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Creating Theatrical Magic with Household Items, Technology and Ingenuity

Allen’s Community Theatre uses digital scenery and recycled items to tell a familiar story with their production of The Magical Land of Oz.

The Magical Land of Oz, a musical children’s production by Tim Kelly with music and lyrics by Bill Francoeur and based on the classic book by L. Frank Baum, is a special experiment for Allen’s Community Theatre (ACT).

The show features a large cast, multiples locations, and the need for magical effects. To accomplish theatrical magic on a limited budget, ACT combines video mapping to create digital scenery with recycled common materials for costumes and physical set pieces.

ACT Oz 04
Jo Rivers-Schenck

"It’s exciting. This is the first time we’ve used technology like this and it makes sense with our young cast. We’re meeting them where they are. They are familiar with cell phones and computers. We’re bringing them to live theater, but they are telling this familiar story with classic characters and themes using modern technology," said Jennifer Stubbs, the assistant director of the show.

The cast ranges in age from eight to 15 years old.

Stubbs and her husband, Robert Stubbs, noticed video mapping on their trips to New York City and considered how it might be used to ACT’s advantage. Robert Stubbs is a video and live event producer and began working on the concept of ACT’s digital scenery in February.

Video mapping is often used to transform skyscrapers and other large buildings into 3-D works of art and VJs use video mapping to create interactive musical presentations. Video mapping can also project images on a specific smaller object to change its character and appearance. Digital mapping software can map any object, no matter its size or shape, and the projection will mimic that object exactly.

ACT Oz 01
Jo Rivers-Schenck

ACT mainly uses video mapping to establish the scene, but it becomes interactive when the tornado spins through the scene. The performers become part of the tornado and gradually transform the stage from a farm in Kansas to the magical land of Oz.

Thanks to video mapping, the yellow brick road moves with Dorothy and her new friends. The Wizard of Oz initially seems great and powerful because video mapping transforms a simple theatrical flat into something much more intimidating and extraordinary.

Larger theaters do not hesitate to use video mapping, but its use in ACT’s 100-seat black box theater presents specific challenges. Because the space is small, ACT projects images from the sides of the theater using three projectors.

Robin Coulonge, the musical’s director, has never directed a show with digital scenery. "She had to envision a lot of things and the actors had to start performing without knowing what the scenery would look like," explained Stubbs.

The production team is also concerned about projecting images on the screens or designated objects, not the actors. Because ACT’s stage was being used for another production earlier this summer, the cast and crew could not start working with the digital scenery until a few days before the opening of the show.

During final rehearsals, the young cast adapted to working with the digital scenery quickly. “The kids told me tonight that they love acting in front of the ‘screen’, especially the Wicked Witch’s interactive effects. They said they loved the feeling of being in different places with the combined effects of the video, lights and sound,” reported Stubbs following a dress rehearsal.

ACT Oz 03
Jo Rivers-Schenck

Not all elements of this production are high-tech. ACT uses many recycled items to craft costumes and set pieces.

"For no specific reason, I started saving kitty litter buckets a year ago. When we started working on costumes for the show, we cut the buckets into wings for the flying monkeys," said Stubbs.

The monkeys’ spears were hedge trimmings found on the side of the road and their arms, tails and ears were made from black sweatshirts. The trees in the show are made from an old tarp. Poppy costumes were old curtains and the flowers on their hats are made of recycled water bottles.

In this production, the role traditionally known as the Tin Man is a played by a girl and called a Tin Woodswoman. Her costume is made of recycled fabric, metallic tapes and old belts. Coulonge created the Tin Woodswoman’s wig using an old funnel and tinfoil. A Valentine’s Day candy box and a plastic heart from an old flower arrangement is now the heart the Tin Woodswoman desires throughout the show. The interior of the Wizard’s command center is made with cardboard packaging, old iPhones cases, and venting pipes.

Using everything from common household items to sophisticated technology, ACT makes magic.

The Magical Land of Oz runs August 12 -28

Allen's Community Theatre
2016 at 1210 E. Main Street, Suite 300
Allen, Texas 75002

For tickets and information, visit

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