A dark and foggy night; a stolen treasure map; an evil Captain and his villainous pirate crew. Will Jim, Laurie and their friends escape the plank in Treasure Island – this endearing tale for children.
Director Wendy Chang brings this venerable story to life for her Balwyn based drama school – Wendy Samantha Productions – she started six years ago. Says Chang: "Treasure Island is a classic, and as this is Wendy Samantha Production’s very first production I felt it was important to choose a story that our students and the audience would be familiar with – Long John Silver and his peg leg in search of treasure. This particular piece also has sentimental meaning to me. My godfather gave all of his grand nieces and nephews books to read at Christmas time. He would sort them all out based on what he thought was appropriate to each child and he chose Treasure Island for me. So this just felt like the right show to do."
Chang's passion to develop and nurture the creative imagination of children through drama is palpable. Her passion is matched by her pedigree with 9 years working as a primary school teacher, a diploma of creative writing as well as working as an actor herself and winning the honour of runner-up in the Herald Sun Teacher of the Year Awards 2006. Chang admits that the collective has worked very hard to get to this point. "Many cast members have been with me since we first opened the doors and so together we are absolutely thrilled to be able to finally hold our very own show and open it up to the public," she says.
"I love working with children and have also always had a passion for acting and performing. As a classroom teacher at a local primary school I spent many recess and lunches rehearsing with students for extracurricular speech and drama competitions. One of my students entered me into the Herald-Sun Teacher of the year awards and it was during an interview with a reporter that it dawned on me as to what I wanted to do in the future. He had asked if teaching drama as a hobby would be something I would pursue on a bigger scale. And that was it! The seed was planted and a dream then realised."
Chang explains the genesis of her company: "Wendy Samantha Productions started in 2008 with a handful of students who enjoyed playing improvisation games and making up little skits. They wanted to develop confidence in themselves, for the stage and for life. We now have over 70 children attending our classes but our beliefs are still the same. Wendy Samantha Productions aims to instil confidence in all students through a nurturing, fun loving, caring environment. If a child is confident in themselves, they can do anything and everything the world has to offer."
"Of course, what we do in classes now has changed quite a bit. We prepare for many state-wide speech and drama competitions and sit examinations with Trinity College London. Each year the students organise their own drama fundraiser for a charity of their choice. We’ve had students appear on television shows and commercials, feature films, advertisements and in various theatre productions. It’s all been so very exciting."
"We work together to allow everyone to have a creative outlet and an opportunity to explore their individual talents. We expect all of our performances throughout the year to be of the highest of standards, and putting on a big show such as Treasure Island is a dream come true."
Chang admits that juggling a business and family can be difficult and have brought her some challenges. She has a recently turned 1 year old, and admits that to be in charge and manage all that is required of a production has been really tough. "Over the 10 week school term we had 1 hour a week to get 8 scenes perfected before our holiday rehearsals and upcoming dress rehearsals," explains Chang. "So I am very thankful to the cast and crew who have worked so hard and so professionally as this has always been a dream of mine. It is slowly starting to come to life and I am both extremely excited and terrified at the same time!"
When Chang first read the script she had certain ideas in mind. "You read a story and you imagine it, simple sets, placement on stage and what the actors might look like," she says. But Chang stayed open to what the students would bring to the auditions and she's glad she did! "During the casting process there were children who walked in and brought the characters to life better than I could have imagined," admits Chang. "So relationships between various characters were altered a bit, especially in the way they have to interact."
Chang also confides that having a cast of students aged 5 to 15 is also a bit of a challenge but they all have been buddied up and, Chang tells me, seem to be really comfortable with each other now. One of the bigger challenges for Chang has been with the sets. "The crew and I have had many late night conversations about backdrops and scene changes," she says. "The toughest thing has been how to build a boat suitable to the space we have, particularly knowing we have to be able to drive it there, put it together and take it apart again rather quickly."
The lasting appeal for Treasure Island has been its major themes which Chang describes as friendship, trust, loyalty and forgiveness. "All of these things are important to our community for without them relationships fall apart," posits Chang. "Children need to understand trust at a very young age. They put their little hands out so you pick them up and they feel loved and supported. From there they can grow. You expect your friends and family to be loyal to you so you can go through the highs and lows of what life is all about, and you learn forgiveness to be understanding and because you are not always going to get things right. I think there is also an aspect of the main character Jim Hawkins, who never gives up even when faced with a terrifying situation. And that’s what we do at WSP. We never give up."
Chang's hope is that the audience thoroughly enjoy themselves and walk out of the theatre thinking how talented this group of youngsters are. Says Chang: "Come see Treasure Island and support the young talent in your community. You won’t be disappointed! They have worked so very hard and they are your stars of the future!"
November 2 – November 3