September 18, 2016

The Wizard of Oz

If Cub Scouts skits were my first entry into theater, The Wizard of Oz was the first participatory theatrical experience to have a conscious impact on me. 

In the fourth grade I had two wonderful teachers, Margaret Anne Lozuk and Shirley Holland (now Roper). Mrs. Lozuk taught fourth grade. Ms. Holland taught fifth grade next door. They collaborated regularly. For two years I had the benefit of learning from both teachers.

They co-directed The Wizard of Oz. This meant, of course, that fourth graders and fifth graders would be involved in the production. I probably had my heart set on playing the Lion or the Tin Man or, my favorite, the Scarecrow. But those roles went to fifth grade girls, which I understood at the time to be logical even if disappointing. My down-the-street neighbor Diana Harris landed the role of the Scarecrow. I thought Diana Harris was particularly deserving of her role – she was very tall and seemed somehow as sophisticated as she was beautiful. (When walking to the bus stop I always wondered if she would be there...)

The Wizard at work
I was cast as the Wizard. Reflecting on this production, this casting seems genius. The leads we're all tall, brunette, mature (to my mind then) young women and the "man behind the curtain" was a much smaller, Southern-California blond 4th grader with a flair for the dramatic (even if he didn't yet know it himself). I don't know if there were any other options to the casting as the pool of student actors was limited, but it sure worked.

I don't remember a lot from the production, except what I "remember" from the photos – thankfully my mother took a lot of them.I do remember, however, one of the rehearsals. I believe it was my first rehearsal with my cape. (The wizard's cape, as brilliantly crafted by my mother, was made of red and gold satin-like material and had magical shapes of stars and moons on it. I loved it. I loved wearing it.) During rehearsal, even before running actual scenes from the play, I walked on stage if I was on a fashion runway, swirling my new cape as I hit the hard pivots on my comical rendition of a catwalk walk. This made Mrs. Lozuk and Ms. Holland laugh so hard.

The image of Ms. Holland laughing was particularly memorable. stayed with me for a long time. I did not yet know Ms. Holland as well as I knew Mrs. Lozuk and saw her as more reserved than Mrs. Lozuk, but there she was, in peels of laughter! She was doubling over with unadulterated guffaws.

I loved that. I loved being able to make people laugh. I still do. There's nothing quite like making people laugh, especially on the stage.

I learned a great deal from that experience and from those teachers about my love of theatre and about teaching. They were willing and able to laugh while also maintaining rigorous learning in their classrooms. I remember the assignments in their classes more than any other year. In my journey as a theater educator, I strive to create the same environment, a disciplined environment in which we all learn and laugh a lot.

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