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Wellan’s Latest Middle School Drama Production: A Yellow Brick Road into US History

Our Voyager Middle School students recently embarked on an otherworldly adventure. Transforming the school stage into a yellow brick road, a field of poppies, and an emerald city—together they traveled to the land of Oz. But this was no ordinary drama performance. An in-depth study of the text also invited students into the 1890s US political landscape.

As part of a cross-curricular Humanities and Drama project, students applied what they learned about the Populist Movement while reading L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Using symbolism and allegory, they reinvented scenes instead of creating copies of the MGM movie we all remember as children.

Students theorized about possible connections between the novel and historical context surrounding the election of 1896, between two contemporaries of the author: McKinley (a Republican) and Bryan (a Populist who ran on the democratic ticket).

“One of the most obvious connections,” said one 7th grader who directed a scene, ”is the yellow brick road. The yellow bricks that pave the road likely represent gold bars, and the road itself could symbolize the Gold Standard. ... Furthermore, the main goal of Dorothy and her companions is to see the Great Oz himself. OZ is the abbreviation for ounces, which is how we measure gold.”

Above from left: Costume notes detail the symbolism in designs for the Wicked Witch and Glinda the Good Witch; the Wicked Witch of the West delivers a monologue in front of a student-painted poppy field backdrop.

Students practiced skills in literary analysis, drawing inferences, envisioning (and re-envisioning) a script, gaining fluency with theater production values and terminology, and developing visual content to clearly communicate an idea. Students engaged through a multitude of roles: some took to the stage as actors and others worked behind the scenes as directors and designers of the set, costumes, lighting, and sound. To add even more excitement to the project...students accomplished all of this collaboratively in a single week!

One student reflected that “the set, costume, and lighting designers created an ideal design to display with the scenes, as well as the real props, lighting, and costumes of the show.” Above, see a sketch created by an 8th grade costume designer beside a photo of one costume come to life. Note that an 8th grade set designer meticulously painted the backdrop of poppies flower-by-flower. The team also chose transition music and sound effects to enhance the experience of the story, and operated the technology for each cue live during the show.

Above from left: Three directors delivering an insightful curtain speech; a lighting designer in action; the crew behind the scenes.

Not only did the Voyagers succeed in directing, designing, and acting in a production that they only had four days to put together; they also fine-tuned their skills in communication, compromise, time management, and teamwork.

Their impressive final performance was a testament to all of the diligent, thoughtful preparations and attention to detail each student contributed to the team. As one student reflected, “Putting on a production in less than a week has been hectic, but it has been an experience to remember for years to come.” Bravo!


This is one of many interdisciplinary projects enjoyed by students in their Middle School years at Wellan. The program is intentionally designed for experiential learning that weaves together different subjects within the curriculum. Learn more about Wellan’s Voyager Program here.


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