Peter Wood Productions

Production: The Wiz

Urbana High School, Ijamsville, Maryland

Director: Stephanie Weigelt

Involvement: Special effects designer, including atmospheric and pyrotechnic consultation

The spunky, 70's version of the classic "Wizard of Oz" story is a shoe-in for special effects. Urbana High's production in April of 2003 boasted the largest menagerie yet of special effects, including a slew of pyrotechnic, fog, compressed carbon dioxide, and mechanical effects.

All special effects were designed and produced by Peter Wood Productions (PWP), then the reigns were handed over to trained actors, technicians, and stage crew members, who executed the effects during the run of the show. Below is the complete list of effects, props, and set pieces that PWP was directly involved with.

The Wiz fireball cane and remote control Tin Man hat

The directors determined that the Wiz needed to shoot a ball of fire at the Scarecrow from his staff. PWP took the existing staff, and duplicated its design with PVC pipe (above, left). Next, a handheld pyrotechnic barrel was added to the ball, as well as a two switch system (one armed, one fired), and the required battery to make it all work. The unit was then professionally painted by Josh Scalera, to give it a durable, automotive-quality emerald luster. It was nearly indistinguishable from the previous version, but shot a sparking ball of fire 15-20 feet across the stage.

In The Wiz, the Tinman is actually supposed to be a trash can. To add a touch of humor, the directors requested a hat for Chris Scalera (playing the Tinman, above right) that would open and close, like the lid of many kitchen trash cans. PWP designed the mechanics for a remote-control system to achieve this. A servo, 9 volt battery, and receiver were in Chris' hat, while the band director in the orchestra pit was given the special job of controlling the hat (with an RC car-style controller). After the mechanism was finished, Mama Corsetto in the costume shop finished it off with silver lame and a helmet to complete the illusion (see animation at right).

Skeletons (above left) were needed in the Evilenne throne scene, though more for humor than horror. PWP's stock skeletons were perfect additions to Evilenne's throne, as their faces were stuck in a smiling grimace, rather than anything truly scary. The throne itself was one of the more mechanically complex aspects of the show. A miniature elevator was installed, powered by a counterweight system, and customized for Evilenne, played by Kate Mackey. The red throne box is actually just four walls. The seat section sinks down 30 inches to allow for an effective melting sequence (see above right). A simple 2x4 stop was installed so the chair could be sat upon without sinking before her demise.

As an added touch, fog from a fog machine was piped up and out of the throne, giving a steaming, sizzling effect. Also added to the throne set was a silk flame effect, held by the skeleton on the left. A commonly-available hanging flame bowl was attached to a PVC base, and gelled with red semitransparent plastic, to give a more realistic flame look. Shortly into construction, it became apparent that the 14-foot-tall unit would have to fit through a 10 foot doorway. The back of her throne (giant flame cutout) was hinged below the floorline, so that it could be folded up and stored when in transit.

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