What happens in Tybee stays in Tybee.
Or so it might have seemed in the past, with the island and Savannah theater communities operating more or less independently of one another.
Yet the Tybee Arts Association's production of The Wizard of Oz, opening July 22, is so big, so colorful and so ambitious, it's quite likely to take center stage as the main attraction of Chatham County's summer season.
According to board president Renee DeRossett, who's co-directing this Wizard (she also plays the Cowardly Lion), the two-weekend production has a cast of 60 people. "There are scads of munchkins, and more Emerald City citizens than most," DeRossett explains. "In the munchkin scene, we have children and adult munchkins. Some of the older kids are doubling as the flying monkeys. And the voices are amazing."
Add to this elaborate costumes and sets, professionally-rendered video production inserts and special effects, satellite stages, live animals and the return to thespianism of Tybee's former representative to the Georgia House, and the Association feels pretty darn certain it's got a winner on its busy little hands.
DeRossett's group has had some major successes in the past few years, including Steel Magnolias, The Curious Savage and the female version of Neil Simon's The Odd Couple.
Not that's it's been an easy road - yellow brick or otherwise.
The non-profit Tybee Arts Association was incorporated in 1996. "Then it was mainly the artists that got together," says DeRossett, "just to have a body. Because there were a lot of artists out here. But artists make money for themselves - they weren't making a lot of money for the association.
"So we started doing plays to make money, to buy easels and things. And we really make most of our money from the shows - that's why we call it the Tybee Arts Performing Society."
TAPS, for short.
Over the last decade, however, "We had some problems with the arts festival. It got so huge, and we had a lot of out of town artists coming in. The local artists kind of split away and said ‘That's just not what we want.' So we're going back to the basics with that, and getting our artists back involved."
Since 2005 or so, she says, "the theatrical productions have been the only thing making a profit for our arts association."
The massive, multi-media Wizard of Oz is being staged in the Tybee Gym. For one thing, the TAPS black box theater (in the old Tybee firehouse building) only holds an audience of 50-60.
For another thing ... it's being renovated.
On the opening night of Steel Magnolias last November, all power to the building disappeared, just two hours before curtain. A generator was hastily purchased, the show went on, and the power eventually restored.
Soon after, however, a City inspection revealed the need for a second exit door. Between that and several other (relatively minor) issues, the black box was put on hiatus. DeRossett says the group needs $20,000 to upgrade the facility to their liking.
And so we come to summer 2011. "Back in 2005, a production of Alice in Wonderland netted $20,000," DeRossett says. "So I thought to myself, ‘All right, what can we do - something big - to make our money to get our building up to code?'
"And that's why we're doing Wizard of Oz. We can seat over 200 people per show in the gym."
Another precedent was Eddie Wilson's original musical The Treasure of Lefty the Pirate in 2009. Featuring an all-Tybee cast and crew, the show (presented in the gym) was a huge success. All four performances were packed, and the proceeds were donated to the Friends of the Tybee Post Theater - the group that's working on renovating and re-opening the old military-base structure on Van Horne Drive.
DeRossett says she's looking forward to potential future collaborations with the theater folks. Tybee Post president Jim Kluttz, she says, "is amazing. He's a wonderful man, and he has changed the tides over there."
Another Tybee tide-turner is area resident Burke Day, who retired last year after serving 16 years in the Georgia House of Representatives.
Day is playing the Wizard himself.
"I'm originally from Atlanta, and part of my education was two years at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts," Day explains. "Prior to that, in high school, I starred in some musicals. And that's where I met my wife Sally."
(Day was in My Fair Lady, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown and Oklahoma!, among others. "In South Pacific," he says, "I bellydanced. And that's hard. These days, my belly dances, but it's due to a different nature.")
Just before entering politics, he produced several shows in the Atlanta area.
Day says he was "sold" on the elaborate plans laid out by DeRossett and her co-director Kim Trammell (she's playing the Wicked Witch).
"What I'm excited about is the level of creativity that I've seen so far. This is a dream come true for me. For years I was going ‘One day, there'll be a good Tybee theater group.' And it happened when I was gone.
"So when I got back, it was a pleasant surprise."
The video and effects for The Wizard of Oz are being produced by Tytan Studios, a Tybee-based production company that's done commercial work for Nike and other companies, and contributed to several films and TV network shows.
Jim Stone (CEO) and Scott Jacobs (chief creative officer) are doing the work for free, along with director Brad Kremer.
"We absolutely love Tybee, and Savannah," Stone says. "Scott and I both moved our families here, our businesses here. I don't absolutely love the politics in Tybee, but I love the people and the place.
"We try to give back. Every year, we work with a couple of non-profits. In the past, we've worked with Hospice Savannah, we've worked with Savannah Speech & Hearing, and right now we're working with a young rap artist downtown. So we do a fair bit of pro bono work in the community - people that normally couldn't afford our services."
Stone is thrilled about his company's role in The Wizard of Oz.
"Specifically, we're going to film the characters in costume, on green screen," he says. "And then we're going to morph them from one character into another - Miss Gulch morphs into the Wicked Witch. We're going to turn Congressman Day into the all-powerful Oz!
"We're going to have some fun with it."
The Wizard of Oz
Where: Tybee Island Gym, Butler Avenue and 5th Street, Tybee Island
When: At 7:30 p.m. July 22, 23, 29, 30; 3 p.m. July 24 and 31
Admission: $20 public, $12 children age 12 and under, $18 for Tybee Arts Association members
Additional info: tybeearts.org
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