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Off to the land of Oz, one last time

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For Gerry Bohemier, it ends where it began.

Bohemier, an instructor at Edmund Partridge Community School, has staged 36 theatrical productions at the various schools he’s taught at over the course of a 36-year career.

"I’ve been doing productions since year one. I’ve never missed a year," he said.
Now, with retirement coming at the end of the school year, Bohemier is bringing his latest troupe of actors and stagehands back to familiar territory for his 37th and final show: a trip down the yellow brick road, in the land of Oz.

He staged a production of The Wizard of Oz as his first show as a teacher, back at the beginning of his 27-year run at Holy Cross Catholic School. He recalls it as a decidedly low-tech affair.

"We were doing it in the school gym, $1,000 budget, cardboard props," he said.
But as theatrical technology and Bohemier’s own skills developed, the shows got bigger and better, including a memorable production  of Peter Pan which utilized a flying machine, brought in from Las Vegas.

"As the years progressed, it got a little more elaborate," Bohemier said.

After 27 years at Holy Cross, he transferred to the Seven Oaks School Division, and has spent the last five years at Edmund Partridge.

As the years went on, he was eventually able to give his students the full theatre experience, booking shows at the Centre culturel franco-manitobain and more recently Pantages Playhouse Theatre, where his latest Oz production will also be staged.

"That’s the ultimate, as far as I’m concerned, for a school production. I don’t think a lot of schools go to that kind of length," Bohemier said.

"It gives the kids more of a professional theatre experience. Going to a theatre with 1,300 seats and all the lighting . . . it’s a dream of mine."

But whether he staged plays in gyms or full-scale theatres, Bohemier seems to have made an impression. He said he often bumps into students of his from decades earlier who still recall their experiences working on his productions, and he’s heard an alumni group of around 200 former students will be coming out for his final show.

If his first production of Oz was more simplistic, he’s making up for it now with the most elaborate version he can manage before the curtain closes on his time as an educator. With a Royal Shakespeare Company script in hand, and as many modern theatrical trappings as he can manage, Bohemier’s determined to go out with a bang — to the benefit of both the 150 students involved and the audience.

"The expectations I’ve set are huge. I want to go out with a bang. I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself. I want this to be good," he said.

After it’s all said and done, Bohemier plans to retire to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for at least a few months of relaxation. However, he said he plans to get involved in the area’s burgeoning local theatre scene.

The show will run at Pantages Playhouse from Jan. 25 to 26, with a 7 p.m. showtime each day. Tickets are $12.50 and are available at the school, located at 1874 Main St. The school can be reached by phone at 204-339-9889.

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