Q&A: Wicked Witch role lets Helf use her voice to stretch out

Tracy Helf was content to spend her summer relaxing and looking for a job. Her family, however, had
Tracy Helf, as the Wicked Witch of the West, menaces young Dorothy, played by Emma Sprotberry, and her little dog, too.
Tracy Helf, as the Wicked Witch of the West, menaces young Dorothy, played by Emma Sprotberry, and her little dog, too.

Tracy Helf was content to spend her summer relaxing and looking for a job. Her family, however, had other ideas.

Spurred on by her mother, sister and niece, Helf auditioned for and then landed the role of the Wicked Witch of the West in the Classic Theater Guild’s production of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” which will open Friday and continue through Aug. 3 at Indian Ladder Farms in Altamont. The show is part of the 2008 Helderberg Theater Festival, a series of free outdoor presentations that will also include Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” David Ives’ “All in the Timing” and a new play, “Authors,” by Julie Demers.

‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’

WHERE: Helderberg Theater Festival, Indian Ladder Farms, 342 Altamont Road, Altamont

WHEN: 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 4 p.m. Sunday, July 27; 6 p.m. Aug. 1-2; 4 p.m. Aug. 3

HOW MUCH: Free

MORE INFO: 432-6351

A music teacher who taught in the city school district in Syracuse the past three years before moving back closer to home, Helf is a 2000 graduate of Colonie High School and a 2004 graduate of Syracuse University. Now a resident of Rotterdam, she is currently pursuing a master’s degree in education at The College of Saint Rose.

An accomplished singer and violinist, Helf is also a big baseball and football fan. When she isn’t involved in some musical endeavor or watching a game on television, you’ll probably find her on the softball field.

Q: When did music become such a big part of your life?

A: I started drawing these pictures of little musical notes when I was 3, and I started playing the violin at 8. I’ve always sang. So music has always been very important to me.

Q: How often have you performed?

A: I started singing in high school and performing in some musicals, and while I was at Syracuse I sang with an a cappella group that performed in a competition on Broadway. I’ve also done some singing in bands, and while I did do some community theater when I was younger, I didn’t do any shows at Syracuse. This will be my first time on stage in a musical in quite a while.

Q: What got you back involved in the theater?

A: I was helping my sister with her two small children, and my niece was giving her a hard time. So I took her for a little walk and put on “The Sound of Music,” thinking it might calm her down. Well, obviously I started singing along with it and my whole family just about stopped what they were doing. My parents both said that if I didn’t audition for something this summer that they would be very angry with me. So we looked in the paper and saw the notice for this audition.

Q: What kind of music do you prefer?

A: It depends on the mood I’m in, but I like all kinds of music. I love rock ’n’ roll, but I also enjoy doing Broadway tunes and ballads. There are days when all I want to do is listen to the Beatles. My iPod is definitely not big enough for all my tastes.

Q: What is your best instrument? Your voice or your violin?

A: I’m a singer first and a violinist second. I love them both but I just feel like I’m more a natural singer.

Q: How much do you enjoy teaching?

A: Well, you’ve given me an opportunity to get on my soapbox. Music was a core subject for the ancient Greeks and Romans. They always studied it, and now the focus is on language and math, and sports are such a big deal. People forget that music is interdisciplinary, and you can study it in social studies or try to measure sound waves in science class. It’s all over the place and people should have knowledge of it.

Music helps kids tap into something, and my job as a music teacher is to give kids as much information as they can handle and then let them pick and choose what they love. Music is something that’s very big in our world, and I love teaching it.

Q: Are you enjoying playing the role of the Wicked Witch of the West?

A: There’s no real singing, but I get to play with my voice for the part. She’s very manipulative. So I get to be very sweet and soft-spoken, and then I get to have a temper tantrum and drop my voice and become very threatening. I also get to cackle, which technically isn’t singing but it’s pretty close.

Rehearsals have been a lot of fun, and it’s great outdoor theater. People bring blankets and lawn chairs and sit there and look at the Helderbergs. As long as it doesn’t rain, it’s beautiful.

Categories: Life and Arts

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