When Clackamas High School's production of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" opens Friday, March 6, it will be a bittersweet moment for director Carrie Jo Vincent.
She will retire at the end of the school year, after spending 27 years in the North Clackamas School District.
"I took over the theater program in 2001, and I stepped into a huge talent pool here — what a gift," Vincent said.
She noted that as a theater teacher she meets her students when they are barely 14 and sees them thrive, turn 18 and graduate.
"They spend a lot of time with me. I watch them grow up and help them find a way into their future," Vincent said, adding that it will be hard for her to leave her current students behind.
"It has been an intensely wonderful experience as a teacher."
Vincent said she chose to do "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" because it is one of the big pieces of children's theater that she hasn't directed before.
But this show also has given her the opportunity to talk to the cast and crew about her retirement.
"I tell them that I believe in them, and if they believe, a lot can happen. I tell them they have to believe in a program with a new teacher and director," Vincent said.
Working with this group has given her "a safe place to talk about my transition and to extend that into what happens in their own world. These kids will go through many transitions in their lives," she said.
"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" is about imagination, Vincent said.
"It's a big show with 11 locations in one hour. The show was written so that the audience has to use their imaginations. We have to give them enough visuals to create interest," she said.
With 43 students in the cast, Vincent said it's always a challenge to make sure that "every kid feels important and valued and has a lot of interesting things to do to create aesthetic pictures on stage."
Audiences will take delight in seeing storybook characters come to life, Vincent said.
Adults will enjoy leaving all their adults concerns behind, and remember that childlike sense of wonder. And if they bring children to the show, adults will see those kids "engage with joy."
Vincent also appreciates the message in the play — that the good kid can prevail.
"Sometimes kids see that the bad kids get all the attention and the good kids get overlooked. In this play, Charlie does the right thing, and it has a positive outcome," she said.
Two Willie Wonkas
This play also will be the last one for senior Justin Foster who plays Willie Wonka, the owner of the chocolate factory in the title. He is sharing the role with junior Isaac Elmore, who says that for one performance one young man will play the main Willie Wonka, while the other will play phantom Willie Wonka, who pops up in unexpected places. They switch roles for the next performance.
It is an unusual example of double casting, but it brings a bit of stagecraft magic to the piece, Elmore said.
For those unfamiliar with the play, it is based on the Roald Dahl story of the same name.
When the action begins, Willie Wonka has a chocolate factory that is famous, but three other chocolate makers send spies to steal his recipes.
"He closes the factory down to prevent that, but then starts it back up and five children get golden tickets to tour the factory," Foster said.
Charlie, a good kid, is one of the ticketholders and the other four "are awful children," he said.
Throughout the play, the four "bad" children find themselves in trouble and disappear from the action, leaving Charlie "the only one who makes it to the end," Foster said.
Foster described Wonka as an eccentric, but outwardly pleasant man.
"But you never know what his next move is going to be — he's mysterious and magical," he said.
"I love his whimsicalness, how he moves and says his lines and interacts with different characters," Foster added.
Wonka is an iconic character, and Foster said he took his inspiration from the Gene Wilder film "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."
"But I put my own spin on him," he said.
What has been challenging about the role is "being big enough for the character, who is so exciting. I have to push myself to be bigger, which is not something I have gotten to do before."
Audiences of all ages will appreciate the play, Foster said, noting that "kids will have a blast and adults will enjoy the fun and the magic" happening onstage.
He added, "I can't imagine a better way to go out — I was so lucky to get the part."
Elmore sees his characterization of Wonka as playing a man who has all the status and is holding all the cards.
"He knows how things will turn out, but doesn't let anyone else know that he knows," Elmore said.
He, too, watched the Wilder movie and took some things that he liked from that film and some things from other sources.
"I combined what I've imagined (Wonka's character to be like) and added on to that," Elmore said.
What he likes best about his character is that "he owns the stage" and is "the most interesting character to look at."
The biggest challenge has been memorizing all the lines, but the reward has been acting with the others in the cast.
There is something magical "when you are in a group of people, connecting with them and having fun," Elmore said.
Audiences will love being part of the "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" world, he said.
"A lot of nostalgia will come from the audience. They will be watching scenes that they know and love, but they will be in the show with us, instead of watching it on screen," Elmore said.
Vincent said another lesson in the play that will not be wasted on adults is the part that parents and family play in the upbringing of a child.
"I'm a grandparent, and I love that grandparents play a big role in Charlie's life," she said.
"I look forward to grandparenting like I was grandparented. To have a huge capacity to enrich the lives of my grandchildren," Vincent said.
"I want to be a grandma extraordinaire."
Enter a world of imagination
What: The Clackamas High School drama program presents "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"
When: 7 p.m. March 6, 7 and 13; at 2 p.m. March 8 and 15; 11 a.m. March 14
Where: CHS, 14486 S.E. 122nd Ave., Clackamas
Tickets: Purchase tickets online at SeatYourself.biz/Clackamas
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