Willy Wonka Jr.: History of Roald Dahl

wonka logo

As StarStruck gears up for a lively romp through Wonka’s enchanting chocolate factory, we thought it only appropriate to pay homage to the man behind the magic–beloved children’s author Roald Dahl. Keep reading as guest blogger Martha Garcia takes readers through Dahl’s early years and the story behind “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” and don’t forget–tickets are on sale now for StarStruck’s Willy Wonka Jr.!


By Martha Garcia

Roald Dahl was born in Cardiff, Wales on September 13, 1916. Although he was raised by Norwegian parents who only spoke Norwegian at home with the family, he was educated in prestigious English boarding schools his entire life. In fact, during Dahl’s teenage years at the Repton School in Derbyshire, England, the Cadbury chocolate company occasionally sent boxes of candy to the school to be taste-tested by the pupils. Dahl dreamed of inventing a new type of chocolate bar that would win the praise of Mr. Cadbury himself, and this dream later inspired him to write Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. However, writing children’s books was definitely not Dahl’s first career trajectory.

After finishing his secondary education, Dahl traveled to Africa in 1934 to work for Shell Oil Petroleum in both Kenya and Tanzania. In 1939, he voluntarily joined the British Royal Air Force (RAF) just as World War II was starting. He quickly moved up the ranks to become a high-ranking fighter pilot, but was nearly killed in a plane crash in 1942 that fractured his skull, broke his nose, and temporarily blinded him. Later that same year, after a period of recovery, Dahl transferred to a desk job in Washington D.C. to become an Assistant Air Attaché for the British Information Service. Over the course of the next few years, Dahl was promoted from Flight Lieutenant to Wing Commander, and finally was invalided out of the RAF in 1946 with the substantive rank of Squadron Leader.

Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl

Shortly before leaving the military, Dahl was introduced to fellow English expatriate and well-known author C.S. Forester. Forester encouraged Dahl to write a series of anecdotes about his wartime adventures that soon morphed together into a short story entitled “A Piece of Cake”. That story was bought by the Saturday Evening Post and published under the much more exciting sounding title Shot Down Over Libya. After leaving the military, Dahl decided to turn to a full-time writing career. He began writing articles for New Yorker magazine, but quickly turned to independent short stories and novellas for adults that became known for their macabre tone and unexpected endings. Eventually, he decided to focus his writing talents on children’s stories with a niche for being largely unsentimental and containing elements of dark humor. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, published in 1964, was actually Dahl’s third children’s book after Gremlins (1943) and James and the Giant Peach (1961).

a_WILLYCharlie and the Chocolate Factory deals with one kind and impoverished boy’s search for the ultimate prize in a fierce competition with four wealthy, spoiled, and highly unpleasant children. It presented a common theme in Dahl’s fiction for children: virtue is rewarded, but vice is punished–usually in a rather disturbing, yet ironic way. The original story was actually different than the one most of us know and love. As a bit of interesting trivia, here are some major plot points in the original manuscript that differ greatly from the story with which most everyone is familiar:

  • There were ten golden tickets hidden in Wonka bars each week. Wonka gave a factory tour to the lucky winners every Saturday, and Charlie finds a ticket on his first attempt.

  • The names of the other nine children on Charlie’s tour are Augustus Pottle, Miranda Grope, Wilbur Rice, Tommy Tourtbeck, Violet Strabismus, Clarence Clump, Bertie Upside, Terence Roper, and Elvira Entwhistle.

  • Charlie is accidentally encased in chocolate and taken to Wonka’s house as a gift for his son Freddie. While there, Charlie witnesses a burglary, and as a reward for helping to catch the thieves, Wonka gives Charlie his own sweet shop

  • There was no mention of Oompa Loompas, Grandpa Joe, or most of the other well known characters. All of them eventually made it in to the final draft of the manuscript.

As StarStruck Theatre’s luck would have it, 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a now-beloved children’s story which only gets more delectable with age. To mark the occasion, Penguin Young Readers Group is having a yearlong celebration that includes, of course, a Golden Ticket Sweepstakes! Launched on April 1st, the contest will award five winners a trip to New York, a year’s supply of chocolate and $5,000 of books donated to their school libraries. For more information on the Golden Ticket Sweepstakes, please go to http://www.roalddahl.com/blog/2014/april/the-golden-ticket-sweepstakes. Anniversary editions of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are also now available in stores.

Fifty years after its publication, children everywhere are still discovering this timeless book. StarStruck Theatre is very excited to present our version of Willy Wonka Jr. to all of you this spring.


StarStruck Legacy: Annie, 2011

Happy Thursday! AnnieWith all this cold winter weather, we have to remember that the sun’ll come out! Throwback to 2011, when StarStruck presented Annie! An all-youth cast took the stage to present the heartwarming message of optimism, perseverance, and hope.







