“Oz” production at Virginia Theatre highlights performers’ love for dance

Photo by Lindsay Cox | Costumes for characters in “Journey to the Land of Oz” were hand-sewn by volunteers at the Springer Cultural Center.

Photo by Lindsay Cox |
Costumes for characters in “Journey to the Land of Oz” were hand-sewn by volunteers at the Springer Cultural Center.

Greg Gancarz

Staff Writer

The Champaign Park District will be showcasing over 80 dancers from first grade through graduate school in their upcoming production “Journey to the Land of Oz” on April 8–9.

The show is broken into three sections: a 30-minute Irish dance section, a 20-minute contemporary dance section and a 45-minute ballet section. The ballet section is themed “The Wizard of Oz.”

Megan Sieg, a neuroscience student who’s been dancing with the Park District for two years now, says the ballet sections are “telling the story of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ without the words, through dance.”

Work on the production began in January. According to Program Director Gina Wojnar, staff and parent volunteers have already put in lots of work.

“[Staff and parents have contributed] well over a hundred hours of time to help [the] performance come together,” says Wojnar.

These volunteers are almost entirely responsible for construction of the onstage sets and costumes that will be used during the performances. Volunteers help with every aspect of the production, even if they have little previous experience.

“We’ve got moms who know nothing about sewing who will still hand-stitch buttons onto costumes,” says Regina Ray, a mother who has been aiding the park district’s production efforts for nine years. “We’ve got people who bring foods in so we can sew all day and keep the whole thing going. It’s very much a team effort.”

Volunteers like Ray admit the work is always a struggle because of how time consuming it can be, but also says it’s always worth it.

“It doesn’t matter if you’d worked on a tiny part or something big, [the best part] is still just seeing it all come together,” says Ray.

For Sue Barlow, another parent who’s volunteered for multiple years just “having the opportunity to be creative and see a finished product” is a reward in and of itself, in addition to seeing the girls in action up on the stage.

Barlow says she’s happy to volun-teer and help the park district in putting on the show.

“They are providing a quality program in teaching these dancers to love to dance and, to me, that’s the most important thing,” says Barlow.

The dancers themselves spend large amounts of time preparing, as well. Rehearsals usually take place on weekends, with practices often spilling over into the week. For Sieg, being a graduate student means that most of her free time outside of school is spent on the production.

“I love dancing so I enjoy it, though,” Sieg says.

With the time before the premiere date winding down, Wojnar and the volunteers are all confident the show will be “a successful performance that people will enjoy watching,” according to Wojnar.

“We may have to work 80 hours in that last week to finish up costumes,” said Barlow, “but we’ll have it all done in time.”

Wojnar has been the program director for over half a year, however it’s her first time “working in this capacity with the theatre.” She says it’s a very exciting experience.

“I really get a sense of the work ethic that the students in our program put forth and their interest,” Wojnar says. “It’s inspiring to see so many people coming together.”

Wojnar herself grew up dancing and performing. Now, she and other instructors practice hands-on for
hours on end with the young perfor-mers of the show to get everything right, an effort she’s happy to take part in.

“I’m constantly delighted to be bringing our community an opportunity to have an experience in dance,” says Wojnar.

Performances will be Saturday, April 8 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, April 9 at 2 p.m. at the Virginia Theater in downtown Champaign.

Tickets are available online or at the theater box office through the day of the performance. Tickets are $13 for adults and $10 for seniors and children 12 and under.

For more information on “Journey to the Land of Oz” and to buy tickets, go to thevirginia.org/events.