Fourth grade teachers Katelyn Jackson and Taylor Kuphal have always loved the theater and “The Wizard of Oz.” This past March, they brought those loves to the Kuser stage, and for many, it was a memory that will last forever.
At the end of the school year last June, Jackson and Kuphal discussed the idea of having a school performance that they would direct and choreograph. After approaching principal Roberto Kesting with some of the specifics, he said they could run with the idea, trusting his third year teachers, knowing that they would do an outstanding job.
“What Miss Jackson and Miss Kuphal did was truly amazing,” Kesting said. “They created a memory for the students and our families that will last a lifetime. They should be celebrated for the hours they spent planning, auditioning and rehearsing to make ‘The Wizard of Oz’ come to life.”
Jackson, who participated in theater in high school, decided to study film making at Liberty University because of her passion for the arts. After graduating with a bachelor’s in communications, she continued her education at Liberty, getting a master’s in education. Jackson loves teaching, and wanted to combine this with her skills in film and theatre.
“I had been making movies in my classes at Kuser School, and the kids love it,” Jackson said. “The kids would write a script and act it out, and became really comfortable with the process. They even put the videos on YouTube. Because of this, I had an idea of who would be great for certain lead roles in the play. When the kids came to tryout, they nailed their parts. Each student brought such personality to each character.”
Kuphal, who was in a number of her grade school productions, knew after graduating from The College of New Jersey with an elementary education degree, that she would want to give her students the opportunity to be involved with something that brought her joy when she was her students’ ages.
“We really wanted the students to break out of their shells, and be able to express themselves on stage,” Kuphal said. “So when Katelyn and I talked about doing ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ we thought it would perfect for the students because it shows how Dorothy becomes friends with unlikely characters, teaching kids that everyone is special.”
Auditions were held in October for the March 17 and 18 performances. Roles were open to 2nd through 5th graders, and 50 students showed up, excited, to the first tryout.
“It was great because we were able to have everyone who tried out for the play in the play,” Jackson said. “We didn’t have to cut anyone.”
Practices, were twice weekly for the first two months, and then beginning in January, they were everyday after school from 3:45 to 5 p.m. All of the teachers involved, including Kuphal and Jackson, volunteered. They were not paid for their time.
All of the hard work paid off, though, and they said the play was a success.
“The show was a humbling and growing experience for may of our students,” Kuphal said. “It gave them something to work towards. It was motivation for them to perform on stage, but also to perform their best in the classroom.”
The cast included Neayla Jones as Dorothy, Madison Ritter as the Scarecrow, Tiana Smith as the Tin Man, Gerald Keener as the Lion, and Kayla Rodriguez as the Wicked Witch. They all enjoyed every moment of the experience.
“The best part of the experience was getting to act,” said Nabiha Alam, who played the part of a Munchkin. “When I grow up, I want to be an actress.”
For Francis Kollie, who played a flying monkey, it “felt like flying,” and Smith, the Tin Man, said that working with the other cast members made everyone feel like “one big family.”
Jones, who played Dorothy, said teachers and friends would stop her in the halls to offer support and encouragement.
“One of the lines in the play was, ‘Family and good friends are key to a person’s life,’ and I know this line is true,” she said.
Jackson and Kuphal said they could not have accomplished the task with out the help of other staff members, and are extremely appreciative of the support from the staff and community. Art students created a set under the direction of art teacher Stephanie Walter. Title I teacher Danielle Rafferty helped with running the sound system during rehearsals and after school. PTA President Paige Robertson and treasurer Antonia Caraballo helped with ticket and flower sales, and donated money toward set and costumes.
Joseph Radice, a fourth grade teacher at the school, was in awe of the production.
“I have been a part of a lot of great moments over the last 10 years at Kuser School, but this play was by far the most impressive display of talent this school has to offer from all of the students and teachers involved,” he said. “It was absolutely incredible.”
Although most of the students were sad when the play was over, Jackson and Kuphal are looking forward to next year, hoping to do another production.