Flying monkeys. Ruby slippers. Rainbows over a long yellow brick road. 

It was a slew of hints drawn in chalk by Ashley Hall theater arts students in seventh and eighth grade for the entire School to see that revealed the March 2023 spring musical selection this September: The Wizard of Oz. Students were let in on the secret during class, then were tasked with sharing the exciting news with the student body by decorating the wall in the middle of campus with elements from the show.

“Our chalk wall is a collaborative space to share news,” says Performing Arts Chair and theater arts faculty member Aimee Phelan-Deconinck. “We wanted to build some anticipation around what the next school play will be, and I also wanted all our students to know that it wasn’t just decided. I wanted our oldest theater arts students to announce it in a big way.”

The original method for announcing this year’s performing arts production was only fitting for a show that is planned to be uniquely Ashley Hall. “We’ve imagined it for our time with our students,” says Phelan-Deconinck. “Obviously we’re going have points of reference, but, how do we make it original to Ashley Hall? How do we transform Davies Auditorium into the flats of the Kansas prairies? What I am most excited about is where this is going in terms of reimagining in terms of originality.”

We sat down with Phelan-Deconinck to hear more about how Ashley Hall will be transforming into Oz this spring.

How was The Wizard of Oz chosen to be this year’s spring musical?

APD: Looking at themes for Girls with the Will and specifically, looking at protagonists that are willful, Dorothy stood out. She can grow, yet she still feels there is purpose for her and she sees the potential in everyone. She speaks to goodwill. Not just my will or strong will, but community will. 

What grades will be involved in the production? 

APD: Grades 5-12 will all be involved, and we’ll audition during the Christmas Play auditions. Grades 5-8 will be auditioning in class and we will be doing an audition unit to help the girls find their unique skill set. An auditioning unit helps students understand that they don’t have to be afraid of an audition. They just have to be prepared. Then grades 9-12 will audition during the school day during flex periods. 

How will the story be adapted for Ashley Hall? 

APD: Davies Auditorium is a space that lends itself to huge amounts of creativity. It’s a beautiful space and neutral in the best sense. It’s a blank palette and that’s how we’re looking at it. I’ll be doing the set, and the conceptual side of things, and Loretta Haskell will serve as music director. I’m so excited to be collaborating with her. She’s immensely knowledgeable and passionate. She’s really nimble, and I feel like we’re really going be able to find this balancing point. 

When it comes to the characters, we’re talking about all three divisions being very involved. Who is Dorothy at these ages? How does she interpret life? Dorothy’s not going to have to fit into this one mold. We will see her at different ages. I’m envisioning our show having three Dorothy’s, one from the Intermediate Program, one from Nautilus, and one from Upper School. 

Do you see Dorothy as an Ashley Hall girl? 

APD: Absolutely. She grows and she can grow because she can let other influences come in. That doesn’t take her off her place, but it’s a community will. She has no ill will towards anyone, even this person who tries to kill her. And then success happens; success beyond what she had imagined. What’s on the other side of the rainbow is just her with a bigger point of view. That’s PQV.