Behind the Curtain: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Behind the Curtain: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Written by Geordi Jones, Feature Editor.

This past week, the UMM theatre discipline wrapped up its 2018-2019 season with a production of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a new adaptation of the classic L. Frank Baum novel, written by Jacqueline E. Lawton. This production was directed by Professor of Theatre Arts Ray Schultz and designed by Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts Lucas Granholm. Featured in the cast were students Natalie Wallraff as Dorothy, Evan Aanerud as the Scarecrow, Spencer Hammersten as the Tin Woodman, Katie Booth as the Cowardly Lion, Claire McManus as the Wicked Witch of the West, and Laura Steblay as the Wizard.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was the children’s show this spring, and had the longest run of the three shows produced this year. Schools from the area were invited to attend matinees starting on Wednesday, April 10. The theatre discipline was forced to reschedule two of the performances on Thursday, April 11, when the area was hit by the April blizzard. However, even with the unforeseen complications, this production still drew in over 300 people to each invited school matinee, totaling over 2,000 attendees to the production’s nine-show run, making it one of the best-attended shows in recent years here at UMM.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz featured the talents of many students both in and out of the theatre discipline, both on stage and backstage. With the exception of Schultz, Granholm, and invited costume designer Katie Curry, the cast and crew of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz consisted entirely of students. Many of these students were participating in two or three different areas. A few students from different parts of the production graciously provided the following statements:

Justin Martin, Assistant Stage Manager:

“Being an assistant stage manager has been a great experience for me to learn about the technical side of theatre. I've been privileged to work with some very talented and capable people, and I've learned so much about what goes on in the background behind a show. There's so many moving parts of theatre, and I had no idea truly how much work is put into a production by technicians and stage management before the curtain rises and the lights go up. It was a lot to take in at first, particularly at production meetings. That first day was information overload for an hour straight, and my brain has never worked so hard to follow along and keep track of everything being said. I survived, of course, and now that the show is in performance, it's wonderful to see all of the work that my fellow crew members, designers, and technicians have done come to life. As a part of the stage management team, I've especially enjoyed being cognizant of the entire process of putting together a show, and because The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is such a large show with so many moving parts, I was able to witness the development of so many different things, from scenic design to costumes to puppetry. I've been an actor for the majority of my theatrical career, but with this production, I feel that I've expanded my horizons, and a whole new side of theatre has been opened up for me. I'm eager to continue my development as both an actor and a crew member, and because of this show, I have the facilities to do so. I'd like to thank Wendy Unger (Stage Manager) and Hailey Stobb (Assistant Stage Manager) for being fantastic leaders and role models throughout our production. They both were patient and kind, and I always felt respected, despite my complete lack of experience coming into the show. I've learned a lot, but there's still a myriad of things I'm excited to learn, which would not have been possible without those two. To them, I say thank you for showing me what hides beneath the tip of the iceberg when bringing a theatre production to life.”

Zoë Swigerd, Assistant Director:

“It has been an absolute pleasure being a part of this incredible production. From a young age I have witnessed and performed in various versions of The Wizard of Oz story, however I can honestly say that being the assistant director in this production was not only my favorite but also the most valuable experience as an actor, director, and artist. I love this show, the unconventional modern American fairytale that I believe L. Frank Baum wrote attempting to bring into our cultural consciousness. I think he had no idea the impact his children's story would have on film and theater but I think he did know that his story would be effective in entertaining people of any age and challenging children to use their imaginations learning new lessons along with Dorothy & company as they explore and grow in the Land of Oz. For me this is extremely important aspect of this production and something the amazing director and all the designers from lights to puppetry attempted to accomplish and to me this was a complete success. I am extremely grateful for this opportunity and all those have poured hours of their freetime every week and immense creative energy into the making of this fantastical adventure into The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”

Desmond Homann, Actor (Munchkin/Tree/Guardian of the Gates) and Theatre Newcomer:

“I wasn’t really ever a theatre person in the past, so it was really exciting being a part of this children’s show. I love working with kids and I love the movie ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ so I’ve had a lot of fun with this production. One of my favorite parts of being in the play (other than the wonderful people involved) was the crazy costumes and set pieces! Overall it was a cute and fun show and I’d love to do more shows like it in the future.”

Claire McManus, Actor (Aunt Em/Wicked Witch of the West):

“My favorite part of the performance process was inviting the kids who came along in to the story with us. What's so cool about kids is their imaginations- when they see a 2D cow or pig, they accept it as a real animal, while adults laughed as they clearly aren't. Children's theatre is so different because of their imagination, and more magical. They are with you every step of the way, and are invested in the story to a whole other level.”

Evan Aanerud, Actor (Scarecrow) and Co-Sound Designer:

“It was such a rewarding experience to be both an actor and co-sound designer. For one, it gave me a better look at all of the behind-the-scenes action that goes on with the production team and the technical elements of the show. The duality of these roles was also beneficial because as an actor in the show, I knew what sound cues would work best when. This made designing the cues much more fun (and easy) because I knew what the action onstage looked like. While it really pushed my workload, working as an actor and sound designer sharpened my attention to detail and helped me develop a better appreciation for the production team doesn't always get the recognition they deserve.”

Photo courtesy of Samuel Yuan.