'Ruby Slippers'

A scene from the University of Minnesota staged production last fall. “Ruby Slippers” will be performed with live music at the Reif Center in Grand Rapids at 7 p.m. on Aug. 16.

‘Ruby Slippers’ is ‘part mystery, part travelogue and part Coen Brothers storytelling’

On Aug. 28, 2005, the ruby red slippers were stolen. Worn by Grand Rapids native Judy Garland in the 1939 movie classic “The Wizard of Oz,” the famous shoes, on display at the Judy Garland Museum at the time, were one of only four original pairs of such red slippers. Prior to the heist, no one but Garland had ever worn the size 5 1/2 shoes; however, thousands had seen the particular traveling pair. The theft of the ruby slippers, which were insured for $1 million, remained a mystery, with many theories circulating, including that someone from the community stole the prized slippers. Last year, the slippers were recovered.

On Friday, Sod House Theater (SHT), based in Minneapolis, Minn., will present a staged reading of a fictional account of the disappearance of the slippers led by Joy Dolo and Luverne Seifert, with musical composition by Ashley Hanson and Brian Laidlaw. The presentation, “Ruby Slippers,” will be performed with live music at the Reif Center in Grand Rapids at 7 p.m. on Aug. 16. 

The production, explained Seifert, is part mystery, part travelogue and part Coen Brothers storytelling and will examine how a community wrestles with the devastation of the possibility that someone from their own community could be capable of an egregious crime against their hometown. 

Seifert said that the impetus for the production came from a simple Google search he conducted of the strangest events which took place in Minnesota. The theft of the ruby slippers was one of the top three on the list, he explained.

“At the time I read the story, the shoes had not been recovered,” Seifert explained. “I began to imagine what might have happened to them. An inside job? Organized crime? A practical joke? I thought it would be fun to create an imaginary story surrounding the crime using the Fargo TV series as a source of inspiration, but I was also moved by John Kelch’s quote that the town was devastated by the disappearance.”

The idea that the town began to suspect that someone in their community might have stolen an important relic from the town was intriguing, Seifert said, “so I began to think more about what happens to a town that undergoes this kind of attack.”

“I’m a teacher at the University of Minnesota in the Department of Theater Arts and Dance, and I proposed the project to our department. So last fall I devised a play based on the theft with a group of university students,” Seifert continued. “We had a great time developing it, using the ‘Wizard of Oz,’ news clips, and documentaries, ultimately creating a Fargo-esque play that we performed at the university.”

The performance was well-received, he said, and so he sought to continue the work, receiving a Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant to continue phase two of the project. The second phase is what will bring the group to Grand Rapids to host a staged reading of the show in the town in which the mystery began.  

After receiving the grant, Seifert said he enlisted fellow collaborator Joy Dolo to develop the play. Together, they came to Grand Rapids and “discovered that everyone was so incredibly nice and generous in sharing their stories.”  

“We met with Investigator Brian Mattson at the Grand Rapids Police Department, who shared the story of the recovery,” Seifert said. Mattson, he said, introduced the team to various members of the community, who “were all so generous with their time and demonstrated their great love for the community.” 

What emerged from the research, he said, is a fictional account of the story of the stolen ruby slippers.  

“The characters we created are not based on any real people in Grand Rapids,” Seifert explained. “With the exception of the slippers at the Judy Garland Museum and the name of the town, there are no other similarities.”

Seifert said that the reading is intended to be “fun, but also a moving story of a community that is dealing with a difficult event.”  

There will be live and recorded music during the reading, and some of the scenes will be acted out. However, since it is a reading, the actors will have scripts in their hands.  

Also, Seifert explained, “our mission is to collaborate with community artists within the communities we visit, so there will be actors and musicians from Grand Rapids as well. Our ultimate goal is to develop a full future production in Grand Rapids that will be performed at the Reif Center.” 

Sod House Theater’s mission is to create professional theater experiences with and for greater Minnesota communities, Seifert explained. 

“Through playful collaboration, we gather and affirm communities, illuminate relevant issues, and create space for public dialogue and action,” Seifert explained. “We envision a Minnesota in which everyone has access to high-quality theater training and performances, and where theater becomes a means for community engagement, relationship building, problem solving, and transformation.”

The rural backgrounds of company founders Luverne Seifert and Darcey Engen lend credibility to SHT projects and help increase participation from the communities. Works are performed by Twin Cities actors and actors/musicians from host communities.

Performers for the Grand Rapids script are from Minneapolis and Grand Rapids and include Nathan Keepers, Brighid Burkhalter, Darcey Engen, Joy Dolo, Bennett Peterson, Victoria Gunderson, Jessie Siiter, Noah Solfest, Riley Stoval, Katie Smith and Luverne Seifert. The script was written and devised by Sandra Struthers, Joy Dolo, Isabel Nelson, Kate McCarthy, Nathan Keepers, Tessa Dahlgren, Tate Sheppard, Isabel Enns, Nick Saxton, Emily Bierbrauer, Luverne Seifert and theater students from the University of Minnesota. 

Tickets for this event are free with a $5 suggested donation.  

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