Wizard comes alive through Apple Box

Don't expect any flying monkeys in this version of &quot;The Wizard of Oz.&quot;<BR>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;The wicked witch has hired some flying cats instead.

INDEPENDENCE -- Don't expect any flying monkeys in this version of "The Wizard of Oz."

The wicked witch has hired some flying cats instead.

"Let's face it. Those monkeys are pretty scary," said Elise Abramson who plays Dorothy.

The young actors of Apple Box Theatre are performing "The Wizard of Oz" Thursday to Saturday, July 12 to 14, at Talmadge Middle School.

The Thursday and Friday shows are at 7 p.m. A Saturday matinee will be performed at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $3 at the door.

Flying cats instead of monkeys are not the only difference between the play and the movie, said director Robert Page. "This is not the movie or even the musical."

It is based on the original book by L. Frank Baum.

"It stops short of the usual philosophical implications and mechanisms of magic, but retains the heart and humor one has come to expect in the land of Oz," Page said.

Even some of the kids in the cast had a hard time understanding the difference between the movie and the play.

"Many of them know the movie by heart," Page said. "Getting them away from that is a little difficult."

Abramson enjoys the challenge of creating a brand new Dorothy. Still, she admits, thoughts of Judy Garland invariably creep in.

"I absolutely love that movie. I know all the lines to all the songs."

Heather Boldt, Abramson's best friend, plays the wicked witch. "That's pretty ironic when you think about it," she said.

Abramson, 14, was also in the Apple Box production of "Sleeping Beauty." Acting is great, she said.

"When I'm acting, I don't have to think about my own problems. All I have to worry about is the character's problems."

All the same, acting is not something she would like to do as a career. "There's too much competition." She'd prefer something having to do with science and math.

"I just like school. I'm weird."

Joshua Nisly -- the Cowardly Lion -- is also another stage veteran at the age of 14.

He was in the Talmadge Middle School production of "You're A Good Man Charlie Brown" and the Henry Hill Elementary production of "Houdini."

He gets a little nervous when he's on stage, he said. But he's found ways to overcome it.

"I pretend it's just a rehearsal and there's no one out there except a couple of directors watching us rehearse."

Nervousness has never been a problem for Michelle Reece. "I'm just a very outgoing person," she said.

The 12-year-old is playing the wizard's guard, Verdo, in the play. She has already done four shows with Apple Box. The most fun was "Sleeping Beauty," she said.

She got to play three roles -- a fairy, lady-in-waiting and a troll.

Rebekah Wagner, 12, plays the wizard's maid, Jade -- a character not found in the movie.

Wagner said Jade has one very endearing character trait. She's annoying. "I get to annoy the guard. That's pretty fun."

Page started the Apple Box Theater in the '80s when he was teaching theater arts at Western Oregon University.

He and his students toured extensively throughout the academic year, putting on plays for children. They visited up to 20 schools and performed two or three shows a day.

"We had so many requests, that we couldn't fill them all." Page said.

Eventually, the workload became too much for the students. "They had to work to earn money. I found myself doing most of the work, building sets, painting, etc."

Children had to be bused to the campus for shows.

Apple Box Theater has seen a rebirth over the past few years. Three years ago, children performed "The Incredible Jungle Journey of Fenda Maria" at the Independence Women's Club to sold-out audiences.

That was followed last February with "Jack and the Beanstalk" at the Monmouth Celebration Center on Main Street.

Apple Box took up residence at Talmadge last year when it look like the school might lose its drama program.

Page and other Apple Box leaders were looking for a home. School officials were looking for people who knew their way around the stage.

Having a permanent home is a dream come true, Page said. "It's absolutely glorious. I can't imagine anything more wonderful."

"The Wizard of Oz" is one of the most technically demanding shows Apple Box has ever produced, Page said.

The cast of show includes 18 kids ranging in age from 7 to 14.

There are at least three complicated scene changes and some pretty tricky lighting and sound effect challenges.

Not to worry. Page is an old hand when it comes to this particular play.

Back in 1985, he directed the play with a cast of college-age actors. They toured with "The Wizard of Oz" to 22 schools.

The neat thing is that, though demanding, the play lets costume and set designers' imaginations run wild.

"We can do pretty much what we want. We're not limited."

As of Friday, costume designer Fran Fister was still ruminating on what the well-dressed tin woodsman is wearing this season.

The tin man is a toughie. He has to bend at the joints and be able to fall -- and get back up again -- during the course of the play.

Fister is thinking dryer hoses, maybe some shoulder pads.

Whatever she comes up with, it's bound to be hot under the stage lights.

Page has a lot of sympathy for Donovan Cassell, the actor playing the tin man.

Nisly has it rough too. Playing the cowardly lion requires him to walk around dressed in a furry body suit.

Many cast members will also appear in costume on Apple Box's float in the Western Days grand parade.

Wearing uncomfortable costumes sometimes goes with the territory, Page said. They'll learn a little of what it was like for Jim Carrey in "The Grinch" or Michael Keaton in "Batman."

Of course, said Page, there's one big difference.

"They may have to wear heavy costumes, but they get paid a lot. These kids don't get paid anything," he said.

"They just do it for fun."

The cast of "The Wizard of Oz" includes Elise Abramson, Stephanie Billmon, Heather Boldt, Star Brewer, Donovan Cassell, Kari Fister, Christina Grell, Austyn Moon, Miranda Moon, Joshua Nisly, John Oberst-Cairns, Jeff Presler, Michelle Reece, Rebekah Wagner, Prisha Ward, Melissa Warden, Jennifer Warden and Jessica Warden.

Adult volunteers are still needed for the production. "We don't seem to have much luck dispelling the idea that ABCT is just for kids," said Page.

"Providing an outlet for the creative talents of elementary and middle-school students is only the first step in building a vibrant, far-reaching community theater for Monmouth-Independence," he added. "But in order to do so, we need to get more adults involved."

The current show has so far attracted a scenic designer, costumer and costume assistants, skilled carpenters and stage hands. Many of the 22 young actors volunteer their free time on Saturdays to help build sets.

But there is still a great need for adult stage parents during rehearsals as well as adult volunteers for lighting, sound, properties and make-up for the July 12 to 14 production. Anyone interested in community theater or wanting to learn more about volunteering is invited to call Page at 503-838-3579.

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