The Wizard of OZ: Only in Live Community Theatre
Celebrating an Iconic Film
In 2009, one of the most beloved films of all time celebrated its 70th anniversary.
We all grew up with this story of a young girl who thought she would be happier on the other side of the rainbow. She set out to search for her dreams and ended up being swept away by a tornado that carried her “far far” away into the land of make believe and dreams.
The Wizard of Oz has been iconic since the first time it made it’s debut in 1939 on the big screen, starring Judy Garland as Dorothy, Burt Lahr as the Cowardly Lion, Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow, and Jack Haley as the Tin Man. Together this foursome along with Dorothy’s dog Toto, would set out to find the things they had been looking for all their lives but never realized it was right in their own backyard the whole time.
In celebration of this magnificent story by L. Frank Baum and directed brilliantly by Victor Fleming, I decided to produce and direct the Wizard of Oz (for the second time in my career) on stage. With a cast and crew of 67, our $16,000 community production was performed in the summer of 2009.
That's Why They Call it LIVE Theatre!
Funny thing about directing live theatre, especially community theatre… ANYTHING can happen!
Sometimes when you have a limited budget or resources, you are forced to substitute in areas that can challenge your ingenuity and imagination. For instance, canned (recorded) music instead of a live orchestra or band, props, costumes, and even set and lighting design needs to be thought out carefully when producing a show.
Through the 30 years I have been directing, I have always been blessed with some of the most talented people who would come into my life for a show. I’m not just talking about the actors, although I have worked with some amazing talent. I am talking about my set designers, my lighting tech, my costume designers, makeup/hair, and most of all my Stage Manager.
It is usually customary that once you go into production, the show is no longer under your control, as you traditionally would hand the reigns over to your stage manager who knows the whole show backwards and forwards. However, I’m not traditional! I love staying to the end with my cast and crew, so if anything happens, we go through it together!
When you have a huge production with major set changes and lighting cues as well as music cues, anything can go “wrong”, however, I see it as a challenge and sometimes, what you may consider a disaster can sometimes work and somehow improve the show. Then there are times that no matter what you do, you just need to go with the flow.
Our production of Wizard of OZ was no exception. We ran the show for nine performances, two weekends back to back.
We were off to a great start come opening night and everything was going smooth… until the second act. The scene was in the Wizards chamber, where there was supposed to be smoke and fog billowing from underneath the OZ shrine. My youngest stagehand of fourteen who had never been in any production what-so-ever had one direction. To turn on the fog machine before the curtain came, count to thirty, and then turn it off. Simple enough, right?
Somehow this sweet young boy became so mesmerized by the Lion, he forgot his cue. The smoke rose to the ceiling of the stage and set off the sensors to the smoke alarm.
Because this production was done at a local elementary school, the alarms went off with a loud high wailing pitch, not to mention the strobe lights which are used for the deaf. The school was closed for the weekend, therefore many calls had to be made throughout the district to find someone to key in the password at the main office and turn it off.
With a packed house of 200 people and without a skip or pause in their lines, the cast continued as if nothing was wrong. Frankly, I was expecting everyone to get up and walk out… including myself!!
After 10 minutes (which seemed like an hour) of alarms, the local fire department came and was greeted at the back of the auditorium and my assistant stage manager (who is a Fire Marshall) ran to the firefighters to assure them that there was no fire. The alarm was finally turned off, and I noticed that the firefighters were hanging around in the back still watching the show. The reason; Their Fire Chief was my Cowardly Lion.
On With The Show!
The following evening, the show was going smooth as butter (I knew I should have “knocked on wood”) until… the scene where OZ was handing out the diploma, the heart, and the badge of courage. The next line was spoken by the Scarecrow, “Hey what about Dorothy?” Tin Man, “Yeah, Dorothy next!” Dorothy, “I don’t think there’s anything in that black bag for me.” Then, without hesitation, the magnificent Oz replies to the foursome, “Well, you have left me no choice. You have forced me into a cataclysmic decision!”
Just as those infamous words were spoken, the whole auditorium shook with a 4.5 earthquake! The audience gasped and held onto their chairs, the cast on stage held onto each other in a dramatic pose and when the shaking subsided, and without a beat skipped, Oz said in his wizardly voice, “Like I said, you have forced me into a cataclysmic decision!” The foursome held on to each other again and looked as if there was going to be another earthquake and then in unison as if rehearsed a 1000 times, all four gave an over the top SIGH of RELIEF!. The audience laughed and cheered.
After the show, I was approached about 15 times telling me what a cool effect that was!
Only in Live Community Theatre
I will always be grateful for the people I work with in community theatre, from the actors to behind the scenes.
Where else could you ever find a trio such as my “Brainless Scarecrow” who is an Astro Physicist, my “Cowardly Lion” who is the Fire Chief, and my “Heartless Tin Man” who is an Attorney is one setting?
Only in live community theatre!