We are several weeks into our rehearsal process for the second show of the 2014-2015 season. While we all agree that it’s something of a misnomer, A Laura Ingalls Wilder Christmas, by Laurie Brooks, is–we’ve recently discovered–based on good solid research into the “missing” two years of Laura’s childhood.
Of course the Little House books which she wrote were about her days as Laura Ingalls, and since this play takes place when she was nine years old, it should really be A Laura Ingalls Christmas…but that would be quibbling.
Here’s the backstory on this play:
In 1876 the Ingalls family had endured two consecutive years of grasshoppers devouring their crops on the Walnut Grove farm. They had no more food to keep them going through another year. The Steadman family, friends who had moved away, invited the Ingalls to join them in Burr Oak, Iowa, to help run a thriving hotel/tavern. So they set out, stopping to visit Uncle Peter’s family in South Troy, Minnesota. While they were there, Laura’s baby brother, Freddie, sickened and died. He was nine months old.
The family arrived in Burr Oak in the fall. Charles and Caroline and the girls were all kept busy with duties around the hotel. Laura and Mary were able to attend school–Mr. Reid, the young schoolmaster was a border at the hotel. The Steadmans had two sons, who teased the Ingalls girls quite a lot. Johnny, crippled in one leg, was especially mischievous, but the girls were instructed to be kind and patient to him because of his infirmity.
There was a doctor in the town named Starr, whose wife took a great liking to the girls, especially Laura. Theodora Starr was lonely because her own daughters were grown and had settled permanently in Philadelphia.
[For more information about this time in Laura’s life, you may want to check out the museum website for the Laura Ingalls Wilder Park and Museum at Burr Oak, Iowa.]
It is very satisfying to know that the events depicted in our play are based on history. Even the girls’ measles–and the fact that Johnny gets them at Christmastime–are events recorded in the source material, primarily Laura’s soon-to-be-published memoir, Pioneer Girl. For most of a century this manuscript has been available only to scholars. Laura tried to have it published during the Depression, but it was deemed too harsh and bleak a story to appeal to the general public at that time. Years later, Laura’s daughter Rose Wilder Lane, herself an author, would encourage Laura to reframe her life as stories for children. The Little House series of books was born, and was to have enduring popularity.
For some reason, Laura did not include this nine-month period in her set of Little House books. Perhaps the story arc was too short, or too painful. In any event, audiences now have a new chapter of her life to enjoy, and afO is proud to be able to premier this play in the Fort Wayne area.
The cast of A Laura Ingalls Wilder Christmas:
Pa Ingalls: Evan Fritz
Ma Ingalls: Bridget Bogdon
Laura: Madeline Gerig
Mary: Hannah Gerig
Carrie: Lily Helmuth
Johnny Steadman: Ben Gerig
Mrs. Starr: Christine Newman-Aumiller