Principal Cast:
Annie: Grace Groeniger
Oliver Warbucks: Trevor Meyer
Miss Hannigan: Karina Simpson
Grace Farrell: Chelsey Sue
Rooster Hannigan: Daniel Mijangos
Lily: Katherine Dela Cruz

Did you know…?: Types of Theaters

As we continue our series “Did you know…?”, let’s build upon what we already know. We have learned about the different areas in a theater facility,  but did you know that there are different ways of positioning a stage within a theater? There are many different types of theater staging, but for now we will have a look at a few of the most common.

You are probably most familiar with proscenium theatre.

The Orpheum Theater, San Francisco: Proscenium

The Orpheum Theater, San Francisco: Proscenium

This is one of the most common styles of configuring a stage, and StarStruck’s performance home, the Jackson Theater at Ohlone College, is an example of proscenium theatre.

Proscenium Theatre: Theatre staging in which the stage is positioned behind a proscenium arch

Proscenium Arch: A downstage archway, which frames the stage and creates a distinct separation between the audience in the house and the performers onstage

Beijing Capital Theater, Beijing: Proscenium

Beijing Capital Theater, Beijing: Proscenium


Another common type of theatre staging is thrust stage. You can find examples of a thrust stage in theaters all over the world, but they are most common in theaters that present works of Shakespeare.

Thrust Stage: Type of theatre configuration in which the stage extends outward, surrounded by the audience on three sides.

The Globe Theater, London: Thrust

The Globe Theater, London: Thrust

The Courtyard Theater, Stratford-Upon-Avon: Thrust

The Courtyard Theater, Stratford-Upon-Avon: Thrust







One of the more unusual types of theater is theatre in the round (or “arena staging”). This style was pioneered in the United States in the early 1900s, and has since been dispersed worldwide.

Circle in the Square Theatre, New York City: Theatre in the Round

Circle in the Square Theatre, New York City: Theatre in the Round

Theatre in the Round: Type of theatre staging where the audience encircles the stage.

Théâtre en Rond, Sassenage: Theatre in the Round

Théâtre en Rond, Sassenage: Theatre in the Round


The last type of theater style we’ll look at today is blackbox theatre.

The Soweto Theatre, Johannesburg: Blackbox

The Soweto Theatre, Johannesburg: Blackbox

Blackbox theatre is just that–a black box. This style is popular worldwide, particularly for contemporary or experimental pieces, and for small-scale productions that require a great deal of flexibility or intimacy with the audience. Virtually any space can become a blackbox theater. Some blackbox theaters are converted studios or warehouses; sometimes performing arts centers, such as Ohlone College’s Smith Center for the Performing Arts, specifically build blackbox theaters into their performance facilities.

Blackbox Theatre: Highly versatile style of theatre that takes place in a black room. Performance space is created by placing chairs or bleachers in the configuration of the director’s choosing.

Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, Brisbane: Blackbox

Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, Brisbane: Blackbox

StarStruck Legacy: Honk! 2008

Throwback to January 2008—StarStruck Theatre Honk!was off on a wild goose chase as we brought delighted audiences our encore production of Honk! We first produced Honk! in 2003, and its success prompted a second rendition five years later. Jordan Aragon reprised his role as Ugly in this charming retelling of “The Ugly Duckling.” Honk! followed Ugly’s adventures with his scornful siblings the Ducklings, his bewildered parents Ida and Drake (Natalie Hawkins, Benjamin Hall), the mischievous Cat (James M. Jones), and various other lovable animals in his journey toward self-discovery and acceptance.



Honk Full Cast

Principal Cast:
Ugly: Jordan Aragon
Ida: Natalie Hawkins
Drake: Benjamin Hall
Cat: James M. Jones
Bullfrog: Hawa Foster
Lowbutt: Jordan Joly
Queenie: Devon Simpson
Greylag: Esteban Gonzalez, Will Kwon (double cast)
Dot: Beatrice Crosbie
Maureen: Kimberly Chatterjee
Henrietta: Jessica Christman
Penny: Sophia Kanety
Jay Bird: Trevor Meyer

StarStruck Legacy: CATS, 2009

Happy Thursday, friends!

Summer 2009 was an especially memorable one here at StarStruck. Our young performers underwent a spectacular transformation and took the stage — as CATS! Recognize any familiar faces below? Sometimes we had trouble too! Costume designer Vicki Boomer and set designer Stephen C. Wathen worked together to create beautiful costumes for our cast of 45, and once in full makeup and wigs, the performers became fully feline.

Let the memory live again!


