Everybody gets into the act for Drury's 'Oz'
By Jennifer Huberdeau, North Adams Transcript
Wednesday, November 7
NORTH ADAMS — When the curtain rises Thursday evening on the latest Drury Drama Team production, "The Wizard of Oz," the award-winning thespian troupe will not only be celebrating 20 years of performances but also a new beginning for the theater program in the North Adams Public Schools.
"This is one of the most exciting years for me," Len Radin, director and newly named district drama coordinator, said Tuesday afternoon. "Immediately after the play is finished, I'm going to begin establishing theater programs for all of the other schools. One of the reasons we're doing this play is because we now have all of the grades involved. Our youngest cast member is 6 years old."
"The Wizard of Oz," complete with Munch- kins, flying monkeys, good witch, bad witch, all the familiar songs (and Toto, too) opens Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Drury High School auditorium. Performances will also be held on Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., as well as on Thursday, Nov. 15, Friday, Nov. 16 and Saturday, Nov. 17 at 7 p.m.
"Oz" lends itself to a large cast, allowing Radin to include more students.
"We have two casts — red and blue," he said. "I have a number of reasons
for having two casts. First, I don't like to turn people away. With two casts, I have an enormous amount of involvement. We're expanding the theater arts to get all the grades involved, and this is a very popular program to bring people in."
Radin also doesn't believe in understudies.
"I don't like understudies — having someone learn lines for a part and then never having them appear on stage," he said. "It's nice to have a backup if something happens, but this gives people a chance to play multiple parts."
His assumption was right — the cast and crew has topped over 100 participants and drawn in new recruits from not only the high school, but the middle and elementary schools as well.
As students filled the high school auditorium for a dress rehearsal, eighth-grader Amber Arnold tried out a pair of new, sparkling ruby red shoes — twirling around in her blue-and-white-check gingham dress.
"I didn't realize I was auditioning for Dorothy when I tried out," said Amber, who plays the tale's heroine in the blue cast. "My teacher told me about the audition and so I tried out. Dr. Radin had me sing 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' in front of like 20 high school kids. It was so scary. A week later, I got the call that I was Dorothy. I still remember that night vividly."
Junior David Carrier, who plays the roles of Dr. Marvil and the Wizard in all productions, tried out for the play after a few of friends prodded him into going to auditions.
"I kind of had peer pressure," he joked. "I didn't expect to get a part at all."
He added, "I love it. It's more fun than any sport I've ever played and more draining than any sport I've played. I've played baseball, golf, a little football and I've run track for Drury. Every time I get out of rehearsal, I just have to sleep."
The production has also brought back familiar faces from past productions, including alumni and community participants.
Emma Arabia, a sixth-grader at Silvio O. Conte Middle School, appeared in the troupe's 2003 production of the classic children's story and returns for her fourth production at the high school.
"I was just a Munchkin four years ago," Emma said. "I'm the mayor this time, so I went a step up. It's a lot of fun — I've been in 'Our Town' and 'Little Shop of Horrors' as well. I just like to act."
Having younger cast members or seasoned community members on the stage during a production isn't anything new for Radin.
"We actually have three mothers in the play," he said.
Sharon Foehl of Clarksburg, who plays Glinda the Good Witch in the red cast, has a long-standing background in theater, having performed for Oldcastle Theatre Company in Ben- nington, Vt. and the former Something Different Children's Theatre, among other venues.
"My son, Trevor, is the scarecrow in all the productions," Foehl said. "My husband and son were in 'The Crucible' last fall. We like to be involved. I just love it. Every once in a while, I need a theater fix. This gives me my fix."
Second-grader Michael Davignon, 7, who plays a member of the Munchkin Lollipop Guild, joins his older sister, Samantha Davignon, who plays Aunt Em among a list of supporting roles.
"She's also in the tornado scene," Michael said. "It's fun to be in the play. I like my costume. The best part is the tough-guy scene, with the lollipop guild."
His mother, Ann, is busy behind the scenes, rounding up Munchkins and making sure costumes are on.
"I think it's very important to be part of your children's lives," she said. "If your children want to do something, I think you should support them. I'm here to support my son and step-daughter."
Over the past 107 years, "The Wizard of Oz" has been interpreted to political, religious and economic agendas, Radin said. But for him, it's about strong women.
"His female leads are rather empowering," Radin said of Oz author L. Frank Baum. "Out of his 14 books, almost all of them have young girls or women in empowered roles. In "The Wizard of Oz," we see a young girl lead her three adult male companions on a life journey. Mr. Baum worked very closely with Susan B. Anthony in South Dakota working hard for women's suffrage."
When the show closes, Radin will begin his work at the city's three elementary schools and the middle school.
"We expect to hire a person at the middle school and each of the elementary schools," he said. "At the middle school we'll actually be starting a junior thespian troupe. It's going to be an academic program similar to the high school."
He said putting on productions will be a bonus, but it won't be the focus of the fledgling programs.
"We'll be emphasizing ensemble work — working together in a group, the responsibility of being in an ensemble," he said. "The main purposes will be to encourage an appreciation for the arts, self-confidence and to improve the art of speaking in public. I think theater is one of the most important tools for the maturation process. It's one of the most eclectic arts, incorporating dance, visual arts, music and acting. As I look around, I see an eclectic group of students from a variety of academic areas enjoying themselves. I see them working in harmony, and that is very satisfying for me."
Tickets are $7 for students and $9 for adults and can be purchased at Persnickety Toys on Eagle Street in North Adams and Where'd You Get That? on Spring Street in Williamstown.