I met with Craig Pruscha, founding member of Oconomowoc's Moonlit Movies, with a distant, fond memory of Dorothy and "The Wizard of Oz" gang from my childhood.
By the time I left, my mind was rapidly panning mental archives of creativity for Oz-inspired additions I could bring to the "There's No Place Like Home" event August 13th.
That's the motivational ability Pruscha possesses to energize a community behind his Moonlit Movie events, particularly this August's celebration of the 70th anniversary of "The Wizard of Oz."
To honor the birth of "The Wizard of Oz," Pruscha, along with board members Ken Herro and Brian Nemoir, is planning a celebration to pay tribute to and enjoy the film making Oconomowoc famous among Oz aficionados.
In an attempt to test the summer movie market, "The Wizard of Oz" premiered in 1939 in four small vacation towns. One of those towns was Oconomowoc, where the film screened at the former Strand Theater. One week later, the now-legendary Warner Brothers film opened in Hollywood at The Chinese Theater.
Now, seven decades on, Oconomowoc's Moonlit Movies Association is honoring the film with an event equally grand in size.
In downtown Oconomowoc, nearly a half mile of Wisconsin Avenue will be shut down and traffic replaced with a recreated Land of Oz. In conjunction with Moonlit Movies summer series, "The Wizard of Oz" will span the horizon on an inflatable 40-foot screen.
"Moonlit Movies are usually shown at Fowler Park but for this event, we wanted to bring people downtown and really show them all of the improvements and new businesses in the area. We really want to push the redevelopment of the downtown area," Pruscha says.
The showing starts at dusk but the list of reasons to get there early goes on and on.
Event plans include a yellow brick road, troupes of actors dressed in costume and a concert stage. You'll have a chance to drop the Wicked Witch of the West in a dunk tank and you can even debate your destiny with the Great and Mighty Oz under the big tent.
"The real reason we do this is we want to create events for kids that they'll remember. As a kid, I can remember communities making huge floats for parades and that kind of thing seems to be dying. It's that feeling, that we want to recreate," Pruscha says.
Actors aren't the only ones that should be in costume, according to Pruscha. Moonlit Movies urges store-bought, custom-made and makeshift costumes of all kinds on everyone.
All ages can partake in a "The Wizard of Oz" costume competition. And bring your pooch for a Toto look-alike contest.
"It's all about fun. That's it really. As a revitalizing community, we really want to draw people downtown. We want to generate markets for downtown businesses and spark continued downtown revitalization," Pruscha says.
Moonlit Movies was founded in 2006 when a desire for community involvement magically linked the three together. Now, three years later, they've raised thousands for the Oconomowoc Food Pantry, boast a community based board of 16 members and draw crowds as large as 1400 in collaboration with organizations throughout the area.
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Maureen Post grew up in Wauwatosa. A lover of international and urban culture, Maureen received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
After living on the east side of Madison for several years, Maureen returned to Milwaukee in 2006.
After a brief stint of travel, Maureen joined OnMilwaukee.com as the city’s oldest intern and has been hooked ever since. Combining her three key infatuations, Milwaukee’s great music, incredible food and inspiring art (and yes, in that order), Maureen’s job just about fits her perfectly.
Residing in Bay View, Maureen vehemently believes the city can become fresh and new with a simple move across town.