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March 11, 2014 | 03:10 PM
WALWORTH — It wasn’t too long ago that Tessa August was on the Big Foot High School stage.

August and Big Foot English teacher Margaret Mary Zirngibl are co-directing the Big Foot spring musical, “The Wizard of Oz.”

While August was in high school, she performed in “Little Shop of Horrors,” “High School Musical” and “Nuncrackers.” After graduating from the St. Norbert College vocal performance program, August is back at Big Foot to share her expertise with students.

August credits her high school English teacher and play director as a leading role in her stage career.

“My background and knowledge in actual stage directing and production are all credited back to Jeff Brower,” she said. “I wouldn’t be the director that I am if it wasn’t for him.”

Zirngibl, a Williams Bay High School graduate, has worked on musicals at Big Foot the past two years, though “Sweeney Todd” was cancelled last year.

“As a teenager, I was involved in musical productions at Williams Bay High School,” she said. “I never had a lead role. I really got interested in musicals as a stage crew member and makeup artist.”

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Zirngibl said she’s excited to see seniors finish their high school careers in big roles.

“Over the past few years, I’ve gotten the opportunity to watch a number of them really grow into wonderful young adults, and I’m really proud of them,” she said. “When I first met Christopher Hansen (who plays the wizard), he was extremely polite, but also soft-spoken and a bit nervous... three years later, I never would have guessed that he was the same student. Articulate, confident and enthusiastic, Chris is honestly one of those students I’m really going to miss coaching.”

August called the dual directors a dream team.

“Margaret Mary has been so great to work with,” she said. “We work so well together, and (we) both have such great relationships with the students. For the nights I’ve stayed at the school until 9 p.m., it’s been nice to be with someone that I call one of my close friends.”

August said she’s excited for the community to see what the cast can do.

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“It’s insane to see some of them grow every single day,” she said. “I swear Colten Flom has to have almost this whole script memorized. He is one that I see grow ... on that stage. He is going to be one to watch these next four years.”

Casting call

Both August and Zirngibl said they were shocked to see the attendance at the auditions.

“We saw about 40 students at auditions,” August said. “That is a huge increase from the last few years. This being my first year directing at Big Foot, I will admit that I’ve been a little overwhelmed, but it has been so great seeing this many students involved and excited about a musical.”

Zirngibl said she’s seen increased interest in the plays and musicals since she started directing three years ago.

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“When I first started working at Big Foot three years ago, I only had 12 kids who auditioned for the fall play ... and every person got a major role,” she said. “Every show since then, the cast numbers have continued to rise, and the talent has continued to grow.”

August said none of the students who auditioned were cut from the cast. She did not want to discourage students from trying out again next year.

“I also think that it helps how small or big you can make the cast,” she said. “(Cutting students from the cast) is so discouraging for these students. If you get cut, why try again next year? At least that’s the mentality that most high school students would have.”

August said “The Wizard of Oz” was a good pick for the high school production.

“It helps that they know it,” she said. “I would like to say who hasn’t seen (it)? However, I did have a couple cast members that hadn’t. I fixed that pretty quickly.”

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Big Foot students performed “The Wizard of Oz” about 10 years ago, and August said it’s a nice way to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the movie.

Putting it together

A musical is quite different than a play, and August said the first five weeks of rehearsals were spent by a piano, not on stage.

“We spend about a month around a piano while I’m teaching them all their vocal parts,” August said.

Zirngibl said there are more factors in play during a musical and much more that can go wrong.

“Between the people who manage the sound board, light board, pit band, blocking, lines, microphones and choreography — everyone needs to work together to succeed,” she said. “Many pieces have to fit together in one fluid motion, and that can be extremely difficult at times.”

But neither director is worried about pulling it together for the shows.

“It’s always fun to see them piece the scenes together in the final two weeks,” Zirngibl said. “Although it feels like we’re scrambling, it’s awesome that so many people have volunteered to come help with the odds and ends. With everyone’s help, I think the cast (will) be ready to smash it this weekend. I can’t wait.”

August said she’s worried about the students being ready for the show, but she’s excited now.

“The hardest part right now is that my job is kind of done,” August said. “I can’t teach them much more. They need to learn what to do if they mess up on lines or music. I can’t stand up and help them in the middle of the show. That is very hard for me. I want to hold their hand through it, and I can’t.”

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