Rising Stars theater students present The Wizard of Oz

The Rising Stars Theatre Camp is presenting The Wizard of Oz in a free public performance on Tuesday, June 27 at 2 p.m. in the Stevens High School auditorium, 600 N Ellison Drive.

Seventy students from ten middle and high schools have been attending the day-long theatre camp for the past three and a half weeks under the direction of eight choir and theatre teachers. Participating schools are Holmes, Jay, and Stevens high schools and Jones, Neff, Pease, Rayburn, Ross, Rudder, and Zachry middle schools.

Approximately 50 students will take on performing roles this year, with another 20 backstage supporting the show with props, costumes, lighting, and set design. It’s a quick production schedule that challenges all involved.

Pease Middle School eighth grader Jianna Jennings is stepping into Dorothy’s red Converse sneakers for the production along with a scene-stealing sidekick, Gigi the Pomeranian who plays Toto.

“I have a lot on my shoulders so I really don’t want to mess up!” Jennings says. “I’ve already learned a lot from my directors because they give me advice to make me a better actress. And I’m grateful my [high school co-stars] treat me like part of the group. The “Scarecrow” especially makes me feel welcome.”

Student playing Dorothy with dog playing Toto

The yellow brick road plays a prominent part in the storyline, but the creators of the over 300 bricks will never be seen onstage. That suits Stevens High School junior Sophia De Haro just fine. She prefers to work with her hands and teach the younger Rising Stars participants how to cope with the quick pace of the production.

“It’s fun because you’re with people from other schools that you don’t see all year,” De Haro says. “But it can be stressful because it’s so fast. Time really matters here.”

student working on yellow brick road set

Jay High School junior Vida Jarrell agrees. In addition to the day-long rehearsals four days a week, the cast studies their lines at home.

“There’s not a day that I don’t want to be here,” says Jarrell. “I used to consider myself shy but not anymore and that’s because of theater.”

This is Jennings’s second year in Rising Stars and she credits the camp with helping her discover a new side of herself.

“Rising Stars has brought out this second personality I didn’t know I had! I feel creative and unique,” Jennings says. “I couldn’t sleep at night waiting for camp to start because it’s such an amazing opportunity. It’s making me really excited about coming to high school and participating in theater.”

Director giving students instructions backstage

This is the eighth year for the Rising Stars summer camp theatre program which is a collaboration between the Fine Arts and State and Federal Programs departments. This year is the first full-length musical presentation. In addition to the free public performance, Rising Stars will also present two performances to Learning Tree camp students and one special parents-only production for their families.

“Everything worn on stage, all props, acting, singing, technology, is a result of great teaching and incredible student learning,” says Fine Arts Director James Miculka. “For the first time in some students' lives, they have learned how to sew fabric, use hand tools, project their voice with articulation, or even stand on stage in front of large groups of people. Incredible ‘life skills’ are acquired by the students in our Title I schools through this program.”

3 students show off their favorite Wizard of Oz costumes

Previous productions included Beauty and the Beast Jr., Aladdin Jr., The Little Mermaid Jr., Alice in Wonderland Jr., Peter Pan, Jr., and Suessical, Jr.