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Behind Ozma of Oz: Interviewing the Cast of ML’s Blackbox Theater

It was a Thursday afternoon at 1:56 PM, and I had just arrived at the F building to record an interview with the cast of the school play. The play, I knew, was called Ozma of Oz, and it was a sequel to the classic, The Wizard of Oz. Having a friend and multiple classmates in it, I had some idea of the plot, but more importantly, I wanted to learn about the student spirit that was put into this production.

My first observation was that nearly everyone was already there. Students stood in clusters in front of the door to the theater room. Some held tote bags with costumes, and one sat on the floor applying stage makeup, using their phone camera as a mirror. The play was not set to start until 4 PM.

Many of the cast members were my classmates, some whom I’d known for the past couple of months and others whom I had known for years. Seeing them in this setting was new in a way that fascinated me. It instantly became apparent that they had a familiarity, and more importantly, established respect for one another that was not only encouraging but also a key aspect of the chemistry between the group.

As co-director, senior Anela Rei Tan had a level of authority in the group. She updated the cast by calling for their attention, “one-two-three, eyes on me,” to which all conversation ceased, aside from a chorus of, “one, two, eyes on you.” As I continued to observe, I realized that this element of respect and attentiveness for one another allowed for a level of cohesion and focus that would make any teacher jealous. 

After 10 minutes of silent waiting, the theater room was unlocked, and we went inside. I sat quietly on the seat and watched as everyone instantly got to work. Per Anela’s orders, the cast split into small groups to get what they needed from “the cage,” a large metal, well, cage, that held everything from costumes to fake leaves to a scooter. (One person even found the old lunch bag they had lost weeks ago.)

The atmosphere through all of this was refreshing, lighthearted, and impressively efficient. This is not to say that it wasn’t chaotic: there was laughter, scrambling to get into costumes as people took turns changing in the stairwells, lighting tests, wild side conversations in silly accents, and a random guy playing the piano in the back so consistently it took me over 30 minutes to realize the music was not coming from a speaker.

Eventually, I managed to start my interviews in the organized chaos. At this point, you’re probably wondering what the hell this whole play is about, so I’ll let Georgia Blanc, ‘22, explain:

GEORGIA: Uncle Henry and Dorothy are going on a boat to Australia, but then they crash-land in Oz, and in Oz, there is no time because gnomes can come out at nighttime, so it’s daytime forever. But then when they start Tik-Tok, which is me, time starts again, and the gnomes can come out. So, they have to figure out a way to stop Tik-Tok and defeat the evil gnomes.

Interesting choice of play, to say the least, but in true literature nerd fashion, I was interested in some of the actors’ interpretations of their characters in such a unique work.

ME: Can you describe your character?

GEORGIA (playing Tik-Tok): My character is a time machine that has been stopped in Oz for a while, and once Dorothy and Uncle Henry start it again, chaos ensues. 

ANELA: Dorothy is directly adapted from the Wizard of Oz’s version of Dorothy. In this one, she’s aged up a little, she’s 16, and she’s very fiery and spirited. She doesn’t like to take no as an answer; she doesn’t like any answer that isn’t hers. And she doesn’t know how to treat her elders with respect. But (laughs) she learns from her uncle…how to do that.

EBONEE: He’s a funny guy, and he doesn’t really understand the outside of this new world. So he’s really interested in it, but he’s very loyal to Roquat (his best friend), and he tries to protect him? But he’s a little bit of a scaredy-cat.

As these interviews were occurring, two people entered the theater room. One was a Mira Loma graduate who wanted to use his studies in media to help out and be the film crew for the play’s recording. The other was Shay, co-director of the play with Anela, who I later encouraged to sit for an interview. Before getting back into the play itself, I wanted to hear the cast’s thoughts about participating in the whole ordeal. 

ME (to the directors): Can you talk about your role in bringing this whole thing together?

ANELA: Being one of the leads and directing has definitely been a challenge; you have to balance a lot, especially since I had the most lines in the show to memorize—I had 280 lines to memorize—so that, plus choreographing all the blocking, getting everything together, really, it was definitely a challenge. But a fun challenge.

SHAY: I’m president of the drama club…I hold the ship together, basically. But I do costumes and makeup, and I do a lot of the set design, and I help put together the sets—like, procure things we need for the play…I do direct; I mostly do the tech directing…I do costume, and I put together a lot of the sound for this year.

ME: What is your favorite part about being in the play?

SHAY: It’s fun. I don’t know, it’s cool. Being able to put something together that works, and you have all the pieces, even if it's last-minute—like I just finished a headpiece today, and I was like, ‘Oh, yay, this costume is done’ —and it just looks good.

GEORGIA: Being able to connect with the other cast members and crew members about being able to all work together and really contribute to making this one play look good. It’s just the experience of being on a team—it’s really nice. 

ANELA: My favorite part about being in the play is really corny actually: it's getting to work with all the cast members and the crew. My role as a director wasn’t as tech-heavy as my other director was. I was definitely more working with the actors so it was a nice process to sort of work with them, to help them get to know their characters…and let them shine their own lights on their characters and stuff. 

EBONEE: It would have to be the community. I mean, I love, like, being in theater, I love drama club. It’s what I look forward to every day when we have practices. I also really love this play. I think it’s really fun and it’s hip, and yeah, I just really like it.

ME: What would you say is the hardest part about being in the play?

SHAY: Everything.

GEORGIA: I think being organized, cause it's just—there’s so much going on—we’re basically entirely student-led. Cause even though we have some teachers that have come in, they're really just there to unlock the door… Just the fact that we’re all students makes it very difficult to organize and balance schoolwork. 

EBONEE: I think it would have to be the nerves. Whenever it’s your time to go up, you know that everyone else is working really hard, and you want to make sure that, ‘I’m working hard too, but I don’t want to mess up anyone else and I wanna try to just give my best.’ But nerves can sometimes mess that up or make it harder. But you just gotta push through it, ya know?

ME: Describe the play in one word.

SHAY: Chaotic…and also gender.

GEORGIA: Peculiar.

ANELA: Magical.

EBONEE: Crazy.

ME: Any vague or mysterious spoilers you’re willing to share? 

ANELA: Get ready for a lot of representation you didn’t expect. There’s definitely a side to this play where you can see it at face value as just a sort of silly kid’s play, but the way our actors have interpreted it, there’s definitely a lot more sense of familial love. And the majority of our cast members have definitely taken it as sort of a queer story, so I’m very proud to be doing that.

SHAY: You don’t need the title character until halfway through the show.

EBONEE: Look out for the Wheelers.

Aaand, that’s a wrap! My personal takeaway from this experience was that I was able to obtain insightful information about a world that I was previously unfamiliar with. Above everything, it was a mixture of very different people coming together out of a shared love for theater, and a focus on teamwork to bring a story to life.

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