The diagnosis of cancer can be terrifying.
That simple six letter word can turn your world upside down and inside out and leave you feeling like you don’t know whether you’re coming or going. It’s a maddening loss of control that can weigh heavily on both the patient and their family.
“When you hear the diagnosis of cancer, you’re in a crazy world,” said Shari Akers, director of the Blaine Middle School/High School Combined Drama Team said. “Nothing makes sense.”
Akers, who has firsthand experience with the disease (her mother died from cancer and she herself battled it just this year),
channeled those feelings of helplessness and frustration to create an original musical called “Hatter of Oz” for her combined drama team.
“We’re still building our program and can’t afford the royalty shows yet, so we created our own. Along the way, we decided we wanted to do some fundraising for cancer,” she said. Akers, who has a master’s degree in musical playwriting, set to work creating a show that could take this serious subject and approach it with hope. It’s the second musical the drama team has tackled, and the first time they have combined with the middle school to perform on stage.
Borrowing characters from well-known plays “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Wizard of Oz” to set the stage for a crazy, mixed-up world, Akers ended up with a production that took the issues of “What do you do?” and “What support do you have?” to face cancer head on.
“It’s about how to persevere when you’ve been told that you or someone you love has cancer,” she said. “When we lost principal Deb Cummings to cancer last year, the whole district started talking. There are more than 200 kinds of cancer out there, and everyone knows somebody who has been touched by the disease.”
Students embraced the musical despite its serious tone. Freshman Nathan Smith, who played “Nobody,” a lead character who
struggled with the fallout from his mother’s attempted suicide, said he was inspired by the play’s message. “I feel changed by knowing that there are kids who really are in this situation,” he said. “It’s very heavy, but a very creative story even amidst all the sadness.”
Smith said that though he knows people who have gone through these kinds of life events, he’s never experienced them himself. “It was a challenge,” he said. “I had to really reach for this character. I would go home and just think about what I would do if it were my mom who was dealing with this.”
“Hatter of Oz” has been submitted to the Seattle 5th Avenue Theater Awards, a high school competition in Seattle. “It’s kind of like the Tony awards,” Akers said.
“They award best actor, best actress, best costumes and lobby displays. Last year there were 98 schools that participated.”
Smith was selected by his peers to join Ashton Anderson, Kini Stewart and Kira Troutman to perform in the opening ceremonies at the Seattle 5th Avenue Theater Awards on June 11.
Last year, four students were also nominated for “Best Actors in a Non-Singing Role” and the artwork was nominated for “Best Lobby Display” for their original musical “Umik!”
During its run, the Blaine High School/Middle School Combined Theater Arts production of “Hatter of Oz” raised $1,161 through donations for cancer research, exceeding the goals they had set for themselves. The money will go to the American Cancer Research Association.
An additional $400 raised will be put toward their program to pay for expenses not covered by the fundraising the team does
throughout the year.
“I’m really really proud of these kids. They’re not used to doing musicals and each year they step up,” Akers said.
“Hatter of Oz” is Akers’ 21st play and 11th full-length musical that she has written and directed.