“It's really neat for them to go in and tap their own creativity. Each and every one of them has stepped out of their shells."

Students at Inman Junior/Senior High School are headed back to the books — L. Frank Baum’s book, specifically.

A cast of 35 seventh- and eighth-grade students will perform the short play, “The Wizard of Oz” Feb. 25 and 26, which is based off the literary telling of Dorothy’s adventures in Oz.

“It’s a little different from what people are used to seeing in the movie as it’s based off the book,” explained Gay Jordan, director of the show and Kansas Can Coordinator at Inman. “The ruby slippers aren’t ruby, they’re silver. The characters are about the same, like Dorothy, the tin woodsman, Toto, the scarecrow, but there are some characters that are a bit different, like different creatures, gentleman and ladies of the court, the good witch of the north.”

The script, based off Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” follows the adventures of Dorothy, her dog Toto and a cast of friends down the yellow brick road. On top of this interpretation, students in the production are free to add in their own creative take on the tale.

“The script’s publishing company encourages us to be creative and interpret it how we wish,” Jordan said. “It’s really neat for them to go in and tap their own creativity. Each and every one of them has stepped out of their shells. I thought a few of them would right off the bat, but they’ve all surpassed my expectations.”

Students in the show quickly learned that their everyday — human — mannerisms wouldn’t work for characters like singing flowers, a cowardly lion or a flying monkey. Jordan started the rehearsal process by teaching students to think outside their movements to interpret each character.

“The choreographing has been so fun. Movement is a huge part of this because the students are learning how a flying monkey might move, what that monkey might sound like. That’s really encouraged the students to be creative in that,” Jordan said. “Toto is played by a person, so that actor really needed to think about what a dog might do in the forest, where that dog might stand. Even the Scarecrow had to think about how to walk disjointed.”

Outside of rehearsals, seventh and eighth grade students in art classes have lent a hand — and a paint brush — for backdrops and set pieces.

“During their elective time for art, those students have worked on the backdrops as well, so these students have been a big part of this from start to finish,” Jordan said. “We’ve multicasted a lot of the roles so students are both in the show and part of the stage crew. Everyone is pretty involved.”

Inman Junior/Senior High School rotates each year between a junior high play and a high school musical, so this year’s production will prepare students for a larger production in the future.

“They’ll take these speaking skills with them, as well as study skills. They’ve had to sit down with their script and learn their lines and the context, as well as memorizing,” Jordan said. “It’s neat to watch them create something that they’re not. Hopefully we’re building skills for forensics and drama later on.”

Most of all, Jordan hopes students will feel more comfortable in front of a crowd, whether they’re dressed as flying monkeys or just being themselves.

“The biggest thing that all of them will pick up is self-confidence,” Jordan said. “The ability to stand up there and know that there’s a couple hundred people looking at you takes confidence in itself, let alone portray something that you’re not.”

Performances will be at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Feb. 25 and at 3 p.m. Feb. 26. Tickets are $4 for adults, $3 for students and free for children age 5 and under, and can be purchased at the USD 448 central office.