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Memoir of a Gingham junkie
“Essay”- Memoir from a gingham junkie.
When Frank L. Baum originally wrote The Wonderful Wizard of OZ, I am sure he had no idea what kind of an impact it would have on society. When he was approached with the idea of a stage musical, he accepted and I am forever grateful that he did, because the musical is where my story starts.
I scanned the website looking for a show in which I could play a part. Then, in a burst of emerald green lights was my future. My eyes widened and I overdramatically shrieked for my mom to come quick. The local theatre was in pre-production for the Wizard of OZ. I was in love with every aspect of the story and loved the musical. Ever since I still had pigtails I dreamed of being like Dorothy and skipping down the yellow brick road with my dog. As I got older I realized how much I loved Judy Garland’s portrayal of the character. With my brown eyes and hair I began to look similar to her. I practiced everyday for my audition by singing and watching the movie and three months later, it was time.
As I walked in the historical but crumbling rehearsal place, I instantly felt like I was suffocating. Between the 100 degree temperature and my nerves I had chosen the wrong outfit. Now, to add to my growing nervousness I was sweating up a storm so I paced outside the sweltering building, letting the slightly cool breeze calm me down. I went back inside and sat in a rickety old chair, tapping my foot against the ground.
My name was called and I walked in front of the director, whom I knew from another show. Although I had no piano for accompaniment, I smiled took a deep breath then picked a spot on the wall to concentrate on. I opened my mouth and began to sing. I glanced quickly at my audience, who were all pleasantly smiling and it gave me the confidence to continue to sing. After I sat down, I was weak in the knees but satisfied nonetheless. After we all sang we learned a Jitterbug dance, that was incredibly fast paced. Last, we read some scenes. Trying to put as much emotion as I could into it felt like a good closure for the audition. I went home picturing myself in a blue gingham dress.
After an excruciatingly long week of waiting, I got my phone call for a callback. I stayed relatively calm inside as the director told me the news. Inside though, I felt like screaming. It was like getting a golden ticket to Hollywood.
The next day, as I pulled up in my car I snuck a look at my competition. There was only two other girls my age whom one could only assume had a callback for Dorothy. As we looked over our music and lines, I glanced around predicting who would be casted. Some of the people looked so much like their characters it made me laugh. We read lines with different people to see who fitted together. I was amazed by the talent pool the auditions had reeled in. I was the first girl to sing Somewhere Over the Rainbow and out of the other two girls, I stayed on key the most. Driving home later, I slowly began to realize that I might be Dorothy. The next phone call I received was an answer to my dreams. I was going to be one of the two Dorothy’s. I felt like a little kid on Christmas and this year it seemed to come early.
The first night I met the cast it was overwhelming. When I received my script in front of everyone they applauded for me! To my delight, everyone I thought should be casted was. I was especially excited to do my scenes with the Wicked Witch, who I admired for her honest and hilarious portrayal of her character. We had all the main characters except the Tinman, who was yet to be casted.
The next few months were difficult as we lost cast members to illnesses and work, and still held auditions for parts we were missing. A few weeks into our practices, we finally decided on a Tinman. It finally felt like we could really start rehearsal.
This was the first time I had ever been a main character and I was doing everything in my power to be the best. I strived to learn the confusing blocking, music without a musical director and everyone’s names as quickly as I could. Lines came to me easily because of my obsession with the movie and I soon had them memorized. I adored the music and sang it almost constantly. I got a reputation with my fellow cast mates as a perfectionist. The music and script was fine, the dancing on the other hand, was less than desirable.
Our choreographer had problems remembering her dances and every time we went to learn a dance it was different. There were many long rehearsals, where we did nothing but dance and many people wanted to quit. I joked around with the other main characters who were losing their minds just like me. Being “Type-A” having no organization drove me crazy. I tried to continue to tell myself that hopefully it would come together.
