In “The Wizard of Oz” Dorothy Gale learns that there is no place like home. In May, “home” was Vinalhaven’s Smith Hokanson Memorial Hall during a three-performance run of the musical, put on by the Vinalhaven community.
The show was directed by Island Institute fellow Karen Burns, and was the “lucky” 13th show of her two-year tenure on Vinalhaven. “I was very impressed with how it all came together,” said Burns. “It was, by far, the biggest show I’ve done on Vinalhaven and everyone worked really hard to pull together all of the pieces. It was tons of costumes, lighting cues, sound effects, songs, lines, special effects, sets, characters. All of it just came together. It was amazing.”
Among a cast of 31, principals were Shannon Michael as Dorothy, Betsey Swears as the Good Witch/Sorceress of the North, Jill Oakes as the Wicked Witch of the West, Mark Antell as the Scarecrow, Nate Wiley as the Tin Woodman, Ken Brownsword as the Cowardly Lion and Kirk Gentalen as the Wizard of Oz.
Shannon Michael is a sophomore at Vinalhaven High School and this was her first lead in a community production. “I had the lead in the school Christmas play” she said, “but this was my first big role.” Michael was surprised to be cast as Dorothy. “It was difficult, there was a lot of pressure. It was a big deal for me, but Karen made it easier. She would ask how it was going. If I had questions about my character she’d be right there and she knows how to calm me down.”
Apparently, Burns’s technique worked for everybody. “Before every show, we all got into a circle and thought about the one thing we were going to do the best we’ve ever done during that show,” said Burns. “Whether it was a note from a song or a line someone always misses, the actors made the commitment before the show to get it right. And it almost always worked. Most of the cast came and told me about the ‘thing’ they did.”
All three shows of this production appear to have been well received by the Vinalhaven community, but the Saturday night performance was said to have been the best by both cast and audience members. Burns agreed. “The cast realized on Friday that they could do it. [By Saturday] the crew had run through the special effects and the set changes a few more times. Also, the crowd was really into it. From the first line, laughter just filled the auditorium.”
“The second night was my favorite,” added Michael. “We had gotten so many good reviews after the first night. The second night I really proved to myself I could do it.”
The hall itself also played a big role, allowing Burns and her assistants to stage a better production than would have been possible in other venues. “I think the best part of working in a professionally designed theater is the fact that it inspires people to work on a professional level,” said Burns. “We were able to use microphones, monitor speakers, and spotlights to help the actors feel supported pushing to the next level.”
Funding for “The Wizard of Oz” came primarily from ticket sales from last year’s “Annie, Jr.” Last year Burns wrote a grant to the Island Community Fund through the Island Institute to get the money for “Annie.” That way, everything they made from “Annie” could be put away for another show. “I’m hoping that pattern will continue so that each year the show before pays for the next show,” said Burns. “Oz was bigger than I intended and we spent slightly more than the “Annie” proceeds could pay for,” she confessed. “Vinalhaven School Enrichment Program forwarded us the money. They are really amazing about that. After the first set of shows of “Oz” we made enough to pay back School Enrichment in full and put away enough to do a smaller show next year. With the second set, I’m hoping that we can put away enough to pay for a big show, so that we won’t have to borrow from VSEP at all.”
For “Oz’s” cast, crew and audiences, the weekend was full of special moments. “For me,” recalled Burns, “the best moment was when I was walking down Main Street on Sunday and I was stopped by an elderly couple who told me how much they enjoyed the show and started sharing memories of their days on the stage at the old Memorial Hall. It just reminded me that this show is part of a greater tradition that’s been on Vinalhaven for years and doing things like this really affects people beyond the two hours they spent in the theater. It brings people back to a time or place that was important to them. Feeling that connection with those people was my moment. It put all of the hard work into a bigger picture.”
“The Wizard of Oz” will be reprised July 8, 9 and 10 with the same cast in the Smith Hokanson Memorial Hall at Vinalhaven School.