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After 37 years, Wizard of Oz will be teacher's last production

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There will be flying monkeys.

But any more details about them are secret -- you don't spoil the surprise, because this isn't just another Gerald Bohemier production, it's the final Gerald Bohemier production.

When more than 150 kids from Edmund Partridge School stage The Wizard of Oz in the Pantages Theatre later this month, it will be 37 years in a row Bohemier has produced a middle-school extravaganza.

That's five months every school year for 37 years, working through lunch and after school so theatre could be part of thousands of children's education.

"The value comes from what you teach the kids," said Bohemier, who hasn't regretted a minute of the time he's spent on school productions.

This Wizard is full circle, repeating his first production, even bringing back Laura Lussier, his original 1974 Dorothy, to make a cameo appearance.

"I've never taken a year off," laughed Bohemier, who teaches the full range of Grade 8 subjects in the West Kildonan middle school.

Bohemier holds auditions the first day of school, then it's pretty much every day for five months.

"We try to work around the kids' schedules -- they're in the band, they're on teams," he said. But come the final two weeks, "they're with me first.

"I'm big on commitment. See it through -- you'll be glad you did," he says he tells students up front.

"You try to give them as much stage time as possible" through different roles in multiple crowd scenes, he said.

Parents help build the sets, the kids paint them, and a shop teacher at Garden City Collegiate built some of the most intricate props.

There won't be a tornado inside the theatre, though the musical calls for one. Bohemier has opted for a projection system on the back curtain to depict Kansas, the Emerald City, the twister, the yellow brick road reaching to the horizon -- all kinds of neat stuff.

"We can't afford to build all those things," he lamented. "We've recycled some costumes from previous years. I found a Tin Man costume made from real tin.

"(The dog) Toto's a kid in costume. I did Annie one year with a dog. Dogs are unpredictable. The dog barked throughout one song and visited everyone in the front row."

This year's production has a budget of more than $20,000, but Peter Pan had a budget of $30,000, including $6,000 for a guy from Las Vegas whose equipment made four characters fly.

Two student matinees are already booked at 1,000 students apiece, and Bohemier knows some theatre alumni are coming at night. "I haven't seen these kids, now in their 30s, 40s, 50s, for some time."

Dealing with kids 11 to 13 can be tricky. The King and I is politically incorrect, Annie Get Your Gun has aboriginal stereotypes, Peter Pan has aboriginal stereotypes, violence and questionable gender roles, Bohemier said. He had to tweak some scripts, some considerably.

He would really like to see the province build proper school theatres in each division, to be shared by schools' performing arts, band and dance productions.

About those the flying monkeys: You'll have to buy a ticket.

Illustrious alumni

Gerald Bohemier lists some well-known people who got their first shot at stardom in his middle-school productions:

Jeremy Koz, who has performed at Rainbow Stage, has his own rock band and appeared on Canadian Idol.

Krista Jackson was a DJ on YTV and is a local actress.

Moses Layco, a professional dancer, appeared on So You Think You Can Dance Canada.

Tyler Brule, who moved to England and became a BBC journalist, magazine editor, and television host.


Edmund Partridge School will stage The Wizard of Oz at 7 p.m. at the 1,300-seat Pantages Theatre on Jan. 25 and 26. Tickets are $12.50 from the school at 204-339-9889, or at the door.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 17, 2013 B1


Updated on Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 10:01 AM CST: replaces photo

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