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'The Wiz' Opens This Weekend

Champion Middle School prepares for their upcoming production, 'The Wiz.'

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Champion Middle Schoolers had their first dress rehearsal for their newest performance, "The Wiz," last Saturday at the auditorium in Redan High School. 

"It's been kind of a crazy-day rehearsal, " said Joy Hammond, the producer of the performance. "'The Wiz' is something I've always wanted to do, though."

With performance days this Friday and Saturday, she's been busy with making sure the sound system works, checking that every costume piece is perfect, and handling the dozens of actors participating in the performance. 

"The Wiz," which is an African-American adaptation of "'The Wizard of Oz" set in a different time period, has been a two-and-a-half month process for the school, from auditions to rehearsing lines to getting the dance moves down. 

Hammond has put in countless hours and effort into this production. To make sure every note was sung at the right pitch and every dance move was made on the right beat, Hammond hired professionals in each niche to help students in the different aspects of the play: a choreographer who owns her own dance studio in Stone Mountain; a singer who's sang with professionals including Patti Labelle; and Dwayne Boyd, a professional director, actor and producer. Boyd teaches acting classes, which Hammond has taken, and he's also directed a film debuting this summer called "The Ivy League."

"I think it's important for the kids to work with some industry professionals, if they're really interested in pursuing this as a career," said Hammond, who's also a language arts teacher and Champion's drama club sponsor. "The exposure is really important to them. I just hope that this experience is something that they won't forget." 

By asking for these professionals' help, Hammond also hopes to expose her drama club kids to not only the theatre, but to the entertainment industry as a whole. Hammond said that she wants to teach her kids how to audition and help them understand the different components of being in a production.

For eighth grader Leander Howard, it seems to have worked. Boyd and everyone else have inspired Howard to be more serious about acting after he landed his role as the Lion. 

"In the beginning, I wasn't that serious about it until they started telling us to learn our lines," said Howard. "My mom told me that I needed to learn my part, and she started taking things away from me so that I could start learning, so she actually helped me a lot. And I got a lot of help on my singing, too."

Howard hopes that he can sign to an acting agency, too, which Boyd has spoken to him about personally.

Behind the curtain, things are positive, too. Sixth-grader Kayla Mehrtens was chosen as an actor for the performance in the beginning, but she decided to work behind the scenes as an assistant director instead. Mehrtens said that after she saw her sister tecking at DeKalb Technical, she thought it would be fun for herself, too. 

"She showed a lot of initiative and read through the script," said Hammond on when Mehrtens first auditioned. When Mehrtens decided to become the assistant director, added Hammond, "I was sad to see her go because she's a great performer. But she does really well behind the scenes. I can ask her to do something, and she'll take it and run with it and make it happen. She's great."

Mehrtens seems to be enjoying tecking, too. "I think if I had the chance, I would do this again," said Mehrtens.

Despite the hard work and chaotic moments, Hammond feels good about "The Wiz." 

Her kids make it worth it, too. "I've seen so many of them grow from the beginning of the school year to now, and I've seen talent come out. There are going to be some people at our school that are surprised and had no idea that some of these kids have the talent that they have. ... They've been working pretty hard, and I'm very proud of them," she said. 

Tickets for all three performance times (Friday, April 29, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, April 30, 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.) can be purchased online here or at the door. Tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the door. 

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