June 5, 2023

Joel Fisher, senior comedic arts and philisophy major, plays Cowardly Lion in CBU Theatre's production of Wizard of Oz. The ensamble surrounds Fisher during "The Mary Old land of OZ" in act two.

Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore. California Baptist University’s Wallace Theatre is presenting “The Wizard of Oz” by Frank L. Baum. The story incorporates elements of traditional magic, such as a wizard (of course), witches (good and bad) and the American reality of dealing with a Kansas cyclone in the 20th century.

Sophia Oliveri, senior tech and performance major, is playing the Wicked Witch and is also assistant director for the production. She spoke about the relatability of the idea within the play that Dorothy had a rough time in Kansas and came up with a magic dream after being hit by a tornado.

Oliveri compares Dorothy dreaming of that different reality as “a very human thing of being able to escape the boring and the mundane and to find those fantastical realities that are real to all of us, are just in our imagination.”

Stacee Willis, director of “The Wizard of Oz” and adjunct professor of play analysis, has been a director for multiple shows and runs a children’s theatre here in Riverside called TCARiverside. This is her first time directing for CBU.

Following the showing of “Beauty and the Beast” in the fall, Willis said that “The Wizard of Oz” places a large emphasis on the tech side of theatre.

“(It has) lots of technical elements, big costume changes, quick costume changes,” Willis said. “Flying was definitely an adjustment, but other than that, my actors do the work and they come in prepared and are finding their character.”

Willis said the opportunity to direct for CBU was a dream come true and is hopeful to be directing for more theater performances here in the future.

“I’ve wanted to direct since I started here, but it just worked out this time and I’m really glad so, hopefully, they ask me back,” Willis said.

The cast and crew’s most prominent element in this production is the flying in this show. Jolene Automo, senior theater major, plays Dorothy in the production. She emphasized the obstacle of flying on top of stepping into her character.

“This is the first time I’ve ever done a show that has flying, so that’s been really exciting and new for me and everyone in the cast,” Willis said. “We didn’t expect the learning curve.”

While it was a challenge, Willis said her cast and crew were able to make that adaption and have done great with the flying.

The production for “The Wizard of Oz” had more than just flying monkeys as obstacles on their path down the yellow brick road, as the cast was working against a clock for costume changes and makeup. Willis explains the beginning of the play, starting in their everyday reality and then having two minutes for the cast to change into their magical and colorful costumes and be ready for the next scene.

“Mrs. Gulch becomes just a regular woman, no makeup — an older woman is what she’s supposed to be,” Willis said. “And she becomes the Wicked Witch and goes into a full face of green makeup. I think she gets (about) four minutes. It’s just the logistics of that. Figuring that out was a little tough last night, but they made it.”

At dress rehearsal, Oliveri walked around, grabbing costume elements and fastening her harness to be ready to fly on stage

“This is hands down the biggest show we’ve done,” Oliveri said. “I love this cast a lot. I love the experiences that have led to this point. I loved being able to be a part of a director role. It’s the culmination of years worth of experience and training going into something brand new.”

Oliveri and Automo both spoke about their passion for putting on this production and their most memorable moments with the CBU Theatre Arts.

“I would say my favorite scene is the last scene,” Automo said. “(Dorothy is) finally, with the people she loves, and I really like that scene.”

In that scene, Automo explains how she relates to Dorothy when she says good-bye to the magical place but holds on to what made it so unique.

“Holding on to what about that place was so magical for (Dorothy), which is the people that she loves so much,” Automo said. “I could say the same for CBU.”

Oliveri said participating in this production is meaningful to her because of the relationships she built over the years in theater and she plans to carry those memories after graduation.

“Learning to fly and all that crazy stuff (is exciting), but also just the friendship that we have off of the wings,” Oliveri said. “The audience doesn’t get to see this as much, but that’s what I will miss.”

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