Reminder Assistant Editor
EAST LONGMEADOW The students of Mapleshade Elementary watched the scene intently. A young girl was on trial for murder would she be found innocent? Or guilty?
For a full hour on St. Patrick's Day, Deborah Barry's enrichment class performed "The Trial of Dorothy Gale," which was based on the classic film "The Wizard of Oz." Dorothy was accused of purposely melting the Wicked Witch of the West with water. The prosecution claimed she is another witch; defense contended Dorothy in an innocent victim in part of a larger plot, Barry explained.
"The students were studying government in my enrichment class," Barry said. "We have been trying to make our system of government real to the students."
She continued that her students were particularly interested in the Supreme Court and did some research on that part of the judicial system. One student, Wes Olin, offered to have his father, Attorney Nathan Olin, come in to talk to the students more about law.
A criminal law attorney, the elder Olin visited the class on Nov. 8 and organized a mock trial for the students.
"You watch court rooms on TV like Judge Judy, and it is confusing," student and Glinda-portrayer Jordan Graham noted. "Now I get how the court works."
"The students were hooked," Barry said. "They begged to write their own court room drama."
She explained that some of the students were involved in the St. Michael's Players production of "The Wizard of Oz" and came up with the idea of putting Dorothy Gale on trial for the murder of the Wicked Witch of the West.
"We figured we could write our play if we all worked together on it," Barry stated. "Each child assumed the role of the character they wanted to be in the play and we commenced writing as a team."
It took about five class sessions to write the entire script, which wound up being 20 pages long, containing 481 total lines from characters. Once finished, the elder Olin edited it with notes on objections, questions, the order of questions, etc. Barry said the attorney was "a huge help."
After only three rehearsal sessions and the raiding of closets, attics and basements for props and costumes, the class performed their script during a school-wide enrichment program on March 17.
Prosecutor Michael Hampton declared that Dorothy killing the witch was "planned, pre-meditated, cold-blooded murder," but defender Jack Dalton, using witnesses ranging from Toto (who could talk through the magic of Glinda, the Good Witch of the North's magic wand), Auntie Em, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion and the captain of the flying monkeys to Glinda and the Great and Powerful Oz.
The Wizard of Oz admitted he was one who was behind the witch's murder and that Dorothy was just a pawn in his plan. By a jury vote of 6 - 2, Dorothy was found innocent.
"I realized that the judge controls the courtroom, but doesn't have to do a lot besides listen," Nik Demarest, the play's judge, commented.
"The students are only in fifth grade and are truly gifted writers," Barry said. "I have never had a group like this and in 30 years, it is the first time that I have ever seen a group come together to write, edit and perform their own play script."
Student Chad Nowlan said, "It is easier to come up with ideas when you're working with a group than when you're working by yourself."
The class received assistance from another class of enrichment students, who served as the jury and as the bailiff. They also created a video commercial for the play in the Mapleshade Public Television Studio, which was funded by the East Longmeadow Jacycees two years ago.