Jay Mayberry: Backstage at ‘The Wizard of Oz’

Published 11:18 pm Wednesday, May 4, 2011

This year’s musical production, “The Wizard of Oz,” was an all school effort.

More than 65 students from all the Dowagiac Schools, elementary through high school, had an opportunity to participate in the timeless classic known to children and grandparents alike.

More than 1,000 people were in the audience and gave a standing ovation for both the performances, acknowledging the efforts of the cast, orchestra and crew.

The performance was the culmination of 11 weeks of work which began Jan. 3.

Actors learning lines, the ensemble rehearsing music, stage crew members building and decorating sets, cast members creating costumes; students worked four and sometimes five days a week (and an occasional Saturday) to pull together a very complex show.

More than 14 different sets had to be constructed, including Dorothy’s house, which weighed 1,200 pounds and required four people to help revolve and position it.

Most sets were mounted on casters to allow for movement on and off the stage.

With the large number of set pieces and cast members, scene changing was choreographed to the smallest detail so cast and crew could move quickly from one setting to another.

The stage wing area, the back hallway, the scene shop — each area was designated for specific set pieces.

And every set piece was given a name; the Pickle, the Double, the Triple, so it was easy to identify each component.

The stage floor was a maze of colored tapes, coordinated to designate set locations for the various scenes. Each set piece had to be placed quickly in darkness.

Like the movie, the Kansas set pieces and costume attire were in black and white until Dorothy arrives in Munchkin Land.

In fact, Dorothy had 10 seconds to change from monochrome into her colorful costume including hair bows; a feat requiring specially designed dresses and three female assistants.

And to assist in the makeup for the Lion, Scarecrow and Tin Man, each actor had special training from a parent who worked for Fun F/X.

The play relied on special effects to create the tornado, make the wicked witch appear and disappear, set the scarecrow on fire, have the wizard appear, etc.

The use of fire or flash paper was not permitted in a school, so cast members had to rely on fog, strobe lighting, dry ice, electronic devices, special lighting, video projection and sound effects to create the illusions.

The tornado footage was an actual F5 tornado photographed by a meteorologist and enhanced to appear to move quickly toward the farm house.

Each effect was carefully rehearsed over and over to coordinate between the cast and the technical crew to achieve the desired result.

And let’s not overlook the work by the pit orchestra, composed of both students and adults, which provided the musical accompaniment.

The musical score was very difficult and significant rehearsal time was required before the music and the cast came together.

So a successful show doesn’t just happen; it’s created out of hard work and dedication by everyone involved.

In a difficult show, like the Wizard of Oz, attention to detail is the difference between success and mediocrity.

What the audience sees is a great performance; what happens behind the scenes is another great performance. Cast and crew, you are to be congratulated!

Jay Mayberry coordinates the Performing Arts Center.