It’s time to join the Letcher County Central High School drama class as they head down the yellow-brick road in search of the Wizard of Oz.
Public performances will be held at 7 p.m. this Friday and Saturday night in the LCCHS auditorium. General tickets are $10 and reserved seating is $15.
“It will be fun,” said Lindsey George, who plays Dorothy Gale. “It will be sad. It will be scary. Every emotion you can think of, you can feel at one point in the play.”
In the drama class’s fifth year of existence, “The Wizard of Oz” is the first complete musical production that the class has chosen to perform.
“LCC’s drama program has come so far in such a short time,” said Kathy Adams, a LCCHS guidance counselor who assists in the productions. “The cast, crew and directors have put in so many hours and have worked so hard to capture these beloved characters. I watch the practices and can’t believe these are the same people I see in the hallway.”
When Fleming-Neon, Letcher and Whitesburg high schools consolidated in 2005, teachers April Frazier and Jennifer Wampler, who had never taught drama before, accepted the challenge of creating a drama department.
The first year the class hosted an evening of poetry, followed the next year by the play “Jolly Roger and the Pirate Queen.”
“It was good, but the sets and props were minimal,” said Adams. “At the time, it was a huge step forward. Then they did ‘A Christmas Carol’ and it was unbelievable in terms of the growth of the actors, the sets and all aspects.”
Adams said she thought it would be hard to top “A Christmas Carol.”
“But with every single production, they improve and grow in all aspects of the productions,” said Adams.
After “A Christmas Carol” came “Pride and Prejudice”, “It’s A Wonderful Life”, “Grease” and “A Miracle on 34th Street.”
Adams said it is amazing to think that in five short years the drama class has gone from an evening with a poet to Broadway style musical productions.
“I think it has surprised the community on what it has become,” said Wampler.
Elaborate Sets, Costumes
The cast and crew have paid so much attention to fine details in their upcoming musical production of “The Wizard of Oz” that audience members may forget these are high school students, not professional actors.
Costumes for the Tin Man and Cowardly Lion are exact replicas from the movie and cost $1,000 to rent for the week.
Dr. David Narramore, a Whitesburg dentist, made a prosthetic nose, chin and wart to help transform Megean Arrowood into the wicked witch.
“The makeup in this production will force me to go beyond any comfort zone I may have with makeup,” said LCCHS history teacher Kim Sergent, who has assisted with all of the high school’s drama productions. “It gives me the opportunity to express my artistic side when April and Jennifer give me full reign to interpret characters and create a look for each of them. It means a great deal that they trust me in that way.”
Keith Adams, owner of the Looking Glass Hair Salon, volunteers the week of the production to style the performers’ hair.
“I enjoy working with the drama department in transforming the students into their characters,” said Keith Adams. “Doing their hair in the time period of the play not only adds to the visual aspect of the production but helps the students become their character.”
Even pyrotechnics will be used in the production. In order for the wicked witch to be able to shoot a small fireball at the Scarecrow, a permit was obtained from the state fire marshal’s office and a volunteer firefighter must watch all performances.
Large fans will be used to simulate a tornado.
Narramore and Randall Day, a local carpenter, built elaborate scenes including the wizard’s chamber, the witch’s castle and a hot-air balloon. Day even constructed a house with a cellar that students can climb in and out. Art teacher Bill Caudill helped create trees and other elements.
“Our set for Wizard of Oz is going to be amazing,” said Sean Potter, who plays the Tin Man. “There are so many variations. It’s all really fast. The scene changes take less than two minutes.”
Brandon Garrett, a teacher at LCCHS who assists with the drama productions, said building sets has been a tremendous amount of work with volunteers working after school and at night.
“Even those kids don’t realize the amount of time involved in the construction process,” said Garrett. “The scenes are on a large scale with little manpower.”
He said the scenes are so elaborate that people coming to watch the show this weekend won’t believe what they are about to see.
“I think it will be shocking to the public, probably more than they expect,” he said. “They are going to have to see it to believe it.”