I made sure that the main characters whom I depended on to get me through the show stuck together. As I spent more time with them it was unbelievable how much they were like their characters. The Scarecrow was a tall wiry man who on stage and off acted just like the Scarecrow. He constantly was making me laugh and break character with his goofy antics. The Lion was round and bashful, never admitting he was as talented as we all thought he was. The Tinman was sarcastic and dry, but comical as he added his own flair to his character. I kept them paying attention and they made sure I knew where I was going. We all took care of each other by helping remember our lines and dances. We were always having a good time and making the long rehearsals feel less long. It was like we had the actual bond that the four characters had in the story.
One night I came in prepared for another dance rehearsal, when the costumer pulled me over to a bundle of blue gingham. My heart fluttered at the sight of my dress. I rushed to put it on, and as I turned and looked in the mirror my heart leapt to my throat. As I walked out the cast summarized what I was feeling.
“You look just like her!” said my Auntie Em.
I blushed, but inside I was overjoyed because I could finally see myself as Dorothy. The weeks flew by and before I knew it, it was time for a well earned vacation.
After a quick break for Christmas we went back to practice, this time adding another day to our four day schedule. February was our show month and as it loomed over us I started to get nervous. Two weeks before we opened, the local newspaper came to do an article on the show. Not wanting to have aching feet, I wore my red converse that matched my dress perfectly. When I was interviewed for the first time, I joked with the journalist about wanting to wear them for the show because they were comfortable. I continued to answer the journalist’s questions as sincerely as I could. The day the paper came out I was ecstatic to see my picture on the front.
The countdown began and knowing we only had one week made me slightly panicky but as opening night drew closer, I got calmer. The other Dorothy was doing the first week of shows, so I figured by the second week all the glitches like scene changes and musical cues would be worked out.
Finally we got into the performance area and everything seemed to fall into place. My 16th birthday fell on the eve of the show and I was happily reminded that my idol, Judy Garland was the same age when she played the role in the movie. The first week passed in a blur, and before I knew it I was taking my last bow as a chorus member. I went home and rested myself for the next week, knowing I was in for an unforgettable experience.
I paced backstage in the crowds of techies and cast members that were milling around in small groups. In the tradition of the theatre we encouraged each other “to break a leg”. I hugged the Lion, Tinman, and Scarecrow before calmly gliding to my place. Right before my cue I said a quick but fervent prayer for everything to go as planned. As I ran up the ramp with Toto, I looked out to the audience spotting friends and family. I took a deep breath and continued my scene leading up to the famous song. I hugged Toto tightly to my chest, calming myself as I took a deep breath and started to sing. I lost myself in the music and for a moment I was Dorothy. I was the little girl who just wanted to be anywhere else but Kansas. I held my last note and finished with an enormous smile. I received an applause that made me blush. I rushed off stage, and my dad was there to squeeze my shoulders and say great job.
The rest of the night went in a blur of music and applauses. I skipped, danced, and sang my way to my first standing ovation. As a cast we took our bows, then rushed out to the front of the theatre to shake people’s hands. The audience had nothing but amazing things to say. One comment though, I will always remember. An older gentleman came up and grabbed my hands and said “You sang and acted just like Judy.” I was floored. No other human being could have given me a better compliment. I collapsed in the dressing room in a sea of congratulations and flowers knowing I would always remember this night.
The rest of the week went by in a blur and before I knew it, I was doing my last show. I sang Somewhere Over the Rainbow one last time, and it was a somber moment for me. This show had been my life for the last five months and it was going to be hard to let it go. I had put in everything I had to make sure this show was worth watching and in a span of four short days all my hard work was over. Exhausted, our cast finished our run, each different due to technical errors, sore throats and awkward silences. But even with the mistakes, we as a cast received a standing ovation each night with a thunderous applause. After my first night, I graciously excepted two more standing ovations. It is something no one can easily forget. There is nothing like performing for an audience that will laugh, cry and follow along with the story you are telling.
The trials I went through to make this show possible reminds me of Dorothy’s journey along the yellow brick road. We both made lifelong friends and discoveries about ourselves during the challenging adventure but continued to have fun along the way. It was a remarkable trip that taught both of us a lesson that no one is likely to forget that there is no place like home. To me “All the World’s a Stage” and on stage is where I am truly home.