Going Beyond “The Wizard of Oz”
The Model Secondary School for the Deaf (MSSD) Performing Arts Program delighted audiences with a revival of the classic The Wizard of Oz during their stage production held April 24-26, all of which drew a full house.
At the opening of the show, the stage set featured a ramshackle house with an outdoor storm shelter in rural Kansas. When a tornado hits her aunt and uncle's farm, young Dorothy, played by freshman Selena Alvarez, is whisked away to the enchanted and rainbow-colored land of Oz where she makes friends with a Scarecrow (Brandon Holst), a Tin Man (Oscar Zayas), and a Cowardly Lion (Alice Jones). Together, they travel on the yellow brick road to see the Wizard (Wolfgang Staley) for advice while trying to avoid the Wicked Witch of the West (Cahlah Chapman) as they attempt to help Dorothy return to Kansas.
Director Tami Santimyer selected the play in part to honor the 75th anniversary of the release of the MGM film starring Judy Garland as Dorothy. She was assisted by Seth Washington, a 2013 graduate of MSSD and a current freshman at Gallaudet University. Everything was up to date in the MSSD production, including the inclusion of dramatic action videos woven into the stage production. Toward the end of the show, the Cowardly Lion had a novel idea that delighted the audiences, she pulled out an iPhone to take a selfie with Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man before Dorothy's departure to Kansas!
In casting the show, Santimyer took into consideration the students' acting experience and their personalities. For example, Alvarez had originally wanted the part of the Wicked Witch, but Santimyer thought she had the perfect sunny personality for Dorothy.
As part of every production, after the first performance the cast and crew held a "Talk Back" with the audience. This gave the performers an opportunity to share their experiences with the audience, which usually includes a number of students from area schools who are beginning to learn American Sign Language (ASL) and for whom seeing a performance in ASL is their first experience with Deaf culture.
Communication was facilitated through a group of interpreters who signed for audience members who needed the support and voiced for the cast and crew. Questions included: "Why was this play chosen?" "How long did it take you to put together the production?" and "What kind of acting experience do you have?"
One of the students asked the Scarecrow how he had learned his part. Holst replied that Washington had worked with him on his mannerisms and stage blocking to bring the character to life. In response to a question about acting experience, Alvarez responded that this was the first time she had played a leading role, although she had danced in MSSD's winter dance concert. The young audience members admired the costumes for the show; one asked the Scarecrow if the straw in his costume itched. He replied, "Yeah ... really bad!" Another student wanted to know how the actors had learned the ASL signs for the show. Kerie Scurry-Burns (Glinda the Good Witch) replied that the director had prepared the ASL translation of the script and worked with the cast to develop the best way to express the signed dialogue on stage.
At the end of the Talk Back, the cast and crew invited everyone to come to the stage area to meet the actors and take photos. The Wicked Witch, in her scary green makeup, grinned and teased that she was ready to give hugs to anyone who wanted one!