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Troupe makes ‘Wind in the Willows’ into family affair

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Columbus’ Caitlin Smith was directing plays long before the upcoming Mill Race Players’ production of “The Wind in the Willows.” As a child, she frequently would create and act out shows in her bedroom with her stuffed animals as an audience frozen in rapt attention.

“I would stuff my cat in a basket and make her be Toto (from ‘The Wizard of Oz’),” Smith said, laughing at the memory. “My mom’s red pumps would become my ruby slippers.”

Well, the 29-year-old Columbus native is not in imaginary Kansas anymore. She’s making her local directing debut with the classic children’s tale featuring four animal comrades serving as symbols of rural, British people.

The century-old story from Kenneth Grahame became Smith’s favorite of her childhood — one set firmly in community theater. Her mom, Toni Smith, acted in two Theatre Arts Guild shows while pregnant with her.

“Theater just made sense to me from the beginning,” she said. “I wasn’t good at math. I wasn’t good at sports. I was good at telling stories.”

As is frequently the case with summer community theater, the director and the troupe have turned the show into a significant family affair. For instance, Toni Smith has designed costumes that her daughter conceived to give the river critters a whimsical feel. Mom is also coordinating makeup for the show. And dad Larry Smith has been working on sets.

“If you cut us right now, we bleed ‘Willows,’” Toni Smith said.

Many of their Pinterest pages are devoted to ideas for portraying the characters. And even when they are home together away from the rehearsal stage, the wind of conversation often blows back to the willows.

“We’ll be watching TV and see something on the screen and rewind it and one of us will ask, ‘What do you think of that for a costume?’”

Take in a show

What: Mill Race Players’ production of “The Wind in the Willows”

When: 7 p.m. July 11; 2 and 7 p.m. July 12 and 2 p.m. July 13

Where: Judson Erne Auditorium, 1400 25th St., Columbus

Tickets: $8 online at At the door: $8 for children and seniors, $10 for adult

Information: See Mill Race Players on

Corey Brasher and his 11-year-old son, Isaiah, have forged a new family bond as they act together in their third straight Mill Race show. Isaiah plays a hedgehog, and dad plays Badger.

“We’ve made this our own little thing,” Corey Brasher said. “And it has enhanced our relationship quite a bit.”

Dad mentioned that he has been impressed to watch his son’s confidence “skyrocket,” as he put it.

Caitlin Smith loves the stage for those elements, to be sure. But for sheer, shared entertainment, she can find nothing better than live theater. And she views this production as one for all ages.

“It has a unique blend of slapstick humor with a Monty Python tongue,” she said. “And though you have characters that are not necessarily cute in a Disney kind of way, you still love them as much as Bambi and Thumper.”

Smith and her mom, who first teamed for a high school show in 2001, last worked together in a comic Halloween presentation at the local YES Cinema a few years ago. They clearly were eager to work together again as soon as possible.

Toni Smith acknowledged that having her daughter as a boss has been an interesting and enjoyable experience, allowing her to respect her grown child’s creativity like never before. Yet, at home, where Caitlin helps care for aging grandparents, Mom still gets to wield authority.

“I still get to decide,” Toni Smith said, “what we’re having for dinner.”

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