From Concept to Curtain

The Artistry, Camaraderie, and Consistency behind VCHS Drama

In the world of high school drama, the stage is not merely a platform for performances. The stage is a canvas where creativity and collaboration intertwine. Behind the mesmerizing production of “The Wizard of Oz” at Valley Catholic School, Drama Director Ginnie Paterson, set designers Matt and Tracey Curfman, and a dedicated team of parent volunteers embarked on a journey of conceptualization, collaboration, and technical innovation.

Conceptualization and Inspiration

The journey of bringing Oz to life began with a meeting between Ginnie Paterson and the Curfmans, where budget, existing resources, and the ambitious scope of the production were laid out. Inspired by the Broadway production of “Wicked” and the classic “Wizard of Oz” movie, the team aimed to infuse a touch of steam-punk and an industrial feel, especially in the Witch’s realm. In a collaborative effort between directors and designers, the initial concepts were solidified during a Christmas break meeting.

Matt and Tracey Curfman, parents of alumni Joshua (‘14) and Jennah (‘16), played a pivotal role in designing the sets. Despite their children having graduated, the Curfmans continued their commitment to the spring musicals, bringing together about 30 people, including students and parents, for at least six hours each Saturday for two months to build and paint sets under their direction.

Collaboration and team effort

The collaboration extended beyond set designers, involving vocal director Kelliann Wright (’05) and choreographer Brittney Clark.

Ginnie OZ

Reflecting on the challenges faced, Ginnie Paterson noted, “The triumphs came with the amazing support from our parents, from alumni parents, and several community members who volunteered. We were blessed to have an incredibly talented and creative production team. Everyone was ‘all in’ for this one.”

Moms who are alumni, Tania Rhein (‘95) and Lisette McNasser (‘94), played important roles in supporting the musical in various capacities. Tania designed the programs, and together they organized potluck lunches during Saturday work parties, contributed to props, lobby and cafeteria decorations, the Sisters’ reception, the bulletin board with headshots of the cast and crew, and the marquee sign outside the auditorium. Carrie Bateman, a current parent, coordinated all parent volunteers.

VCHS OZ headshots

Technical innovations

Oz Witch's forest

A standout feature was “The Wizard of Oz” projection scene, where student artists contributed to digital backdrops. Elaborating on this, Ginnie Paterson expressed, “The projection scene is a particular standout. Being able to use student artists for the digital backdrops was a wonderful benefit.”

The Wicked Witch’s unique “melting” effect utilized a hydraulic lift, and a CO2 cannon added a smoke element. Glinda’s dress, sourced from a second-hand bridal store, received a fairytale makeover with embellishments and lights. Even Toto, the canine star, became a charming addition to the production.

Adaptations and challenges

Balancing audience expectations with creative freedom, the team blended budget constraints and personal inspirations to craft a fresh yet recognizable look. Ginnie Paterson emphasized, “We took what we were able to work within the budget, space-wise and our own inspirations from both the movie and other sources, and created a look that we wanted to be somewhat fresh but still recognizable to the audience.”

Oz Witch melting
Oz Glinda
Oz Tin Man
Oz Set

Student involvement

Drama students also played a vital role in bringing the envisioned set to life. Every Saturday, they joined parent volunteers in constructing, painting, and crafting numerous set pieces and costumes. The students gained hands-on experience and creative autonomy, learning valuable skills that extended beyond the stage. In the enchanting world behind the curtain of “The Wizard of Oz” at Valley Catholic, it was not just about presenting a classic tale but about weaving a tapestry of imagination, dedication, and collaborative spirit that will resonate in the memories of everyone involved for years to come.

Behind the Curtain with VCS Drama Volunteers

It’s true what Dorothy said at the end of “The Wizard of Oz” – “There’s no place like no home.” For the Valley Catholic School Drama Department, a core group of dedicated parents have helped build a home for Valiant students to thrive not only on stage but also behind the curtain.

For several years, audience members who watch a Valley Catholic drama production have been treated to intricate set designs and costumes thanks to dedicated parent volunteers who have meticulously worked behind the scenes for weeks leading up to performance night.

Often you will find those dedicated volunteers backstage making final adjustments even as the curtain rises on opening night. In 2011, Matt and Tracy Curfman jumped into helping build a set for the first time in a Valley Catholic drama production after their son landed a role in the fall play. While the Curfmans had been involved with set building in one way or another, it was in 2016 that they ventured into set design. Along with another Valley Catholic parent, they helped build and design the set for that year’s spring musical, “Beauty and the Beast.