Lindsey George said the scene changes will be remarkable. “We’ll go from Kansas to Munchkin Land to a cornfield,” she said.
Character Voice Training
In addition to all the details that can be seen, a major detail can be heard from all of the characters except Dorothy. Students spent countless hours learning how to change their voices to fit characters in the play.
Jessica Auvil, LCCHS choir director and music director of the production, and her husband, Ron, guided students through character voice training. She said there are a lot of facets to character voice training.
“Breathing, throat positioning, tongue and mouth placement, breath support, facial resonators and how to use them and the space within the mouth,” she said.
Most of the voice training was done online through hours of private study.
“We gave them the example and coached them,” said Auvil. “In some cases the actor/actress brought the idea to the table and we built upon that. Basically we worked with the actors/actresses and tweaked them until we felt that it fit each character.”
Auvil said maintaining the character voices and the character during singing is part of training.
“Once they have found their voice, they must work at it every day to keep their voices from going out during the performances,” she said. “The character voices are very demanding and stressful on the body. It is a conditioning process. The vocal folds, lungs, throat, and body must adjust and be trained to do what you want them to do.”
Auvil said if the actors and actresses don’t practice their character voice regularly, just like muscles being conditioned to a five-mile run, they can be damaged or not perform the way they wish it to perform.
The majority of the characters had hours of singing lessons on top of the character voice training.
“This musical is very demanding on all involved,” said Auvil. “In my opinion, Letcher County needs to brace itself. This is going to be a legendary performance.”
Jay Flippin, a keyboardist who is a recently retired professor from Morehead State University, will play the piano during the public performances. He will be accompanied by a 12-piece orchestra with two understudies.
“I have played and conducted ‘The Wizard of Oz’ before, and know it to be a wonderful, exciting show with lots of opportunities for young actors, dancers and singers to show their stuff ,” said Flippin, who taught Jessica Auvil at MSU. “I’m sure the citizens of Letcher County will really enjoy the show and be very impressed with the talent and professionalism of their young people.”
A Tradition In The Making
This past December Frazier and Wampler decided not to do a Christmas play. Wampler said she was at a beauty salon when women in the shop started asking her what play the class had chosen to do for that Christmas season. She said the women did not like her answer and kept telling her that the class should put on a Christmas play. She called Frazier as soon as she left the beauty salon and told her they had no choice but to direct a Christmas play.
“The community expects it,” said Wampler. “We have to do it.”
And they did.
“It has shown the cast how much the community believes in them,” said Wampler.
Jent said the drama class performing a play at Christmastime is becoming a holiday tradition that the community expects to see.
Keith Adams said he is pleased that the arts are being received so well in the community.
“LCCHS drama has done a wonderful job of promoting the performing arts,” said Keith Adams. “They give us the opportunity to enjoy a high quality theatrical production.”
Kathy Adams said it is only because of the level of support from the community that the vision of Frazier and Wampler can be brought to the stage.
“In return, it’s made our county richer in terms of the experience of seeing plays in person without having to travel great distances and exposing so many of the grade school children to theater,” said Kathy Adams.
Sergent said communities that encourage the arts encourage personal and intellectual growth among their citizens, but that growth is even more important for the youth of a community.
“The community is investing in our future when they take the time to attend these performances and that is an investment that comes back to the community with tremendous dividends,” said Sergent. “When we create positive outlets such as these, the payoff s go on and on constantly creating opportunities far beyond just the arts.
Sergent said being involved with a performing arts program encourage academic and intellectual growth among students who participate.
“The community should embrace the drama program, and all the arts programs, because at LCC they are topnotch and what the arts departments are off ering at LCC, is something that hasn’t been seen in Letcher County before,” said Auvil.
Expect Quality Productions
As the productions continue to grow, so do the community expectations for how great the performances should be.
Last spring the drama class raised its bar with its performance of the 1978 popular musical film “Grease.”
“They can expect something better than Grease,” said Potter.
Garrett said “The Wizard of Oz” is at the level of “Grease” and could possibly surpass it.
