It’s telling about the love for one’s production when Ann M. Johnson, executive director of Whidbey Children’s Theatre, sends an email with the words, “Thanks so much from here at Middle Earth.”
Locals can visit Middle Earth as it comes to life in WCT’s The Hobbit, running Friday, Nov. 15 through Saturday, Nov. 23.
When it comes to The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved children’s story, I can’t imagine a more well-told tale. It’s our family’s blueprint and has defined my life with my husband the past 45 years. We like to imagine ourselves as hobbits.
“I love that you all have a personal relationship to Tolkien’s story, and can feel some of the same bubbly passionate feelings about it that our WCT kiddos do,” Ann writes in an email. “They have been looking forward to telling this story to their audience, and our patrons will NOT be disappointed!”
Directed by WCT’s production manager Cait Cassée, her cast of 33 actors will perform in front of resplendent backdrops painted by local artist Tom Giffin.
As in Cait’s role of director, the set and costume designs, building Smaug the dragon was a labor of love. Smaug, created by Robert McElhinny and his ‘Team Smaug,’ will make his debut this week. The team spent more than 300 hours in creating and fabricating the dragon, who appears lifelike when his eyes are lit and he moves his head.
Arcani Robinson and his mom Kristina also helped in creating the dragon.
“We went to Robert’s house and worked on teeth, horns, and eyes,” Arcani wrote in a text. “We made the teeth and horns out of rubber mats. We warmed it with a super hot hair dryer, cut the teeth out, and used a hot glue gun to put it together. The eyes were made from large ornaments. Robert cut them in half and put lights in them. We glued the eye covering onto the ornaments. It made me feel exited to work on Smaug.”
When Smaug arrived at WCT Wednesday night, the entire Hobbit cast welcomed him with: “OMG,” and applause.
Molly Mills, who worked on designing and building Smaug with mentor Robert McElhinny, says,”I’ve learned so much from Robert. It is so much fun.”
Molly adds that she’s been involved with WCT since she was in fifth grade. Now a high school junior, she’s enrolled in Running Start and majoring in Psychology. In addition to spending hours working on building the dragon, Molly will also work as a lighting tech with Rod Stewart, WCT’s technical director.
At Smaug’s arrival through the theater’s back door, Director Cait said to the actors, “I’d like to introduce you to some people who spent hours creating this character, a HUGE engineering job! The master creator is Robert, who got a lot of help from Molly and Kareena, who designed and shaped the head. This is the biggest and most awe-inspiring thing we’ve had yet.”
Robert added, “Molly and Kareena gave it good bones. They worked with polycarbonates and foam. They did a fabulous job!”
Molly and Kareena turned on Smaug’s backlit green eyes and moved his head up and down. This week he was painted and made ready for his two-week run guarding his hoards of treasure.
With all the effort and attention to detail that has gone into making this classic tale come alive for the audience, we may believe in heroes once again.
This Is Whidbey was founded by Kate Poss for readers who are interested in cultivating our island’s quality of life, including its land, sea, and air; its people, plants, and animals; and the bodies, minds, and spirits of its inhabitants. You may know Kate from her work in island libraries through May of 2016. Her background includes a career in newspaper reporting in Los Angeles for various weeklies and dailies, including The Los Angeles Times. She was a frequent contributor to the online Whidbey Life Magazine and still writes for the biannual print magazine.
Stories are highlighted by David Welton’s excellent photography. David is a retired physician who was a staff photographer for Whidbey Life Magazine since its early days. His work has also appeared in museums, art galleries, newspapers, regional and national magazines, books, nonprofit publicity, and on the back of the Whidbey Sea-Tac Shuttle!