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Youth theater group performs ‘Anne of Avonlea’

May 17, 2018 GMT

Making like a Hollywood studio, Stage 3 Youth Theatre is banking on a sequel.

Three years after producing “Anne of Green Gables,” the Baraboo troupe is presenting the stage version of L.M. Montgomery’s classic follow-up tale, “Anne of Avonlea.” The production opens Friday at the R.G. Brown Theatre on the University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County campus.

Sue Kujawa and Sandy Perry, the play’s directors, wanted to capitalize on the success of their 2015 production and indulge their “Anne” fascination. Both have visited the famous Canadian house that inspired the author. “We have a love for the story and its setting,” Perry said.

This second chapter of Anne Shirley’s life follows her from ages 16-18 as she secures a teaching position at Avonlea School. She is still a spunky redhead who gets into embarrassing situations, but she is becoming an important citizen. She experiences the pains and pleasures of teaching, helps raise twins, plays matchmaker, weathers a storm and organizes the Avonlea Village Improvement Society.

“The past two shows we did were fantasies with interesting imaginative characters like oompa loompas and flying monkeys,” Kujawa said. “This time we decided to look for a story with realistic characters in an historical setting.”

Eleven of the 41 actors in the cast also appeared in “Anne of Green Gables,” including Andrew Saiia, a Baraboo High School senior who has appeared in every Stage 3 play. In his eighth and final appearance, he plays Anne’s future beau Gilbert.

Saiia had never appeared in a play until he auditioned for “James and the Giant Peach” in fifth grade and won the title role. “That play allowed me to meet so many great people that I know even to this day,” he said. “These people have encouraged me in my acting and taught me everything I know.”

Kujawa said his development mirrors that of the program. “As the youngest member of our first cast and now one of the oldest cast members about to graduate, Andrew reminds us of how much Stage 3 Theatre has grown up over the past eight years,” Kujawa said.

As it says goodbye to some of its original performers, the program is just getting to know a new venue. It has moved from its longtime home at the Al. Ringling Theatre to the university.

“The R.G. Brown Theatre is a smaller venue, more intimate, which lends itself well to children’s theater,” Perry said.

“I think audiences will especially enjoy the way we’ve used the stage to help us tell this story,” Kujawa added.

Also helping tell the story will be three Annes: young Anne (played by Annelise Hilke), schoolteacher Anne (Kyra Hess) and a narrator played by Anna Janssen, who appeared in the 2015 production as young Anne Shirley. Familiar faces are critical to any successful sequel. “It is a humorous and heartwarming story that audiences of all ages will enjoy,” Kujawa said.