“This is going to be a hard one to top,” said Garrett. “It will probably plateau after this one. It has just grown and I don’t know where it will go next.”
Garrett said the students realize that the community has come to expect great performances.
“That’s a lot of pressure to live up to,” said Garrett. “They don’t want to backslide.”
George said with every performance they try to make it better. She said when she goes to the grocery store or other places in the county, people often ask her how the play is coming.
“It’s an opportunity for us to be a part of something that is big in the community,” said Arrowood. “Seeing their reaction makes it all worthwhile and you can tell they appreciate it.”
George said one of her favorite parts of a production is the curtain call. After the performances for the elementary schools, the cast members gather in the foyer so children can get a close-up look at the actors.
“When they walk out the door they will just stare at you,” said George.
She said she and other cast members have been asked to pose for photos.
“I got asked for my autograph after Grease,” said George.
“Something So Special”
After performing eight shows this week, another year of drama will come to an end and half of the cast will graduate high school.
Wampler said the day after a production closes is one of the saddest days.
“That last performance when it hits them that this is the last time that they will be together because the seniors are leaving and it is over is very emotional because they are so close,” said Kathy Adams. “They realize that they have been a part of something so special and that possibly won’t happen again in their lifetime.”
Arrowood said drama has helped shape her as an individual.
“It helps you to come out of your shell and become who you are,” she said. “It definitely makes you grow as a person.”
Brandon Jent, who plays the Cowardly Lion, also said being a part of drama has helped him grow.
“You become a better part of who you are,” said Jent.
Kathy Adams said the drama class is special because it allows students to challenge themselves in ways they ordinarily wouldn’t.
“They are learning time management, responsibility and to depend on others and then be a person who can be depended upon in return,” said Kathy Adams. “One of the truly remarkable things is that April and Jennifer have set such a high standard and no matter how high they keep moving the bar, the students rise to the challenge.”
A Popular Class
Frazier said drama is a popular class and is hard for students to be enrolled in and students need to understand what is expected of them if they are a part of the class. Since audition took place in March cast members are expected to participate in “early bird practices” from 7:45 until 8:30 a.m. They practice during the normal 50-minute class period and sometimes after school hours. Sunday practices are held in the afternoon between church services. This doesn’t include time students take to learn lines and practice their character voices.
“Don’t sign up for it if you don’t want to give that kind of time,” said Frazier.
During the week of the production, cast members arrive at 5:45 a.m. to begin hair and makeup. They will perform six shows throughout the week for elementary, middle and high school students, plus two public performances on Friday and Saturday.
“It wears them out like nothing I have ever seen,” said Wampler.
Frazier said the week of performing is mentally, physically and emotionally draining for the drama students.
Wampler said the expectations are unbelievable.
“We just don’t expect anything other than their very best,” she said. “They have come with strep throat. They don’t miss school. It’s a level of commitment.”
Sergent said the commitment required by the students is understood by those that sign up for the class because Frazier and Wampler have established a very specific and highly regarded program allowing the students to give nothing but their very best.
Jent said he and other drama students make the class a priority.
“They always rise to the challenge,” said Wampler.
George said she likes to make her drama teachers proud.
“We want to be good for them as much as we do for ourselves,” said Mckenzie Smith, who plays the Scarecrow.
Like A Family
Wampler said people outside of the drama circle wouldn’t understand the camaraderie among the cast and teachers.
“It’s a family environment that you can’t imagine until you are a part of it and once you are a part of it, you wouldn’t want it any other way,” she said. “It goes beyond a teacher/student relationship. When we come in here (the auditorium) it is like a whole diff erent world.”
Frazier said time passes quickly when they are in the middle of drama practices.
“We will practice for six hours and it seems like 15 minutes,” said Frazier.
Kathy Adams said Frazier and Wampler often describe the drama class as a family.
“It really is very much like that,” said Kathy Adams. “Every member of the drama class, including the teachers, understands each other so well and they are very supportive of each other. There is a closeness and camaraderie that is really unique.”
