With almost 50 kids from 23 schools around the Fargo-Moorhead area, virtual classes are standing in place of a live production for Gooseberry Park Players this year because of gathering restrictions due to COVID-19. Gooseberry Park Players / Special to the Forum

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The classes this summer offer the budding performers a chance to work on their skills while getting to socialize with friends — all free of charge.

“That's a really important part of Gooseberry, but it's also a challenging part,” Brandenburg says.

Without the promise of ticket sales from live productions at the end of the summer, things were uncertain. But with perfect timing, a grant came through that allowed Brandenburg and the Gooseberry team to continue with another year of programming.

The funding was provided by a City Arts Partnership Grant from The Arts Partnership, through funding jointly provided by the cities of Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo.

Thanks to a quick response to the COVID-19 crisis, the partnership's board voted unanimously to refund 2019 recipients without requiring an additional application. Gooseberry was one of 30 other arts organizations to receive another year of additional funding in 2020 with grants ranging from a couple hundred dollars to nearly $10,000.

“The grant gave us the ability to do something. We knew we couldn’t do the same thing, but we knew we could still do something,” Brandenburg says.

Last year, a talented group of theater enthusiasts put on “The Wizard of Oz.” Gooseberry Park Players / Special to the Forum
Last year, a talented group of theater enthusiasts put on “The Wizard of Oz.” Gooseberry Park Players / Special to the Forum

Each class features several interactive elements ranging from breakout sessions to master classes where students can share their expertise and get pointers from staff.

For Aidan Sears, an upcoming junior at Central Class High School and longtime participant in the Gooseberry program, it’s the people that he enjoys, plus a few other surprises.

“Some other memorable stuff for me is when my computer dies — that's pretty memorable,” Sears says.

A senior at Moorhead High School, Hannah Leiseth is another regular to the program. She’s a part of the leadership group that helps organize fun things for the rest of the group.

“Every year at the beginning of rehearsal, usually we would have some sort of warmup game to get to know each other, and this year we can't really do those kinds of things,” she says.

“What we're doing instead is making groups for us with fun facts about each other and theater trivia and stuff to get to know each other better,” Leiseth explains.

As a free program accepting youth ages 11 to 18, younger participants have a wealth of knowledge to draw on from their older peers, like this group of student leaders who help organize fun activities for all the kids and teens. Gooseberry Park Players / Special to The Forum
As a free program accepting youth ages 11 to 18, younger participants have a wealth of knowledge to draw on from their older peers, like this group of student leaders who help organize fun activities for all the kids and teens. Gooseberry Park Players / Special to The Forum

At the end of their unusual, but still inspired summer, the students will all contribute a clip of themselves performing to be collected into a comprehensive video project.

Keep an eye on their social media pages, including facebook.com/gooseberryparkplayers, for updates on their virtual summer of theater.

To learn more about the free program for students range from ages 11 to 18, visit gooseberryparkplayers.org.

Contributing Forum writer than Mickelson (top left) chats with Gooseberry Park Players artistic director Lauren Brandenburg (top right) and students Hannah Leiseth (bottom left) and Aidan Sears (bottom right). Special to The Forum
Contributing Forum writer than Mickelson (top left) chats with Gooseberry Park Players artistic director Lauren Brandenburg (top right) and students Hannah Leiseth (bottom left) and Aidan Sears (bottom right). Special to The Forum

This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo. For more information, visit http://theartspartnership.net.