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Plant City High theater director gives his all for Wizard of Oz

PLANT CITY

One look at the technological marvels employed in the Plant City Players' latest production of The Wizard of Oz, and you know you're no longer in Kansas.

Or a high school auditorium.

Students from Plant City and Newsome high schools have teamed up for a spectacle that includes lighting that would rival a Broadway touring production, wind machines to replicate the tornado that blew Dorothy into Oz, an actual terrier playing Toto and a ZFX Flying Effects Machine that allows characters to sail above the stage.

Yes, the flying monkeys actually fly, and the Wicked Witch actually takes off on her broom.

People power, however, means as much to the show as all the theatrical wizardry on display. A cast and crew numbering more than 200 — including elementary and middle school students as munchkins — provides an equal amount of energy for the production, which wraps up with shows tonight and Saturday at 7:30 at the Plant City High Auditorium.

After all, they've been rehearsing since the beginning of the school year.

And the biggest spark plug is Plant City High theater director Van Frost, a man who talks a mile a minute and drinks Dunkin' Donuts coffee straight out of one of those giant cartons.

No cream, no sugar.

Caffeine plays a part in Frost's drive, but the goal of creating a memorable production for the kids is even more important. Frost wants nothing more than the students to rave about their participation in the show tomorrow, next year and next decade.

"When they're 40, I want them to talk to their kids and say, 'Let me tell you what I did,'" Frost said.

Frost is so intent on this goal, he actually took time during the practice to allow every cast member a turn on the flying machine. It took hours, but Frost said the look on the kids' faces made it all worthwhile.

"He's so emotionally invested in these kids," said Lori Matta, the show's choreographer.

It's those joyful looks that fuel Frost's drive. He walked away from the corporate world more than a decade ago, willing and ready to sacrifice his job as a computer systems designer to nurture young minds.

When he met with Plant City High officials eight years ago to apply for his first teaching job, the principal looked at his resume and asked, "Do you know how much money teachers make?"

Frost replied, "If I was motivated by money, I wouldn't be sitting here."

He's also a former Marine drill instructor, but Frost's engaging personality belies that hardened role. During a recent rehearsal, kids stood patiently by his side, eager to get his approval on various aspects of the show.

His own son, Conner, plays the Scarecrow, but all the students are his kids and his students. He teaches during productions — occasionally explaining the symbolism of L. Frank Baum's masterpiece — and he demands students maintain good grades even though the rehearsals are time intensive.

He also offers advice with a humorous twist. He tells the boys that anyone can take a girl to a movie, but a really smart guy takes a date to a live theater performance and sweeps her off her feet.

More than anything, he wants to instill a love of theater in the kids.

"He's very driven," said Morgan Lewis, the 14-year-old Plant City High freshman who plays Dorothy. "He pushes you to achieve to your full potential.

"He's shown me that no matter what you do, you can have fun and express yourself."

Frost is quick to credit school administrators and a team of adult helpers, including Newsome High theater director Steve Austin, for helping him put together the productions.

In the end, everyone contributes to one singular goal.

"We're here to make magic."

. IF YOU GO

'The Wizard of Oz'

What: Presented by the Plant City Players and Newsome Performing Arts

When: Tonight and Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Plant City High School Auditorium, Plant City. General admission tickets cost $10; orchestra level seats are $15.

Principal cast: Morgan Lewis as Dorothy, Conner Frost as the Scarecrow, Tyler Waring and Julian Kazenas as the Tin Man, Casey Hamilton as the Cowardly Lion, Kirsten Aman as the Wicked Witch, Alecsa Kazenas and Kadie Cox as Glinda the Good Witch, Alan Schism as the Wizard, Alix Hooker as Auntie Em, Mitchell Spencer as Uncle Henry, Macie Moore as Toto.

For more information: (813) 781-1285

Plant City High theater director gives his all for Wizard of Oz 11/18/10 [Last modified: Thursday, November 18, 2010 3:30am]
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