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Home > Clerc Center > MSSD’s Willy Wonka brings to life a bittersweet world

MSSD’s Willy Wonka brings to life a bittersweet world

Image: Seth Washington, a senior at MSSD, is directing the school production of Willy Wonka and starring as the chocolate maker himself.

Seth Washington, a senior at MSSD, is directing the school production of Willy Wonka and starring as the chocolate maker himself.

Roald Dahl's timeless story of a world-famous candy man comes to Theatre Malz from April 25-27 with the Model Secondary School for the Deaf (MSSD) student production of Willy Wonka. The story, adapted from Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, follows five lucky children who visit Willy Wonka's factory for a chance to inherit his chocolate world.

Seth Washington, a senior at MSSD, both directs the spring production and plays the leading role of the quirky genius who owns the mysterious chocolate factory closed off to visitors and outside workers. Here is an interview with Washington on how he prepared for both roles:

Q: You are both the director of MSSD's student production of Willy Wonka and an actor in the show's leading role. How do you manage both?

A: This production is my first experience as a director at MSSD, but it is my fourth role as an actor. It's sometimes hard to get the outside perspective of directing myself in scenes as well as directing others. I have relied a lot on how the role was played in the two movie versions that I loved watching as I grew up. Gene Wilder's Wonka was my favorite-more abstract and fanciful. Johnny Depp's Wonka is more of a technical creation of the role.

Q: What do you most enjoy about directing? What is the biggest challenge?

A: What I really like is the collaboration, the building of an idea together with the individual actors and testing it out. The most challenging part is motivating students at rehearsals after a long day at school-to get the energy level up and going so the actors focus on the rehearsal and not on all the other things they are involved in that divert their attention.

Q: One of the themes of Dahl's books is to criticize parents who spoil their children. Do you identify with any of the young characters in the play, such as "Mike TV" who spent too much time watching TV?

A: I grew up in St. Augustine, Florida, with two deaf parents and six siblings. My mom encouraged me to play outdoors and ride my bike. I did like movies, however, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was a favorite. For a long time I kept asking my mom to buy me chocolate bars thinking I would find a golden ticket like Charlie Bucket did in the story. I think all the children in the show grow to understand why their obsessions, such as too much TV or gum, are harmful.

Q: The story was originally inspired by Dahl's experience of competing chocolate companies during his schooldays when the factories used to send samples to the children to test their new products. How have you created a stage set that brings the amazing Wonka factory to life?

A: That's a secret; you'll have to come to the show and see. Willy Wonka and I don't give away our secrets...someone might steal the formula!

Q: Is your future a secret or are you willing to share your plans?

A: As I was growing up I always dreamed of becoming involved in movies, theater, and acting. MSSD has given me some great opportunities to try out different roles in the performing arts. When I am at Gallaudet next year, I plan to major in theater. I also hope to become involved in some local theater companies, such as the Imagination Stage in Bethesda, Maryland.