Setting the stage for Wonka


Chelsea Sanders and Tom Price work on the set of Willy Wonka the Musical. Photos by B.A. Rupert

This spring’s student production of Willy Wonka the Musical will include a chocolate waterfall, flying characters and a constantly moving set with 20 different scenes, along with plenty of Oompa Loompas, of course. Chelsea Sanders, Tom Price and others are busy figuring out how to make it all work before the show’s April 12 debut.

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“It’s the perfect release artistic-wise from the rigors of school,” says Sanders, a senior from St. Joseph, Mo., of her role as assistant designer. “This is my first time to come up with the designs myself. I’ve worked with or as the shop foreman since I was a freshman though.”


Kelly Hunter, a junior in chemical engineering from Charleston, Mo., paints the Candy Man’s cart.


As she was being interviewed, Sanders brought out her design for a 5-foot by 2 1/2-foot golden ticket that will display the names of the characters who win the coveted trip to Wonka’s chocolate factory. “Their names will be etched into Plexiglas and will light up as the children are revealed, then will go out as they disappear,” she says.

Sanders will graduate this spring with her bachelor’s degree in computer science and a minor in theater. She has a job lined up with Electronic Theatre Controls (ETC) Inc., at its Middleton, Wis., branch, where she will design software for lighting control consoles. The company is also lending Leach Theatre state-of-the-art lighting equipment for Willy Wonka.

She works closely with Price, the show’s master carpenter. He is a junior in computer science from Kearney, Mo., who is spending about 28 hours a week on the production.

One of their first tasks is building the threadbare home of Charlie Bucket, the title character of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl, the basis for the film and the musical.

“We’re building the Bucket family shack using old wooden pallets,” says Price. “They’re within our budget — they’re free,” adds Sanders.

Kevin Shaw, technical director at Leach Theatre, says the students are talented theater artists and quick learners. “Chelsea and Tom are great — there’s no way I could do this without them,” he says. “It’s quite challenging to squeeze all the design requirements for Willy into our small budget, but we’re managing to pull it off. Support from the local community and from companies like ETC help a great deal.”

Story by Linda Fulps

Video by Terry Barner

Find out Willy Wonka the Musical performance dates and times, and more about the show.

Learn more about performing arts at Missouri S&T.