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Rotary Thought Spot: Oz and Year End

December 30th, 2009

“All the world is a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and entrances;
Each…in his time plays many parts.”

        William Shakespeare,  As You Like it

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

         Theodore Rosevelt


What was your favorite film as a kid?

 In the days before DVD distribution my brothers and sisters and I would eagerly wait for The Wizard of Oz to be broadcast on network television. We were fascinated by this world called Oz even when it was scary. The Witch’s green sneer and sinister cackle magnified in her own crystal ball would keep us awake at night for weeks.

Our Oz fascination was shared by millions of kids, including our six cousins. So when my oldest sister and oldest cousin were both eleven years old, they hatched a plan for our joint summer vacation. During the week that both our families and all eleven cousins stayed together at my grandfather’s summer cabin in New Hampshire, we’d put on a show for the adults.

We’d stage the Wizard of Oz. 

Costuming required some advance planning. But in two large families there were always the makings of Halloween costumes to hand down to a younger brother or sister. A witch costume was easy and a princess costume could become Glinda’s dress. The Wizard’s wardrobe came from my father’s and uncle’s castoffs, and an apron and funnel from the kitchen helped out Auntie Em and the Tin Man. We could improvise the rest with paper, crayons and some lipstick.

At our first rehearsal at the cabin my sister and cousin assessed the costume situation and cast the parts. We had some casting challenges since 3 of the 4 boys were under six years old. So the older girls took the parts of the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion. My oldest cousin took the role of Dorothy; I was cast as Glinda the Good Witch. My older brother played the Wizard and all other tall or adult male roles that weren’t already cast. The four youngest were typecast as Munchkins. 

Our first run-through was chaotic as we figured out what set and costume pieces we had and what we needed to improvise.

I wore the princess outfit and a crown but had to cut out a paper star and find a pine branch for the Good Witch’s wand. We had several pairs of wings to make for the flying monkeys and helmets for the Witches’ guards. And the scarecrow needed a carefully tailored brown paper grocery bag wedged with pine needles and leaves, while the lion needed one with fur drawn on it.

We left other parts of the set and costumes to our imaginations. The packed dirt and gravel path leading to the cabin doubled as the Yellow Brick Road. The cabin itself became Dorothy’s farmhouse, The Witch’s Castle or Emerald City as needed.

For Toto we opted for realism and commandeered my grandfather’s dog, a venerable, soulful cocker spaniel. Taffy had a high tolerance for children mostly due to his failing sight and hearing. He tended to wander away from his scenes and stretch out for some shut-eye at his most dramatic moments.
After two days of costume-foraging and rehearsals we were ready. On opening (and closing) afternoon, we lined up five folding chairs on the right side of the clearing in front of the cabin. The audience was excitedly ushered to their seats and the cast assembled “backstage,” on the left side of the cabin. There was a brief uproar and curtain delay as Toto went missing and had to be roused from a much-needed nap.

All of us played multiple roles. The farmhands also played the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion. I played Auntie Em and the Good Witch as well as a Munchkin, Emerald City resident, flying monkey and Witch’s castle guard.

Our curtain calls for all those roles took almost as much time as the play itself. Despite the ad-libbed dialogue, irregular plot and miscast canine, the audience said it was the best performance of the Wizard of Oz they’d ever seen. The photos and memories from that play still make all eleven of us laugh.

As I review the past year and lay out my plans and goals for a new one, I’ve been thinking about the role that Rotary plays in my life.

Over the years Rotary has continually connected me with people and principles that challenge and inspire me. It has allowed me to serve humanity in ways that are not available in other areas of my life.

Like my roles in the Wizard of Oz, my roles in Rotary range from solos to group parts. No typecasting here: it’s up to me adapt my role to the needs at hand. 

Sometimes we’re called to be leaders and agents of change. Other times we’re needed as foot soldiers and contributors. Whether we take on a leading part or a supporting part, every role matters in in Service Above Self.

A new year gives us a fresh opportunity to cast ourselves as Rotary leaders, contributors, change agents and philanthropists. It requires only that we use what we have – and adapt our roles to the needs at hand.  

With Best Wishes for the New Year,


PDG Elizabeth