It's all for the theatre's Christmas production of the Wizard of Oz. In a break from rehearsals I chatted to Helen Anker, who plays the good witch, and Michelle Moran, her evil counterpart.
Of course there is a nightly occupational hazard to playing an evil witch, as Michelle knows too well: "I meet a sticky end because I get to be melted."
|Helen Anker learns her moves|
And there are certain dark skills for a stage witch to master: "I have been getting in some cackling practice, it has to sound evil. My throat has to sustain two shows a night for a long period. I've been trying to find a trademark musical cackle which eases the strain.
"I think I've got the children in the cast frightened already, even in rehearsal."
Michelle jokingly adds that "perhaps I'll be bothered less if the kids are scared of me, I hope to cultivate that climate of fear."
The role of a witch is not only challenging to the voice, both Helen and Michelle have to fly around the stage (with the aid of a harness obviously, they are not really witches). This is physical work, Helen has a bubble to fly around in and Michelle has to hang on to a broom.
Neither witch has flown before but Helen has great faith in this joint production with Birmingham Rep.
"Well we haven't done it... but this production of the Wizard of Oz has been put on elsewhere so the costumes and these sort of details are tested - it'll be fine."
|"I have been getting in some cackling practice, it has to sound evil."|
|Michelle Moran, Wicked Witch of the West|
The production is based on the book by L Frank Baum and of course the classic film version of the tale with Judy Garland. And Helen is familiar with that, having watched it every year at Christmas of course.
Helen says: "It is a retelling of the film, I promise it will be different but staying true to that original."
Of course the classic film has a whole plethora of stories around its making and filming. And the Wicked Witch, Michelle, is one of those caught up in the stories.
"Salman Rushdie has written a good book on the film. There's all sorts of stories, for instance the cast filmed a large jitterbug dance sequence but it did not reach the final version of the film. Except one line about the dance was kept in the finished film and that line doesn't now make sense."
Crikey, as well as looking forward to the new stage production it looks like I'll have to go through the whole film to see if I can find that one nonsensical line. And of course thinking of the original reminds me that the production will involve acting, singing, dancing, live music... all this and working with dogs and children too. The witches, and the other members of the cast, are going to have their hands full.
|The cast in rehearsals|
Helen says: "There is lots to do in rehearsal but it already feels like we've been here more than a week. And there is not a minute during the performance when we are not busy. As soon as we are off stage we add our voices to the singing for the ensemble numbers.
"It is going to be atmospheric and there is a lot of charging around backstage.
"The Playhouse has a good name for the technical crew here and everybody is so friendly. The set has a minimal look but the lighting makes it look phenomenal."
Michelle adds: "The good thing about doing such a well known play is that we all have our own images of the Wizard of Oz... so if the set suggests 'forest' we all see exactly what we want to see."
On top of all this there is one great unseen enemy for all the cast to do battle with, the common cold virus. Are our witches doing anything to increase their chances of playing in every performance?
Helen: "I think echinacea is fantastic in warding off colds and we already have colds happening in the rehearsal rooms. On this production we have the luxury of understudies, without which we would have to go on even with 'flu.
Michelle is also taking a comprehensive approach including 'super food', vitamins and fish oils. And she really wants to fight of the colds and be on the stage for the Off to Oz nights when the audience will be encouraged to come dressed as their favourite character:
"I can't wait for those nights! It would be funny to see a load of men dressed as Dorothy - who knows, the Wicked Witch just might become a gay icon."
Helen and Michelle appear in The Wizard of Oz at the West Yorkshire Playhouse from 25 November 2006 - 3 February 2007.