ERIK BATZ – A Conversation With “The Scarecrow” At The Mountain Play

The Wizard of Oz lands on Mt. Tamalpais this Sunday and through June 15th

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By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Fine Arts Critic
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

Following the successful production of HAIR in 2007, the Mountain Play is producing the classic American fairy tale, THE WIZARD OF OZ opening this Sunday, May 18th at 1:00 PM. The musical continues for the next five Sundays, concluding June 15th. This treasured story of friendship and fantasy was last presented on the mountain in 1991. Chosen for its broad appeal to people of all ages, The Wizard of Oz is expected to draw a large audience from all over the Bay Area. Anticipated special effects such as an airplane flyover, a hot air balloon, and a professionally trained Toto will add to the thrilling spectacle. This will be Artistic Director, James Dunn’s 26th Mountain Play, and he will lead an experienced team of talented singers, actors (including two Equity Actors), musicians and technicians. Featuring 25 munchkins ages 10-13, the 95th annual Mountain Play will provide hundreds of aspiring theatre students the opportunity to audition and participate, contributing to the development of future theatre artists.

“Some people go this way, some people go that way”, says the Scarecrow to Dorothy. It was my privilege to talk with Bay Area performer Erik Batz who won the coveted role of “The Scarecrow”.

SEÁN: For anyone wanting to play the role of the Scarecrow – because it’s one of those we all get from childhood – when the opportunity finally does comes your way, how do you feel about that. It’s an iconic role. Your local theatre company is producing it. The Mountain Play is a respected company with a lot of high-end stuff, you seem to be ideally suited as the Scarecrow, and you know the production will be sold-out. Tell me about that.

ERIK: If you grew up watching THE WIZARD OF OZ, then at some point you’ve imagined yourself as the Scarecrow in some kind of make believe game you’ve played. Years ago, when I was the Scarecrow in THE WIZ, it was one of those dream-come-true things. I was able to express myself in a way I never had through the energy of this character that was not only on the screen, but part of my imagination. I had built the role up and even given him my own personality. He has been with me for a long, long time. The Mountain Play is an exciting opportunity – 4,000 seats, with a well-known director, the costumes are fantastic, the musical direction is amazing, and the choreography is exemplary. It is really the best of the best.

SEÁN: Who is your choreographer?

ERIK: Rick Wallace. I worked with him in the 2005 production of OKLAHOMA, my first performance at the Mountain Play. He was also the choreographer for last year’s production of HAIR when I did the role of “Woof”. I think Rick has been there for at least 20 years. HAIR has 31 songs that most of us were in. It was an amazing feat and very well received.

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ERIK BATZ – Moving right along in HAIR, 2007

SEÁN: Do you have to be a dancer to play the Scarecrow or can you be an actor who moves well?

ERIK: I think I’m an actor who moves well, but I have an inner Dancer. I’ve been told I have a natural ability to move, so that makes me feel good.

SEÁN: At this point, even before the show opens – do you sense the Scarecrow is a role you will want to do again? Say the production was extended, does it feel as though you could do it forever or is it just “another role”?

ERIK: It’s a good role and a fun show. It’s a technically difficult show, which makes it challenging. At this point in the rehearsals I’m not “in my character” yet when I’m up there saying my lines. It’s hard to say how connected I am. This past week-end, there was a point when I was dancing “Merry old land of Oz” when I felt I was giving the Scarecrow what he needed to give to the mountain and to the people that were watching. There were only ten out there, but I was giving something that had not been present even five minutes before. So, it’s developing.

SEÁN: Giving it to the mountain?

ERIK: Yes!

SEÁN: Certainly larger than giving it to the War Memorial Opera House – which, including standees, holds 3376 patrons. Do you feel more energy coming out of you because of the spaciousness than you would in a very large theatre.

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OZ on Mt. Tamalpais – ERIK BATZ to play The Scarecrow

ERIK: Yes, definitely. There’s something special about the mountain. It’s a powerful place. I can’t help but have this connection to the ground. Then I look up at the sky and I feel this endless energy that can come out of me as a result of being so grounded. I don’t know if that makes any sense.

SEÁN: It makes perfect sense. What’s happening for you after “Wizard”?

ERIK: I’m going to Egypt! I have a feeling that’s going to open up something in me – travel always does. Then when I come back I’m going to work with you on some intensive voice stuff.

SEÁN: Going to Egypt will be like going to the other side of the rainbow.

ERIK: It’s things you’ve imagined and seen forever in your life. Just seeing the pyramids – it will be that trip for me. I will come back with a different perspective. Just like Dorothy!

SEÁN: We’re not in Kansas anymore. So, one last question – regarding the influence of Ray Bolger that will remain forever on the concept of “The Wizard of Oz”. I think as long as we have a “Western Civilization” – one that preserves its art and music – the influence of Ray Bolger may last as long as the pyramids. What about your character? Is the Scarecrow just there? Are he and Ray Bolger just one and the same? And no matter what you do, it just all comes out the same? How much of an influence comes from him?

ERIK: Interesting question. There are times I am speaking with the same intonation, the same inflection, the same cadence that he does. I catch myself and say, “I did not want to do that!” But sometimes, when you want to give something energy, you go to the thing that is most familiar and in relationship to what’s being said. And that is Ray Bolger. How can it not be? It’s hard to say. I feel like I’m giving it some differences, but it’s difficult to separate. Definitely!

SEÁN: In some ways, it’s like an opera. Here are the notes, the tempo and the story. There’s only so much you can do with it.

ERIK: It’s true. I think – if I had never seen the film of The Wizard of Oz, I know would be doing things differently. But, those lines! Some are very simplistic and some of the emotion is very basic. There’s only one way to say them. You know?

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ERIK BATZ and RAY BOLGER – as The Scarecrow

To order tickets on-line: THE WIZARD OF OZ

For years, THE MOUNTAIN PLAY has carefully maintained ticket prices below the level of similar professional Bay Area performances. However, those ticket prices remain out of reach for many families. To provide access to the Mountain Play experience for those children and families, the company has established a special “Day on the Mountain” Outreach Program.

This opportunity represents a new adventure for most participants, an introduction to both live theatrical performance and to the natural environment of the mountain. In addition to free tickets to the performance, the Mountain Play provides bus transportation from the participants’ local area, picnic lunches, and Mountain Play t-shirts. We also provide an extended education program that includes a guided hike on the mountain before the performance.

This year, the Mountain Play will provide a “Day on the Mountain” Outreach Program for children and families in conjunction with the following agencies:
RAPHAEL HOUSE OF SAN FRANCISCO was the first shelter in San Francisco to serve homeless families. Their ultimate goal is to assist families at risk to achieve stable housing and financial independence, while strengthening family bonds.
PERFORMING STARS OF MARIN CITY was founded with the intention of crating the opportunity for low-income and multi-cultural children in Marin County to “reach” for the “stars” by participating in performing, visual and literary arts.
CANAL COMMUNITY ALLIANCE is an organization dedicated to the stabilization, independence and growth for individuals and families living in the heart of the Canal Community in San Rafael.
WEST MARIN FAMILY SERVICES , an “in school service” serves as a tool to English as a Second Language (ESL) students and their families in filling in the gaps in rural West Marin.

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Seán Martinfield is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”, which is being prepared for publication. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com.

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