At RIT/NTID, Memory Lane Will Be Paved with Yellow Bricks

"The Wonderful World of Oz" title superimposed on the Emerald City.

You may have seen the recent announcement that the production to be staged during NTID’s 50th Anniversary Reunion Weekend is “The Wonderful World of Oz.”

“Oz,” which will run April 21-28, and again during the Reunion Weekend June 28-July 1, promises to thrill and entertain during its run. A theatrical adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s classic children’s story, “Oz” will star a cast of alumni selected from 50 years of theatrical performances and will be supported by a crew with a wide range of experience and skills in production.  

The choice of “Oz” for the Reunion Weekend production was carefully made.

“When thinking of alumni, the ‘no place like home’ theme seemed like a great fit,” says Jim Orr, the production’s director. “I wanted to do a big, spectacular show that would dazzle the senses and promote a sense of pride in NTID.”

Orr adds that, while deciding which play to stage, “The thing that really sealed the deal in my mind was the story’s message of hope for our times.”

Written around the time of World War I and revived as the classic film version around World War II, its association with times of change and upheaval appealed to Orr.

“This story reminded people and taught children that love and kindness overcomes chaos and hate, and the power to change comes not from without, but from within.”

Orr, who entered NTID’s Basic Interpreter Training Program in 1977 and retired from NTID in 2012, is an especially appropriate choice for director. As one of the only people actively involved in NTID’s performing arts program through all five decades of the college’s existence, he has served in one way or another in close to 200 productions.

“I’ve been an actor, director, playwright, designer, teacher, technician, manager and served in other production-related functions such as publicity and community relations.”

NTID’s long theatrical history isn’t only contributing Orr’s expertise to the Reunion Weekend show, however. Alice Pylko, who worked as a costume designer for the performing arts program during the late ‘80s until the mid-‘90s, also is coming back—bearing gifts.

“One of the fun things about the costumes is how many are from past productions,” says Pylko, who currently works as a Montessori teacher in the Rochester area. “Alumni will be able to see many costumes from old shows—some they may have even worn themselves.”

But “Oz” isn’t just about looking back; it’s about looking forward and stretching in new directions. Pylko’s talents will be tested.

“Flying monkeys are a bit out of the ordinary,” she admits.

Joe Hamilton (SVP ’87, ’91), NTID’s stage craft manager and technical director for “Oz,” also is finding that his abilities are being pushed to their limits.

“This is a full-scale production,” he says, with multiple platforms and almost every set rigged to move on lines. The show’s special effects also will include video-projected elements.

Hamilton’s role in the production involves coordinating a cast of characters that never appears on stage.

“I bring designers and experts into each production to team up with costume design, lights, sound, projection, captions and special effects.”

In the end, though, according to Hamilton, “The production is built and made by our RIT/NTID students.”

The production team is visible in the below photo. Hamilton sits at the head of the table in front of an early set design by Ethan Sinnott, while Jim Orr, director, sits to his left, speaking to Matthew Moore, producer, on Hamilton's right. Two outside experts, who will be providing video-projection capabilities, sit along the bottom of the photo. 

Production team meeting for

The nostalgic nature of the story is intentional.

“This production is going to bring up so many great memories,” says Pylko. “It really is a fun way to look back at the great people who have been at NTID and involved with the NTID theater.”

Some of those returning alumni, faculty and staff members include: Ethan Sinnott, who currently is hard at work designing the set; Joe Hamilton as technical director; Patrick Graybill, who will serve as the show’s ASL Master; Bonnie Meath-Lang as dramaturg (researcher and developer of the play’s text); and Matthew Moore's MSM Productions as co-producer, among others.

The impressive lineup will be reflected in the quality of the production, Orr says.

“This show will be a true extravaganza. There are tremendous special effects and incredibly talented performers. I don’t want to give away all the surprises, but suffice it to say that NTID has never done a show like this before.”

Tickets for both the April and June runs are now available for sale at rittickets.com.