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Meet Katie Ryerson: Globe Theatre’s Dorothy Gale

November 2, 2012

Katie Ryerson, Globe Theatre’s Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz (2012)

When the curtain rises, so to speak, on Globe Theatre’s production of The Wizard of Oz, it will mark the second time that Katie Ryerson has appeared publicly as Dorothy Gale. The previous occasion was not on the stage, but on the streets of the neighbourhood in Calgary where she grew up. The only line she had to memorize was “trick or treat!” The only prop required was a stuffed toy dog.

Ryerson had not yet committed to the Yellow Brick Road career path of a professional actor, that would come several years later in Ottawa, where she went to high school, but there is a connection nonetheless between Dorothy for Halloween and Dorothy at the Globe, and if you believe in magic, it’s a connection that bodes her well. The Halloween costume was hand-made by her mother, and as it turns out, “hand-made” is at the heart of this production, from costumes to props to set.

There is also the fact that, like Dorothy in the L. Frank Baum story, Katie is coming of age with this show, having graduated from Ryerson University in Toronto only this past spring. “Everything is happening so fast,” she says. “This is a huge step for me, huge. I’ve never worked with a theatre this size, a theatre on this scale, a theatre where everyone is so talented. What a rare and wonderful opportunity. At times, I still can’t believe it.”

Ryerson auditioned for the role in late August and then departed for the Maritimes on vacation with her boyfriend. The cell phone rang one night in Fredericton, outside a restaurant, “a burger place,” in the midst of an embrace. She interrupted the kiss to take the call. Her boyfriend understood. He’s an actor, too. Yes! Ryerson had landed the role. She shared the good news with her mother, and the next thing she knew, congratulations were pouring in from everywhere.

“Maybe the best thing of all is that it’s a musical,” she says. “It’s a chance to sing and dance, as well as act, to use everything in the tool box. Musicals are just another way of telling stories, and it’s so freeing to be so playful all the time. Musicals are so wonderfully challenging, and already I’ve learned so much just by watching all the others.”

This is the first time that Ryerson is working with Joey Tremblay, a director she describes as “so funny, so warm, so kind,” and it is also, of course, her first experience with theatre in-the-round. There were nightmares initially of exits made through the wrong gangway, but they were fleeting, if you’ll excuse the pun. It has helped immensely, she says, to have watched Jacob James in the title role of “Billy Bishop Goes to War,” which preceded The Wizard of Oz in the Main Stage Series. “He handled it so marvelously well.”

Like most people, Ryerson was introduced to this story by the 1939 film from MGM, which is invariably the first impression and the most lasting. Now that she is preparing the role of Dorothy, she is doing so with the ghost of Judy Garland looking over her shoulder, and she welcomes it. “I’m not running away from it, I’m embracing it,” she says. “I love Judy Garland. I want to incorporate her.”

Incorporate is the operative word here, the challenge being to take a story that is familiar, and beloved, and make it your own without doing it a disservice

“It’s such a well-told story, and people feel so connected with it,” Ryerson says. “This show doesn’t belong to us, it belongs to the audience. They’re not going to be cheated. It’s a hybrid, but it’s a homage, also.

In addition to the “hand-made” quality, this production will be presented as a show in which the characters are fully aware that they are putting on a play. It gives a tip of the hat to vaudeville, and because it is all a dream and never really leaves Kansas, there is also a strong country-and-western element. “A light-hearted show,” Ryerson says, “with some darker moments

Ryerson is anxiously awaiting opening night, and she’s looking forward to some other special nights, as well. Her boyfriend, Warren Bain, who performs with the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival in Ontario, is coming west to see the show in early December, and even before that, she’ll be welcoming her parents here in late November

Katie’s father, Chris Ryerson, is a computer technologist by profession, and plays a killer acoustic guitar on the side. She describes him as “your token Biggest Fan Dad.” Her mother is no less a fan, but she happens to be a fan who also gives notes. Michele Fansett is an actress and singer herself having worked in the 1990s in both theatre and film

“I was always around it,” Katie Ryerson says with a smile.

And she’s never been closer to it than she is right now.

The Wizard of Oz runs from November 15 – December 30, 2012. Visit the Globe Theatre website for more details, cast information, and to purchase tickets.

Nick Miliokas is a freelance writer and editor based in Regina. You can reach him by email at rozenstern@rocketmail.com.

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