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OES students hit road to Oz

Entire school gets in the act to bring 'Wizard' to life
by: COURTESY OF TOM BERRIDGE 
Cast members for Oregon Episcopal School’s production of “Wizard of Oz” include Chloe Ghattas (Wicked Witch), Connor Johnston (Scarecrow), Laurel Galaty (Dorothy), Nathan Pilkenton (Tin Man) and Alyssa Lund (Cowardly Lion).

Dorothy, Toto, Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and the Wicked Witch of the West come alive as Oregon Episcopal School prepares to put on its biggest play ever with the 'Wizard of Oz.'

The small Southwest Portland private school has called on students - kindergartners to seniors - and adults to help with the production.

The school has gone to elaborate lengths to put together the play, which will run Thursday through Sunday at Portland Community College-Sylvania Campus Performing Arts Center. Jack O'Brien, the chairman of performing and fine arts department, has been at the school since early 1980, and he beams with pride about how OES has produced the show with such magnitude.

'It's elaborate in terms of scope, but in terms of quality of program, it's on par for us,' O'Brien says. 'We do amazing stuff here.'

It has been unifying for the school, adds stage manager Sarah Lowe.

'It's really cool to be able to do an all-school show,' she says. 'It gets all the departments working together, the music and theater. And, it's amazing to have little kids work with big kids.'

Easily distracted

There will be about 70 actors from all three OES schools - lower, middle, high - helped by the co-direction of Stephanie Mulligan of Artists Repertory Theatre and other professionals. O'Brien hopes that the second all-school production, following 'The Music Man' two years ago, draws more attention to the theater happenings.

Two years ago, 'we had a desire to show the community the potential we have with the theater department,' O'Brien says, 'to spark interest in starting a capital campaign to build a theater on campus. We did just that, generating a lot of enthusiasm and interest, and it showed the need for a performing arts space. And, we enjoyed it so much, we thought, 'Let's do it again.' '

A capital campaign hasn't started, yet, but OES clearly has buy-in from its students. Usually, OES productions include 12 to 14 actors. Even the little tykes attending the lower school are involved in 'Wizard of Oz,' which can be challenging for organizers and high school kids.

'They're little kids, of course they're easily distracted,' Lowe muses, 'especially by Toto.'

Lowe, who plans to attend college and study theater, possibly at Boston University or Bryn Mawr College in Philadelphia, has stage-managed other productions. But it's been quite hectic with 'Wizard of Oz.'

'Anything that doesn't fall to somebody else is mine,' says Lowe, adding that her duties include taking attendance, sweeping floors, helping with script and calling cues for the sound board, lighting, background slide changes, orchestra and curtains and the entire Munchkin sing-along.

'She's doing a great job,' O'Brien says. 'She gets along with everyone, great sense of humor, very calm and highly organized, which are great attributes to have in a stage manager.'

Elaborate backgrounds

Connor Johnston, a senior who plays Scarecrow and who plans to attend New York University's Tisch School for the Arts, says he is proud to see his school come together.

'I definitely saw a huge step up in the drama department when we did 'The Music Man,' ' he says. 'It was at the World Trade Center theater downtown, that seemed like a huge production. But this production of 'Wizard of Oz' is massive compared to that, with scenes, set changes, huge tech, dance numbers, costumes.'

O'Brien usually handles set design and, facing high costs for traditional painted backgrounds, he organized video production. He and some students painted smaller backgrounds, and he'll enlarge them on a projection screen. He'll also use lighting and motion to enhance the production, such as with the tornado scene and Oz head speaking and fire going off.

A big scene is Glinda and the flying monkey, performed by high school students.

Lowe loves that her school has taken on the play.

'It's a classic, everything's catchy, everybody knows it,' she says. 'It's one of the few shows for high school that is acceptable and not overdone.'

Oregon Episcopal School's production of 'Wizard of Oz' will be at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, April 14 and 15; and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, April 16 and 17, at Portland Community College-Sylvania Campus Performing Arts Center, 12000 S.W. 49th Ave. Tickets are $15 and available at oes.edu/oz.