Under The Direction
of Frazier And Wampler
Auvil said Frazier and Wampler are visionaries who are committed to the drama program.
“They make the scenes come alive with the envisioned set designs,” said Auvil.
Kathy Adams said Frazier and Wampler do an amazing job with drama class.
“They have such confidence in their students and manage to pull the best from each of them,” she said. “Their fearlessness is astounding. They choose the play then go after it with a vision that is uncompromising.
Kathy Adams said if their students are going to give their best efforts, then they deserve the best sets, costumes and whatever else it takes for them to succeed.
“They will do whatever they need to do to make things happen. They give so much time and energy to this.”
This year’s production will cost more than $30,000 including $3,500 for royalties, $3,000 for costumes and $4,000 for set design.
“We decide what we want to do, then we find the money,” said Wampler.
Wampler said she is always told by staff that it will work out in the end. Drama students sell candy at school throughout the year. This year they had a pancake breakfast and sold donuts. They also count on ticket sales and private donations.
In addition to people in the community wanting to watch the production, others want to help behind the scenes.
Kathy Adams said one of the best parts of the drama program is the interaction of the community with the directors and students in the program.
“There are people who donate money, who come in and build sets, who loan props and costume pieces,” she said. “We’ve been very blessed that when there is a need, someone with knowledge or expertise has always been willing to step in to help.”
Narramore said he volunteers his time to design sets to show students that people in the community do support their efforts.
Kathy Adams said people who help include faculty and staff in the school, but many times it is people from the community who’ve seen a production and want to help and be a part of it.
“This year’s production of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ is a prime example of that,” she said. “We’ve had individuals and groups who have helped extensively with costumes, props and sets. It is so wonderful that now we have several people that will actually contact Jennifer and April to see if there is anything they need.”
Wampler and Frazier won’t take credit for all of the success of the drama productions. In addition to the hard work and dedication they expect from their students, school staff as well as community volunteers play an integral part, too.
“There’s nothing that we don’t ask that we don’t get,” said Wampler. “We have the support of the staff .”
Teamwork Behind The Scenes
Sergent said one of the most important aspects of the productions is that it is teamwork at its best.
“It is a group of dedicated adults, committed to the artistic and intellectual development of our youth and the community at large,” said Sergent. “Any group like this must have leadership and April and Jennifer are masterful at bringing out the best our community has to off er, pulling together a team that creates a magical experience for everyone to enjoy.”
“It takes a village as they say in anything that is truly successful and the drama productions are no exception,” she said. “In so many ways it happened in a very symbiotic way, but a team of us, headed of course by April and Jennifer, have come together to create magic twice a year. The beauty of this team is that there is a mutual respect between us and we work as a team almost seamlessly.”
Garrett said it takes the effort of Frazier, Wampler, Kathy Adams, Sergent, Auvil and LCCCHS teacher Paul David Sturgill, who has charge of light and sound, to make everything come together.
“We all work together,” said Garrett. “We take constructive criticism and we give it. It takes a little piece of everybody to pull it off . You see a team effort on stage and behind stage there is a bigger team effort.”
Sergent said Frazier and Wampler create a goal and then turn to their team asking for their input honoring their ideas and artistic notions.
“They are never too proud, thinking they have to create (and) design everything,” said Sergent. “They are committed to producing art in our community, recognizing that it takes a team to do that.”
Frazier said each time the class puts on a production, she looks out into the audience and sees the amazement from parents and other family members of the actors and is always pleased to see their reactions to the performances.
“Every production we have for two and a half hours they forgot that was their son, daughter,” said Frazier. “They become their characters and go above and beyond.”
Come watch this weekend as these students transform themselves into the classical storybook characters.
“When the people of this community see what has been built, painted and constructed by the students, faculty and community volunteers they are going to be floored,” said Kathy Adams. “There are community theatre groups across this nation who will not put on a production to compare to this one. This is going to be one of those things that if you don’t come, you’re going to wish you had when you hear everyone talking about it afterwards.”