I took a few days off from my teaching gig at Fresno City College to “present research.” For many academics this means a fairly dry powerpoint in front of notable “experts.” I teach design and technical theatre. My research was a presentation of “Tik-Tok Man of Oz” a light opera written by L. Frank Baum and not seen in a full production since 1914. My part of the presentation was the lighting designer. The show was a success and I am thrilled (and really really tired). Part of me being releaced from Fresno City College duties to do this was me writing a fairly dry report on what happened. I wanted to blog about this anyway (and I am sure I will), but here is an overview of my time in Oz.
Last year I applied for (and was granted) permission to attend/present at “Winkie Con:” a group celebrating the works of L. Frank Baum. This is a big year for fans of L. Frank Baum’s work as it is the 50th annual West Coast gathering on Oz fans and experts, the 75th anniversary of the 1939 MGM film of the Wizard of Oz, the 100th anniversary of the publication of Baum’s “Tik-Tok of Oz,” and 100 years since the original production of Baum’s musical “Tik-Tok Man of Oz” closed. According to press reports of the era, Baum began writing the light opera, “Tik-Tok Man of Oz” at a hotel outside of San Diego. Premiering in 1913 in California the production was unfavorably compared to Baum’s mega-hit play “The Wizard of Oz.” “Tik Tok” toured the U.S. and Canada until the beginning of 1914. Through out the tour, Baum and his collaborators were continually making changes to the show in an attempt to get the play ready for New York. “Tik-Tok Man of Oz” would never reach New York. As was not uncommon for the time, the various scripts, songs etc were tossed aside at the end of the production.
Author and illustrator Eric Shanower, along with his partner David Maxine, wanted to present “Tik Tok Man of Oz” in San Diego in 2014 due to the overlap of many important Oz anniversaries. Shanower collected the existing fragments of scripts, published songs, newspaper reviews and programs in an attempt to create a producible version of the play. In the fall, I was invited to be a part of the creative team to present Shanower’s adaptation. I would provide the lighting design for the event.
The play was to be presented in the Regency ballroom at the Town & Country resort in San Diego. This meant that there was no existing theatrical lighting system for me to use. Through out the Spring semester I worked with the venue, the producer and the director to design a system that could be moved into the venue in the limited amount of time we had, was within the budget, and would meet the needs of the show. Over the summer I traveled to San Diego to see rehearsals and meet with the other members of the creative team. At 7:30 AM August 7, 2014, Shanower and I went to the rental house to pick up the equipment we would need to create the lighting for the show. We returned to the Town & Country where myself and a handful of volunteers began creating a theatrical lighting rig in a small ballroom. By early afternoon the system was in and working. We began focusing the lighting and adjusting/updating the prewritten light cues in the lighting control desk. While I was working, Shanower and Maxine installed most of the scenery. At 7:30 PM the cast arrived for their first rehearsal on the stage. The rehearsal went very well despite two actors who were unable to be in attendance.
Friday morning was spent making adjustments to the lighting cues and the to lights themselves. I worked until early afternoon. In the evening, the official Welcome Celebration was scheduled in the ballroom as well as several presentations. I was asked to be on hand to turn on lights for that event. Two presentations were especially note worthy: Atticus Gannaway presented a 45 minute power point about L. Frank Baum’s connections to Coronado (the area outside of San Diego where Baum began work on “Tik Tok Man of Oz” among other works), and author Aljean Harmetz spoke for about 30 minutes about her research process for her book “The Making of the Wizard of Oz.”
Saturday morning was spent training my follow spot operators for the performance (a student from U.C.S.D. and a student from U.S.C.) prior to the afternoon full run through of the show. The run had an invited audience of friends and family of the cast. This was also our opportunity to put in the two cast members who had been unable to attend the Thursday rehearsal. Final costumes and scenery were incorporated into this rehearsal. Saturday evening was the performance. The ballroom was packed with fans and scholars of L. Frank Baum’s work. The show started a bit late, but was a great success. After the performance, myself and two volunteers packed up the lighting system.
Sunday, after loading the lighting system onto the truck for return to the rental firm, I attended a discussion on the making of the MGM film of the “Wizard of Oz.” Speakers included Aljean Harmetz (mentioned above), Robert Welch (editor of the memoir of the special effects designer of the film), and Priscilla Montgomery (dancer in the film). Following that discussion, myself; designers Eric Shanower and David Maxine; and several cast members were featured in a panel discussion about the process of reviving a lost play.
One final note. It may not come through in the above, but I was so honored to be a part of this process and this production. I have a deep love for the early days of what would become musical theatre. “Tik Tok” was not a hit in its day — and it probably didn’t deserve to be, but there is a lot of fun there, and Eric Shanower and director Chrissy Burns really found the fun and the heart in the show.