The force behind the curtain

Theater teacher Terry Overfelt tries to serve everyone while coordinating a good show and being creative
Sunday, December 19, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:23 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

The cornstalk can’t find her hairspray.

To make matters worse, the tree has lost her branches. The yellow brick road is wondering how to use his street signs. A munchkin in sequined suspenders wants to know how he should walk.

Terry Overfelt, who teaches theater at Rock Bridge High School, is getting her students ready for a rehearsal of “The Magical Land of Oz.”

In just a few days, hundreds of children will pour into Rock Bridge’s auditorium to see the world of Oz come alive.

“I’m constantly affirmed that I’m doing good work, because things fall in place,” Overfelt says.

Overfelt is a master of multitasking. She answers questions from parents and students while she unravels short pieces of rope and patiently attaches them to elastic. A boy in burlap walks in, and Overfelt slides the elastic around his wrists and ankles, completing his scarecrow costume.

The bubbly Overfelt is in her element. The former Miss Missouri can sing, act and do ventriloquism. She also is a “church lady” and runs the drama and contemporary music program for Broadway Christian Church. Overfelt, who has taught in Columbia since 1984, pitched the idea of a children’s theater class to the Columbia Public School district when she was teaching English.

“If they’ll take it, you can teach it,” they told her.

The class was a hit. She now has almost 70 students in three levels of classes. Students learn puppetry, storytelling and theater for young children.

Overfelt’s daughter Hillary is playing the wicked witch of the west this year. She calls Overfelt “Mama” in class, and the other students pick up on the nickname.

“But then they all become my kids, and that’s OK,” Overfelt says.

Overfelt has gotten a chauffeur’s license so that she can take her students to elementary school classrooms around the city for smaller productions.

One student walks in and presents Overfelt with a tape of Oz’s voice. He explains that he changed some parts from what they had originally talked about.

“Sounds like you made a creative choice,” she says, unfazed. “I’m proud of you.”

A few minutes later, rehearsal is underway. Overfelt runs a quick sound check with the students in the tech booth. She makes last minute adjustments to microphones and costumes.

“It serves everybody,” she says. “It serves the kids who are doing it, it serves the kids who are seeing it, it serves the school, it serves me and my need to be creative.” It also serves the Rainbow House, an emergency shelter for children, who this year will receive between $500 and $700 from ticket proceeds.

The cyclones swirl onstage, trying to suppress grins. The curtain opens and Dorothy and Toto spin around the stage, clinging to their bed. Overfelt is no longer center stage.

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