Everyone remembers their first experience seeing the magic of storytelling as it comes to life in a live theatrical production. But not very many people understand what happens to create the magic we see onstage.
Here, we take a look behind the curtain during The Sooner Theatre’s recent production of The Wizard of Oz and see what it takes to make stories soar!
The Sooner Theatre is Norman’s community theatre, and a nonprofit organization, and as such, relies on both ticket sales and donations to set a budget. The theatre was built as a movie house in 1929, so like many old buildings, space and storage are sometimes in short supply.
“We have to look at a lot of factors when we consider what productions to do at the theatre. There is barely 3 feet of space in our wings, so we can’t do anything that requires giant sets or lots of locations because we don’t have a space to hold the set pieces not being used onstage and still give actors room to maneuver backstage during the show,” said Jennifer Baker, Sooner Theatre executive director.
“Then we have to look at what shows are available for us to license. Before we can even think about casting, staging, marketing, building sets, etc., we spend $8,000-$10,000 in licensing fees just to have the privilege of saying we are going to do a certain show.”
Once a show is licensed, the first bit of magic happens: a director, choreographer and music director are hired; auditions are held; and a vision of what the show will look like emerges.
For small spaces like The Sooner Theatre’s stage, it takes clever design and strategic planning to transport audiences through sets, lights and sound. Costumes are created, rented or purchased from thrift stores and a cast of 50 becomes munchkins and witches and lions, tinmen, apple trees and even a wizard.
Hair, makeup and wigs complete the look. Cast members rehearse about six weeks prior to each production each evening, because in community theatre, it takes a village of volunteers to fill a cast. And this production includes doctors, teachers, worship leaders, retirees, students and others who donate their time and talent to entertain audiences over the run of the production.
Technical experts design the sets, lighting and sound for the production, and a team of volunteers, led by a production manager, build the sets, work out traffic patterns in moving sets and people on and off stage, and make sure everything is moving where it needs to be on time and safely—often in the dark during the show!
Directors share their vision for the look and feel of the show with the music director, choreographer tech crew and cast, and hope that all comes together into a magical story onstage. Many of the cast and crew were inspired to pursue theatre by an experience in their own childhood.
“The Wizard of Oz has been a staple in the Larman household for years and years! When I was a kid, I saw the Jewel Box Under the Stars production of The Wizard of Oz, and I was hooked!” said Sooner Theatre Wizard of Oz director Justin Larman.
“It was when I discovered that I wanted to be an actor and help tell these stories live on stage. That production changed my life, and I hope there is a young kid out there in our audience today who might discover that same magic I did back in the ’90s.”
Upcoming at The Sooner Theatre: Disney’s Frozen KIDS, featuring first- through third-grade students from the Studio of The Sooner Theatre, Jan. 27-29, and the theatre’s annual Murder Mystery fundraising dinner and shows, Feb. 9-11.
More information on all Sooner Theatre productions can be found at SoonerTheatre.org