Wonderful one-actsNext week, drama students from Northwestern High School will take their show on the road, complete with a good witch, a bad witch and a Tin Man who needs a cough drop.
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
Next week, drama students from Northwestern High School will take their show on the road, complete with a good witch, a bad witch and a Tin Man who needs a cough drop.
The Northwestern one-act theater group recently qualified to perform in the Wisconsin High School Theater Festival one-act play competition in Whitewater Nov. 20-21. At last year’s state performance, Northwestern received an All-State award for its production of “Thieves’ Carnival.” Northwestern also earned All-State honors in 2007 for its presentation of “Pride and Prejudice.”
This year, Northwestern chose to present a more fanciful one-act play – “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” based more closely on the L. Frank Baum book than the 1939 movie.
“The theme of the one-act version is that Dorothy is an extremely imaginative child,” said director Pat Luostari. “L. Frank Baum, in the book, wanted to take children along on a totally imaginary trip for fun. Along the way, if Dorothy learns that not being able to get home helps you appreciate home, that’s a nice lesson.
“This is kind of a chance for grown-ups and old stodgy people like me to go back into that wonderful imaginary world, the world of childhood.”
Although the one-act play runs only about half an hour, the production retains much of the book’s plotline. A scene with the winged monkeys was cut, and the story and dialogue were condensed, but Luostari said all of the best-known characters – and some lesser-known – appear true to Baum’s vision.
“We’ve got the good witch and the bad witch and the Winkies, who are her slaves,” Luostari said. “And we’ve turned some fairly good-sized high school people into tiny, little Munchkins. They function on their knees and their shoes come out in front. That has worked quite well. They’re flowery and lovely.”
Moving about the stage as a Munchkin wasn’t easy, said junior Meghan Neibuhr – who also plays the role of Glinda – but it was among the least of the challenges the Northwestern actors faced this year. From commitment issues to casting changes, the theater students never seemed to have a calm week. To top things off, one of the four lead characters came down with swine flu just weeks before the sectional performance.
Darrin Stewart, who plays the Tin Man, missed two weeks of rehearsal with the flu. When the junior returned he still had a ragged cough, but he was impressed by the work of his fellow actors.
“They had improved so much I was amazed,” Stewart said.
The judges in the sectional one-act competition were also impressed, and they were intrigued by Stewart’s rendition of the Tin Man.
“They were like, ‘We loved the coughing Tin Man. It was so new, so edgy, so different. We’ve never seen it before,’” Stewart said.
Stewart had to tell the judges the coughing was not part of his character; he really was sick. They enjoyed it so much, though, that Stewart decided to make the cough part of his character for Northwestern’s state performance.
Cheryl Wallace, who plays Toto, also impressed the sectional judges.
“We’re using an actor as Toto the dog, and not everybody does that. Sometimes they just have a stuffed animal in a basket,” Luostari said.
As Toto, Wallace communicates through barks. Luostari said Wallace slips the occasional word into Toto’s yelps and can deliver a whole sentence of dialogue without breaking character.
Community members can see Northwestern’s competition performance Thursday during the Night of One-Acts. The event begins at 7 p.m. with free admission.
In addition to “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” the theater students will also perform the comedy “Check, Please,” written by Jonathan Rand.
“We haven’t been working on (“Check, Please”) as much since we we’ve been focusing on our contest play, but since we’re going to state we have a couple of days to work on it,” said Gretchen Burke, assistant director.
“Check, Please,” focuses on two characters who endure a series of bizarre blind dates. Among the dates who show up are a mime, a man dressed in a burlap sack and a method actor with an agenda of his own.
Thursday’s event will be the first theatrical performance in the high school’s new auditorium.
“I love performing in it. It’s definitely a step up from performing in the elementary school cafeteria,” Neibuhr said.
The space was opened to the public for the first time during Northwestern’s fall concert on Oct. 26. In a dedication ceremony before the concert, the auditorium was officially named the Patricia Luostari Theatre for the Performing Arts, an honor Luostari’s students feel is well-deserved.
“No one has worked harder in Northwestern theater. She is Northwestern theater,” Stewart said. “We couldn’t do anything without her.”
On Thursday, the Northwestern cast and crew hopes to honor their director further with a performance worthy of both Luostari and the new auditorium.
“We have put a lot of work into this,” Neibuhr said. “Not only that, this is such a nice facility that it’s got to be good, right? We don’t want to do shame to what they’ve given us, so we want to make sure that our performance matches the quality of the facility.”
Drama students in Superior will also give a performance this week. The Superior High School forensic one-act team presents “The Devil and Danielle Webster” at 7 p.m. Thursday in the SHS Performing Arts Center.
The play is a comedy of good versus evil adapted by Burton Bumgarner from the short story “The Devil and Daniel Webster.” The play features a cast and crew of 26 students and is directed by Cheri Tesarek and Amber Goodspeed. The performance is free to the public.