In 2019, Ginnie Paterson, Valley Catholic Fine Arts Department Chair and Drama Director, asked the Curfmans to help design the set for that year’s spring musical “Shrek.” In 2020, the Curfmans designed the set for “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” Sadly the show only ran for one week before it was canceled due to COVID-19. Ever since then, the Curfmans have been the lead designers for the spring musicals.

Matt Curfman Oz

“Not only are Tracy and Matt Curfman incredibly creative and talented, they are wonderful to work with, and the students always learn a lot from them,” said Ginnie Paterson. “Their involvement is a testament to the spirit of the drama department at Valley, and the entire Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon campus community.”

Unlike other schools with bigger drama departments that offer specific classes for set building, lighting, and costume design, Valley Catholic students learn all of those skills at hands-on Saturday work parties which are often organized by talented parent and alumni volunteers. “By helping construct the sets and create the costumes, the cast and crew have an ownership in the show that goes well beyond performing in it,” said Paterson. “The whole experience means more to them, because they helped create it.”

Though their children have graduated from Valley Catholic School, the Curfmans have remained involved with set design and construction. Even after a show has closed, you will find the Curfmans helping organize and save the set pieces in the prop room so that the materials can be repurposed for the next drama production. “When we start pulling flats from the closet on the first day of set building, it’s fun to see what was used in previous dramas or musicals; it always leads us down memory lane,” said Matt and Tracy Curfman. “We typically reuse the flats and other pieces of wood until there are too many screw and nail holes to make it practical to use.”

Oz set build
Oz set
Oz set

Once a show theme and casting are completed for a drama production, Drama Director Ginnie Paterson will hold a parent meeting and encourage parents to sign a set building form that allows their students to learn how to use power tools properly and help build the set. Students who do not want to use power tools are still involved by working on craft projects which will be used on set.

The actual set build takes four to six weeks while the set design is more fluid – allowing last-minute changes to be made. The Curfmans say,

Oz Set Build

“On the first day of the build we give kids projects that are easy for them to start with, especially if they have never used power tools before. We show them how to use the tools safely, and carefully watch them to make sure they understand what is being asked of them. It is rewarding to see how proficient they become with the tools in just a few short weeks.”

While the set is getting built, parent volunteers Kris Arbaugh and Karin Presnell are hard at work constructing and sewing costumes. Since “CLUE” in the fall of 2021, Kris and Karin have been the primary costume designers for all Valley Catholic theater productions.

“The first thing we do is go through the costume closet and pull anything and everything that would work for the upcoming production. Almost everything in the costume closet is fair game for reuse and refashioning,” said Karin Presnell.

For Karin Presnell, when her child wanted to get involved with the theater department at Valley Catholic School, she made it a family activity. She found that the Saturday work days were a great opportunity to get to know everyone and help the students learn the importance of working together – behind the scenes.

During Presnell’s first time volunteering for a VCS drama production, the students were preparing to put on “Much Ado About Nothing.” The costumes were student-driven for the play and Presnell was able to give the students instructions to capture the overall 1940s style of the hair, makeup, and clothing.

Dorothy OZ
Dorothy and Toto OZ

When it comes to sourcing costumes, Kris Arabaugh and Karin Presnell will look absolutely everywhere for materials, fabric and clothing to use – vintage/secondhand stores, online, even other schools; nowhere is off limits. The dedicated volunteers will even use their own accessories if it fits with the production. “We have a few collections that consist of several specific costumes for a particular show. Often, we borrow or rent costumes from other theater companies or high schools; we also let other schools use our stock as well,” said Ginnie Peterson. “The attitude is wonderfully generous from the surrounding drama community. Everyone tries to be as resourceful and sustainable as possible.”

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As Kris Arbaugh and Karin Presnell watch their children take their final bows in the Valley Catholic theater, the two volunteers will be back designing and sewing costumes for the next group of theater kids. They will also be joined by the Curfmans who continue to give back to the entire SSMO community.

“We feel like our family received so much from our time at Valley Catholic School. Volunteering here is the best way we can show our gratitude to the schools and the Sisters.” said Matt and Tracy Curfman. “We also enjoy teaching our craft to others, especially the students. We hope they will carry the knowledge they have learned during set building as they journey on into the next chapters of their lives.”

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