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Louis Ohmer Hubler with Marian age threeMy paternal grandmother Louise Ohmer Hubler with me, age three

When I was a very young child, maybe four or five-years old, I have clear memories of my grandmother bringing me downtown to see plays, mainly musicals.  It was a thrill to be in the audience for these live performances and what I remember most is the music, the songs like June Is Bustin’ Out All Over’ from Carousel or 76 Trombones from The Music Man. “Marian the librarian” must have been a nick-name from that point in time I love you madly madly Madame Librarian Marian…

I did not know how lucky I was until years later when I found myself working for Bread & Roses and bringing music into juvenile halls — where I learned in shock that some of the teens who were in detention had grown-up in urban San Francisco and could not tell time, had never seen the ocean or been to a live play.

On Martin Luther King weekend, I flew to see my two nieces, ages 8 and 12, in Dayton, Ohio “follow the yellow brick road” in the Muse Machines production of “The Wizard of Oz.”  And what a production it was — with a budget rumored to be in the $250,000 range, a live orchestra, a New York trained director by way of California, Broadway caliber stage sets and costumes.  This unique program is an extraordinary accomplishment for the greater Miami Valley considering the drastic cuts for arts funding in so many school districts throughout the country.

I cannot even imagine what it must have been like to be an eight-year-old munchkin like Allie or the youngest member of the town hall ensemble as a seventh grader like 12-year-old Katie.  What a fantastic experience to have the opportunity to be in such a grand production at such a tender age with the discipline of auditions and rehearsals, the camaraderie of the extended family in the cast who called Katie their “little Sis” and the thrill of feeling the connection with audience in the live performance itself.

Niece Katie Hubler with godmother Aunt Marian With god-daughter Katie Hubler in the lobby after the musical.

I realized that I had seen “The Wizard of Oz” as a film, but never as a live stage production.  There were some surprises in the stage adaptation including a large and energetic jitter bug scene.   And seeing the munchkins brought to life by so many sweet-faced children brought some poignant feelings to the surface.    There was Allie swooping across the stage with a flock of children.  There was Katie arm and arm with the dancers.  Because I live at a distance and do not have children of my own,  this experience of seeing them growing up on stage seemed all the more important.

it was a real joy to see them blossom, during the performance and in the flush and afterglow of the show. Katie’s poise — after being part of the Muse Machine as well as many productions of the Children’s Performing Arts Theatre of Miamisburg — was evident.  The eight-year-old Allie seemed to have grown-up almost over night.  I was surprised by her cultural sophistication when I found out she sang Seasons of Love” Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand Six Hundred Minutes from the Broadway Musical Rent for her audition song.  And backstage she learned a politically incorrect, though hilariously depicted monologue, whose punch line had to do with a “dead dog, a dumb daughter and no coffee.”

As an introduction before the play, the Muse Machine had some college students, former participants of their theatre program, come back to talk about the impact of the program upon their success in life. The students spoke of the confidence it had given them, leadership skills developed for college and competitions successfully undertaken.  They said it was truly “transformational philanthropy” this experience of the arts that helped them increase their achievements on so many levels.

The mission of the Muse Machine, which is largely for high school students from around the Miami Valley, is to bring “arts experiences to life in everyday learning.” Now a 30-year program founded by Suzy Bassani, it is a tribute to those in the Miami Valley who have kept it going for so long and to the funders as well, people like the late Virginia Kettering whose father-in-law invented the self-starter for the automobile and whose Kettering Families Foundation has provided support for so many artistic endeavors through the years in Dayton.

It was indeed going down memory lane for me to be again in Dayton’s historic opera house, the Victoria Theatre, which dates back to the 1880’s. I remembered so vividly the musicals I had seen there with my grandmother in the late 50’s and 60’s.  Visceral memories came flooding back while seated in the historic theatre and standing again under crystal chandeliers in the grand marble lobby waiting to congratulate my nieces.

That night, since we had come such a long way, my mother Milly Hubler treated us to tickets to see the play. Several weeks later she took Katie for her birthday to see Jersey Boys at the Schuster Performing Arts Center and so because of her generosity, the tradition continues…

Muse Machine's Wizard of OzYoung theatre-goers at the Muse Machine’s Wizard of Oz at the Victoria Theatre

Sitting behind us during the musical were four of Allie’s eight-year-old friends, some of the most beautifully dressed and enthusiastic theatre-goers that I have ever seen. They were all dolled up in velvet dresses with hair of cascading curls and arms full of flowers waiting in the lobby afterwards to see their friend.  I cannot stop smiling even as I think of them now, for I imagine they will undoubtedly be theatre-goers and arts supporters for the rest of their lives now that they have had this experience as I did — indelibly etched at such a young age…

Holly Hubler with Allie Hubler (second from left)My sister Holly Hubler with god-daughter Allie Hubler (second from left)

Cultural Adventure: (Mill Valley & Berkeley California or where-ever you are) Treat your children or a friend’s children or your nieces and nephews or your grand-children to tickets to a live musical, better yet, one that features children in the cast.  The Throckmorton Theatre’s Youth Performance program in Mill Valley presents musicals featuring young people and is a worthy cultural organization to support year-round. The Freight & Salvage in Berkeley also hosts weekend musicals for children.

Copyright Marian Hubler 2012, All Rights Reserved

Email marian@marianhubler.com for news of future blog posts.