IAHS students hope to follow ‘yellow brick road’ to Memphis theater

By Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times

“Look how far we’ve come to even be able to consider doing this,” Victoria Blake, head of the Itawamba Agricultural High School Indian Players, said regarding the decision to take their recent production of “The Wizard of Oz” to the Orpheum Theater in Memphis.
Like stepping on stage in front of a capacity crowd, it’s a decision that took some guts. Not that Blake hasn’t take such chances before.
“Five or six years ago, I was sitting here wondering if we could produce a pretty big musical. Were we capable of doing that?
“We took the plunge, and we did it,” she said. “Now, we’re sitting here taking it one step further by putting it on the Orpheum stage. It’s amazing.”
If all goes according to plan, the cast and crew of “The Wizard of Oz” will host an encore performance of their production at the Orpheum Theater in downtown Memphis this July. It’s a broad step up in scale from the cozy auditorium inside the Fulton Grammar School to the sprawling 2,400-seat theater frequently called the “Broadway of the South,” but, given help, Blake thinks it’s one that can be made.
“The community support for this is going to be key,” Blake said. “I think with the fundraisers we have, donations and the support of the people we have in the community, we can do this.”
It’s going to take a lot of community support, Blake said. Because the Orpheum is a professional stage, the Indian Players have to raise enough funds to pay both the theater’s professional crew and union dues — an estimated $20,000. If raising that amount of scratch seems daunting, that’s because it is. Blake said she’s already first in line to acknowledge this fact.
“It’s a lot of money,” she said, adding that she’s the kind of person who frequently jumps out of the plane to see if she can fly. “If you don’t try, you never know. I’m one of those people.”
“The Wizard of Oz” completed its three-day run in February. Most of its shows were sellouts.
This is not the first time a Northeast Mississippi production has been carried to the big city. In fact, Amory High School hosted its production of “The Phantom of the Opera” at the Orpheum earlier this month. It can be done, and that bolsters Blake’s confidence tremendously.
“I’ve had so many students ask me if it was possible for us to go and perform at the Orpheum, too. Like Amory,” Blake said. To help her decide, she recently held a meeting with drama department parents to see if they’d be willing to put forth the effort necessary to make it possible.
It was a tremendous success.
“We had such a good turnout for that first meeting that we decided to jump in feet first,” Blake said, adding that she has been in close contact with Amory High School for advice.
“This will give our young students a chance to perform onstage where professional touring companies perform,” Ashley Montgomery, one of the heads of the Itawamba Drama and Educational Arts Association (IDEAA), explained. “It’s taking an amateur production and placing it in a professional setting. This will give all of them a chance at being on a major, professional stage.”
The members of IDEAA are in charge of the fundraising efforts that will, hopefully, carry “The Wizard” to Memphis. They’ve planned a series of fundraising events that should help bring in the money, and they’re backed by the full support of the drama department’s parents.
“The parents of the cast have been very supportive in this,” Montgomery said, adding that fundraising efforts will continue until they load on the bus to go to Memphis.
No matter what happens in the end, all of the money raised will go to support the Indian Players. Not a dime will go to waste.
The journey to the Orpheum will likely be as long and winding as the Yellow Brick Road itself, but Blake said her ruby slippers will be skipping along the bricks all the way.
“We’re in a territory we’ve never traveled before,” Blake said. “We don’t know what to expect or how the community will respond to this. That’s nerve-wracking.
“But, if it’s meant to be, it will be,” she added. “This opportunity could have a huge impact on these children. It’s important we at least try.”

Adam Armour can be reached at 862-3141, bye-mailing adam.armour@journalinc.com or by visiting his blog at itawamba360.com.