Oz comes to life

Summer children’s theater workshop to present classic

Photo by Jenny Kirk Cast members of the Marshall Area Stage Company’s children’s theater production of “The Magical Land of Oz” rehearse a scene from the show. Performances are 7 p.m. today and 2 p.m. Saturday at the SMSU Fine Arts Theatre.

MARSHALL — Be on the lookout for lions and tigers and bears (oh, my!) as “The Magical Land of Oz” comes to life today and Saturday at Southwest Minnesota State University.

More than 50 students entering third through eighth grade have been taking part in the Marshall Area Stage Company’s two-week summer children’s theater workshop directed by Sheila Tabaka. Along with students from Marshall Public Schools, the workshop has been attended by students from Marshall parochial schools and from around the area.

“This is my 12th year,” Tabaka said. “We have 54 kids. They’re not all Marshall kids — we’ve got a couple from Lakeview and some from Lynd. We’ve also got some from Samuel (Lutheran) School, Holy Redeemer and True Light (Christian School). It’s been really great.”

Siri Christensen is cast as Dorothy, while Elly Lewis portrays her dog, Toto. After Dorothy’s house is swallowed up by a tornado and then squashes the Wicked Witch of the East when it finally comes to rest, she and Toto go on a remarkable journey through the land of Oz. The musical is based on the L. Frank Baum classic book.

“It’s going good,” Christensen said. “I like that I sing a lot. I sing a couple of songs. That’s fun.”

This year marks the third time Christensen has taken part in the summer theater opportunity.

“There’s a lot of lines and stuff that I had to memorize, so that was kind of hard,” she said. “But it is really, really fun. I like acting.”

Anna Rose portrays the Wicked Witch of the West.

“It’s a really fun role,” Rose said. “I like being evil.”

Rose said her favorite part is that she’s able to just go with it in regards to her character.

“She can kind of do whatever because she’s the boss of everything,” Rose said.

Rose noted that she thought the musical was coming together really well, especially considering they’d been working on it for less than two weeks. She’s pleased to have mastered some challenges of her own.

“For me, it was challenging to get the laugh down,” she said. “It was hard for me. But so was also trying to go around the stage and enter at the right time.”

Dorothy’s finds unusual companions — the Scarecrow (Kyalin Garside), Tin Woodsman (Lilly Tabaka) and the Cowardly Lion (Autumn Dovre) — to accompany her to the Land of Oz.

“I think it’s been a really good experience because I get to interact with other people,” 12-year-old Tabaka said. “The biggest challenge is probably having to talk through my teeth when I’m supposed to be rusted.”

Dovre’s toughest challenge is a physical one.

“I’m supposed to be really scared, so I’m always standing with my knees bent while twiddling my fingers,” Dovre said. “So when I’m standing like this, the joints in my knees start to hurt. During this one part, I have to run around the outside of the stage, to get from stage left to stage right. I have to pick up the broom and sweep. But at that point, I’m dying of suffocation because I’m out of breath. I try to play it off like ‘oh, yah, nothing happened. I didn’t just burst my lungs trying to say a line.’ “

While she’s on stage quite a bit, Dovre pinpointed her favorite moment in the show.

“It’s when I jump into Scarecrow’s arms after getting scared by the thunder,” she said.

As Toto, Lewis spends the entire time on stage down on all fours. To deal with that, she wears knee pads. As Oz, Joseph Voit hides behind a piece of cardboard.

“It’s really fun,” Voit said. “You get to speak loud. You get a microphone, so it’s even louder.”

Dorothy and her new friends beg the Wizard of Oz for a brain (Scarecrow), a heart (Tin Woodsman), courage (Lion) and safe travels home to Kansas (Dorothy and Toto). Although Oz is discovered as a fraud, he is still instrumental in making their wishes come true.

“I think it’s coming together really well because every day it gets better,” Voit said. “Sometimes you have to kind of substitute lines. Every other day, I say something a little bit different, but it still means the same thing.”

Christensen said she also feels like the children’s theater group is coming together.

“I think it’s going pretty well,” she said. “We only have two weeks (to put it together), so it’s pretty great that we can pull it off.”

Director Tabaka appreciates having an extra day of practice this year.

“Usually, the workshop is right when Marshall gets done with school, so it’s the week before Memorial Day weekend,” she said. “We have Monday off and then we have the rest of that week. We’re late now because Marshall is done later, so we’ve had an extra day, which is amazing.”

One of the highlights that took place on that extra day was a costume parade.

“The kids love that,” Tabaka said. “It’s really fun because the kids are always asking about costume stuff. We usually don’t do it till later because we don’t have that extra day.”

Tabaka also believes the young theater students benefit more by the use of the SMSU theater location.

“This is the second year at SMSU and it’s allowed us to have projections, an amazing lighting design and lots of off-stage space,” she said. “It’s a much more full theatrical experience for the kids.”

Along with the presence of Munchkins, Monkeys, Poppies, Fighting Trees, Guardians of the Gates, Citizens of Emerald City (the Chorus) and Winged Monkeys, the musical also features Glinda the Good Witch (portrayed by Mansi Bell), Aunt Em (Emma Runchey Smalley), Boq (Orin Brau), Loq (Yashvi Patel) and Toq (Jada Falconer).

“The show is more like the book than the movie,” Tabaka said. “Our challenge is always finding a show that has a lot of lines or things we can kind of split up. In this show, there’s supposed to be two guards, but we created six guards. So they each have a line. The same thing with the monkeys. We’ve added all the monkeys. Even if you don’t have a line — like we have the trees — the trees are dancing in all these different scenes.”

Paula Dovre serves as vocal director and choreographer, while Anna Lenz is the music director and accompanist for the show.

“Anna plays some of the music from the movie in between scenes,” Tabaka said. “And it’s really a dance between Paula and me. Where my thought ends, hers picks up.”

Mike Lenz serves as the technical director, while Crystal Enga is the scenic designer. Costume designers are Eukariah Tabaka and Shania Deutz, while Mike Hulsizer is the projections and lighting designer, Jacob Haen is the sound board/projects operator and Maggie Tabaka is the stage manager.

“It’s my job to make sure that the kids are blocked correctly and to make sure all the logistical stuff is correct,” Sheila Tabaka said. “Like (on Wednesday), most of what I was doing was working with the lights and the curtains and things like that, so they know when that is closing.”

Fourteen assistants also help make the show as good as it can be.

Tabaka said the important part is that the kids have the opportunity to experience theater.

“The kids love it,” she said. “They own it and they think it’s a perfect show. They think it’s the best show. That’s all we can really ask.”

“The Magical Land of Oz” performances are 7 p.m. today and 2 p.m. Saturday at the SMSU main stage.

“Tonight, it’s a free-will donation to the Marshall Kitchen Table Food Shelf or $3 per person (all ages),” Tabaka said. “You can still bring more food on Saturday. We’ll make sure it gets out there.”