Trees have been painted, houses have been built and costumes are being sewn as Oakdale High School drama students prepare for the first production of the 2010-11 school year.
Coming off the hype and excitement of the Oakdale Community Theatre Production of the musical “Annie” just last month, the cast and production crew are ready to once again open the theatre doors to entertain the community.
The school production of “Alice in Wonderland” will be open to the community on Friday, Oct. 8 at 7 p.m. Additional shows will be staged on Saturday, Oct. 9 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 10 at 2 p.m. School performances will also be hosted on Wednesday, Oct. 6 and Thursday, Oct. 7.
Tickets for public shows are currently on sale in the Oakdale High School Office. Admission prices are $8 for adults and $5 for students.
The masterminds behind this first production, however, do not belong to the OHS staff. Leading the 40-student cast in the role of co-Directors are Oakdale High School alums Lauren Fields and Sam Townsend.
“I haven’t seen anything they’ve rehearsed,” OHS Drama teacher Bryan Mills said. “That is how much I trust them.”
Mills also stated that with each school production, he trains students in directing and all the responsibilities that go with it. Students are taught to block scenes, give direction, as well as lead the team from start to finish.
“I can honestly say that once the play opens on opening night the show is totally run by students,” Mills added.
The stage is not foreign to directors Townsend and Fields, who started in drama as freshmen and are each now pursuing college careers. Townsend is currently attending Modesto Junior College with a major in Theatre Arts. Fields splits her time between MJC and Columbia College focusing on Graphic Design.
The two young women shared their excitement for being given the role of director, each pointing out the varying ages of the cast as well as experience.
“Everyone has a lot of talent,” Townsend said of the cast. “For each of them it was not necessarily their experience as much as their personalities that stood out.”
As the children’s choreographer for “Annie,” Townsend recognizes the opportunity this current production has of reaching a broader audience.
“The only way I would say it is different,” Townsend said, comparing the two, “is the ages. Everything else is the same.”
One other very small similarity is the shows’ youngest cast member, Emmalee Thiel. The five-and-a-half year-old kindergartner from Sierra View Elementary School has been cast as a cat, mouse and flower for the current show, following up her appearance as an orphan in “Annie.”
According to her grandmother Linda Thiel, the experience has been worth the hard work and long hours. The elder Thiel shared her gratitude and appreciation for the way the cast has treated and included its youngest cast member.
“She really enjoys it,” Thiel said, “and for me, it makes it all worth it.”
‘Making it worth it’ is perhaps one of the driving forces behind many of the drama students as hours and class times are spent working on every facet of the production.
“Four hours of work is slotted every day for set building, light hanging, prop gathering, program and ticket making,” Mills said of student involvement in addition to rehearsal time.
“There are many Saturdays given to technical crews,” Mills said.
The last two weeks before a show opens, the directors and student producers, normally “live at the theatre,” he added.
“I like the big picture,” Townsend said of her favorite part of directing. “I like being able to see the way I envisioned the choreography, the set, the way it all comes together.”
“I like it because if you get a vision of something,” Fields stated, “you can tell it to the cast and they act it out. It’s cool to see your thoughts and visions come to life.”
The directors agreed, that while the production has had its fair share of challenges, they could not be happier with the cast they have chosen.
“We expect a lot,” Townsend said.
“And many of them have really stepped up,” Fields added.
With just a week remaining before the scheduled school shows, both directors shared their excitement for the younger audience.
Townsend and Fields indicated that the school shows are a bit different than the public shows. The production is slightly altered to an interactive forum, allowing the young audience to participate in portions with the cast.
“Magic really is created between them and the characters on stage,” Mills said of the school shows.
“The younger children really believe they are in the “magical castle of the Beast, the depths of the ocean of King Triton” … When the show is over and the children meet the cast outside, it is like Disneyland in Oakdale. Everyone wants their picture taken with the characters. That is the best part of all.”
“The cast is ready,” Fields said of the ‘Wonderland’ characters.
“It’s just that good,” Townsend echoed of the group’s readiness.
“I hope that the audience leaves the way that we have envisioned this,” she added. “This really is whimsical and I hope the audience sees that and not just a group of kids on a stage.
“I hope they really enjoy the show.”