Ella Webb and Olivia Drury in The Wizard of Oz.
With the role of Miss Gulch/Wicked Witch of the West double cast in the Summer Players’ production of The Wizard of Oz (Julianne Argyros Stage, Aug. 10-11, 17-18), actors Olivia Drury and Ella Webb are having double the fun this summer. In our Q&A with Drury and Webb, learn how they, along with the entire Oz cast—all advanced students in SCR’s Theatre Conservatory—are bringing this beloved musical to life on stage.
How much fun is it to play the iconic villain role in The Wizard of Oz? What do you enjoy the most about the role, and what are your biggest challenges?
Drury: It is an absolute blast to play the Wicked Witch in this show. My favorite part has to be terrorizing Dorothy and her crew! The actors are some of my best friends, so it’s really fun to get to be really cruel and terrify them. The biggest challenge was definitely the size of the witch. It is such an iconic role, so filling those shoes was a little intimidating at first. I just had to learn to go for it, play around and be okay with making a fool out of myself.
Webb: I’ve loved getting to play the Wicked Witch in this production of The Wizard of Oz. Playing such an iconic role is certainly daunting; one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced throughout the rehearsal process is creating a character that still feels unique and truthful to me, having grown up watching the Wicked Witch performed a certain way. Finding my individual Witch has really pushed me to experiment with character choices, whether that meant playing into some of Margaret Hamilton’s iconic choices or looking at the character from an entirely new angle. Perhaps the most enjoyable part of this process has been reveling in this character’s evilness. Playing villains like the Witch is incredibly fun because you have the opportunity to develop motivations and reasonings for the character’s actions throughout the story. The time I’ve spent talking with Hisa [Takakuwa], our director, and Olivia, my counterpart, about the nature of Ms. Gulch and the Witch has been a real highlight for me.
Does the double casting of the Miss Gulch/Wicked Witch of the West role allow you to play other characters in the show?
Drury: Yes! In addition to Ms. Gulch and the Witch, I also play a Crow that bullies the Scarecrow, a citizen who welcomes Dorothy to Oz, and the Winkie General who commands the army of the Wicked Witch of the West.
Webb: When Olivia and I are not playing the Witch and Ms. Gulch, we are on an ensemble track for the night. We get to play a Crow, an Osian [resident of Oz], and also get to control Glinda’s bubble!
Were you a fan of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books or the classic film before getting cast in The Wizard of Oz?
Webb: Before getting cast in this production of The Wizard of Oz, I was a big fan of the classic film. I remember watching the film when I was younger, singing along during “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and covering my eyes when the Witch appeared onscreen. The film is definitely a big part of my childhood, so it is very fun to tell the story now.
Drury: If I’m being completely honest, the movie totally terrified me as a child (especially the Wicked Witch). But I read the book in fifth grade and fell in love with all the characters, magic and adventure.
What are some of your favorite memories from Players’ Productions?
Drury: I loved being the Whisk in Beauty and the Beast and terrorizing Lefou. As a chimney sweep in Mary Poppins, I had so much fun getting to create all the magic of the show. I really enjoyed being the Narrator in Into the Woods and getting to establish the story and support the other characters. Throughout all my years of Players, it’s always been a joy to work with Hisa and Erin [McNally, musical director], the stage management team, the crew and my fellow cast members.
Webb: Summer Players has gifted me with so many wonderful memories throughout the years. During Annie, my first Summer Players show, I remember laying in the orphanage beds onstage while some of the actors performed a prologue to provide some historical context for the show. We had the opportunity to work with a dramaturg that summer who taught us about the Great Depression era in America so we could deepen our understanding of Annie’s story. I recall the slow fading of what I think was one of FDR’s [President Franklin Delano Roosevelt] fireside chats at the beginning of our first orphanage scene as the lights rose onstage. I was very young at the time so I didn’t fully understand its meaning, but I felt that it gave the show a larger significance and I know that I absolutely loved that part of the production.
Some of my fondest memories from Summer Players took place during Mary Poppins. The set for that particular show was absolutely magical; the Banks household had two stories with a little sliding pole to get down, and the backdrop for the London skyline was a beautiful array of darks blues and purples. The whole world of Mary Poppins holds a very special place in my heart. I remember standing backstage with Nick, who played my brother, listening to “Being Mrs. Banks” and feeling the swells of emotion in Katherine Parish’s voice with great clarity. Plus, we got to use British dialects, which made me feel very proper and professional!
Was there an actor who inspired you to start studying acting and immerse yourself in the theatre world?
Webb: I was first inspired to start acting when I heard Sutton Foster’s “Anything Goes” track in one of my dance classes. I had been dancing since I was three years old, but when my teachers put me in that “Anything Goes” dance number; I knew I had to learn whatever Foster was doing. I began to study all the dance breaks in famous musicals like The Producers and Wicked and begged my mom to see the shows at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. My real entrance into the theatre world was at SCR, where I took my first acting class in the third grade.
Drury: I had always been a fan of theatre and acting, but I didn’t decide to start really studying it until I saw A Christmas Carol at SCR in 2012. That show (the young actors in particular) blew me away, and I immediately signed up for classes the following year.
What have been some of the highlights from your acting classes at SCR?
Webb: Most of the highlights of my time at SCR have been within the Players’ classes, both Junior and Teen. Throughout this past year in Teen Players, we had the opportunity to work on a multitude of different characters and text styles. I absolutely love character work, so being able to discover and embody characters like Phedre from Phedre, Estella from Great Expectations, Oliver from Oliver Twist, and more of our own creation was truly a highlight of my time at SCR. In classes at SCR, I always feel supported and comfortable to explore, which makes character work all the more exciting since there’s nothing external holding you back.
Drury: From improvised scenes to working in full body suits to stage combat to learning intricate harmonies, there’s never been a dull day at SCR. Most of all, though, my last Teen Players show, Oliver Twist, was really special to me.
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