BWW Previews: THE WIZARD OF OZ LANDS IN Straz Center For The Performing Art's TECO Theater

BWW Previews: THE WIZARD OF OZ LANDS IN  Straz Center For The Performing Art's TECO Theater
Rehearsal photo by lighting designer Jake Price

Sometimes it's good to be bad.

Fourteen-year-old high school freshman Tess Lowke is learning this during two and half weeks of intensive summer camp daily rehearsals 9am-4pm for the beloved classic Wizard of Oz, coming to the Straz Center for the Performing Art's TECO Theater on June 14-17.

A student at the Patel Conservatory since fourth grade, Tess plays the Wicked Witch and she's learned that the villain isn't always just a bad guy/girl.

"I like playing the villain because it's from a different perspective," she said. "I love exploring different opportunities with my character. I'm going to bring a new side to her - not only the super evil side everyone thinks of when they think the Wicked Witch, but also her motives, why she's doing what she's doing and really her strive for power."

BWW Previews: THE WIZARD OF OZ LANDS IN  Straz Center For The Performing Art's TECO Theater
Rehearsal photo by lighting designer Jake Price

Under the direction of Audrey Siegler and Matthew Belopavlovich, The Wizard of Oz, Young Performers Edition will be bring 54 Patel Conservatory students in grades three through eight together on stage. Along with the talented young actors are 8 high school apprentices earning their volunteer hours for Bright Futures Scholarships. All students, no matter the age, are involved in a crew capacity.

"Backstage is a whole other side of theatre that's unique to our experience. Each child gets to learn this while they're here," said Matt. "They may be assigned scenic changes, in charge of their own props, setting things up for other people sometimes - all that goes beyond going on stage and singing your song. I think that's a really unique part of our experience here. We give them that ownership, that responsibility."

During summer camp, the students participate in a lot more character exploration during the day, then what normally would occur in a few evenings when school is in session.

"Hopefully, the audience will see some the extra character work the cast has done on stage, both in their body and voice," said Matt. "That's what's really fun about summer camp - the students' rapid retention and excitement about getting to opening night."

Excluding a pop of technology following a Broadway trend using animation and still projection, the directors are keeping strongly to the traditional, familiar telling of the Wizard of Oz. With her dog Toto, Kansas farm girl Dorothy is whisked away to the land of Oz where she meets the Scarecrow, the Tinman, and the Cowardly Lion, and takes a magical journey to find a way home.

BWW Previews: THE WIZARD OF OZ LANDS IN  Straz Center For The Performing Art's TECO Theater
Rehearsal photo by lighting designer Jake Price

"This is the traditional take on The Wizard of Oz that everyone knows and loves," said Matt. "There are so many special moments that might be someone's favorite part. At the finale, everyone is on stage dancing. I hope the audience is wowed by the sheer size of the cast."

For the first time in this age group, a sensory-friendly show will be performed Saturday at 1pm.

"Excluding a fog element, our show will run exactly the same for every show," said Matt. "The way the lights have been designed, excluding the end, we never go to a full blackout. We've already taken out all of the loud sounds, strobe and crazy effects. Every show is truly designed for everybody using a universal design element. Although it's special for that one o'clock performance - that's a judgement free zone - every show runs the same."

While Dorothy discovers there's no place like home, on June 14-17, the cast of 54 new and returning students are hoping that patrons think there's no place like TECO Theatre.

"I really want the audience to feel like they're seeing the iconic Wizard of Oz," said Tess. "I want the audience to feel like we really got the creative aspect of The Wizard of Oz. I loved this movie as a little girl and I feel bringing it to the stage creates really magical moments for everyone."

The Wizard of Oz will be presented in TECO Theater June 14-17. Performances are Thursday and Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 1 and 4 p.m. The Saturday 1 p.m. performance will be sensory friendly. Regularly priced tickets start at $15 and may be purchased by calling 813.229.STAR (7827), in person at the Straz Center Ticket Office or online at www.strazcenter.org.

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