Cats1 Cats2




Cats3 Cats3 copy Cats4

Principal Cast:

Bombalurina: Lauren Hall
Bustopher Jones: Esteban Gonzalez
Demeter: Meaghan Gates
Griddlebone: Beatrice Crosbie
Grizabella: Natalie Hawkins
Growltiger: Lance Smith
Gus the Theatre Cat: Connor Stokes
Jellylorum: Chelsey Sue
Jemima: Callie Garrett
Jennyanydots: Kimberly Chatterjee
Macavity: Trevor Meyer
Mungojerrie: Justin Garrett
Munkustrap: Drew Williams
Old Deuteronomy: Jeffrey Oliveira
Rumpleteazer: Vicky Lopez
Rum Tum Tugger: Benjamin Hall
Skimbleshanks: Jordan Aragon
Victoria: Jenae Childers

First Steps: Evolution of a Show-Stopper

By Martha Garcia

It’s safe to say that almost everyone who attends a StarStruck musical production leaves the theater amazed at the talent and energy of our young performers and at how seamlessly the shows flow from song to song and scene to scene. Seeing a flawlessly performed musical number can be such an awe-inspiring thing, and yet the majority of the audience members probably never stop to consider that just a few months prior, that scene didn’t exist beyond the music director’s or choreographer’s mind. In every show, there is always at least one major show-stopping musical number that involves a very large segment of the cast. How does it all begin, though? How does the StarStruck staff transport that show-stopping number from someone’s mind to the opening night stage?

Recently, I was fortunate enough to attend the very first rehearsal of what will surely be one of Peter Pan’s major show stoppers: an exuberant, silly song and dance number in Act 2 called “Ugg-a-Wug.” In “Ugg-a-Wug,” Peter, Wendy, John, Michael, Tiger Lily, the Indians, and the Lost Boys decide to become friends and blood brothers instead of fighting with each other. The scene is a majorly fun part of the show for everyone who sees it.

To give you a sneak peek: The very first Ugg-a-Wug rehearsal was on Monday evening, October 28. At 6:15pm, musical director Nancy Godfrey had all 53 students sitting in their seats in the StarStruck studio to begin learning the song. That’s a LOT of students learning the lyrics, the various repeats, splitting up the vocal ranges, plus learning the proper melodies AND harmonies all at the same time in a group environment. Although “Ugg-a-Wug” is a relatively simple song containing minimal, mostly nonsensical lyrics, it’s not always simple for a large group to learn an entire song in a very short period of time. I have spent time around adult performers who weren’t able to learn songs as quickly or professionally as our StarStruck students! In fact, the kids nailed all aspects of the musical interpretations of the song within less than 45 minutes. That’s talent, folks! They were then ready to move on to the next stage of the learning process: the choreography.

Learning the basic choreography of “Ugg-a-Wug” took a bit longer than learning the song itself, but was even more fun to watch from a layman’s point of view. Choreographer Jeanne Batacan-Harper was very careful to patiently place all 53 kids in specific, individual spots on the floor: Indians seated as a group at center stage, Lost Boys seated in two groups at stage left and stage right, and Peter and Tiger Lily right in front as the two main featured singers in that particular song. Much time was spent carefully and methodically teaching very specific hand placements, body movements, and dance steps to the group, little by little and step by step. It was slow going, but it was going well. This was the first rehearsal of many for “Ugg-a-Wug,” but by the time rehearsal ended at 9:00pm, I was amazed at how much musical and dance material was covered and solidified in such a short period of time.

Without giving away much detail, let’s just say that precision, uniformity, energetic rhythm and musicianship, and some really strong follow-the-leader skills are key in properly conveying the message of brotherhood and friendship between all of the characters participating in the song “Ugg-a-Wug.” In two months, when this number is up on the stage at Ohlone and proverbially bringing down the house, it is going to be awesome. It will be unbelievable to think back to a time when the singing and choreography were just a blank slate. When you’re watching Peter Pan, pause to consider how far these kids come each year and how much work they put in to prepare for a StarStruck show!

Alumni News: Jessica Christman

Since graduating from San Diego State Universitychristman2 May 2013 with a double major of Theatre Performance and Dance, Jessica has been performing in the San Diego area. She most recently performed with Moonlight Stage Productions in their production of The Who’s Tommy. Jessica built upon her solid base from StarStruck Theater, performing as Fredrika in A Little Night Music with the SDSU MFA cast, the Frug soloist in Sweet Charity (SRT) and many other roles in the San Diego area.  Jessica plans to join her fellow alumni in New York within the year.

Did you know…?: How to find your way in a theater

Stage Directions
Did you know that every day is opposite day in the theatre? It’s true! Stage right is left, stage left is right, downstage is forward, upstage is backward, and it is all terribly confusing—but not for long! Let’s continue our series “Did you know…?” with a breakdown of onstage directions.

Stage Left: The actor’s left (the audience’s right)
Stage Right: The actor’s right (the audience’s left)

Not too confusing yet, right? However, the audience has a counterpart:

House Right: The audience’s right (the actor’s left)
House Left: The audience’s left (the actor’s right)

Now that our rights and lefts are sorted out, rakedstagewhat does upstage and downstage mean? This term originates from the early usage of a raked stage. A raked stage is angled, slanted upward and away from the house. Raking the stage improved the audience’s view of the performers, but it forced set designers to build their sets off-kilter to compensate for the angle. Today, most theaters—including the Jackson Theater—have a raked house (where the house is slanted upward so you don’t have a tall person blocking your view) instead of a raked stage.

However, the terms upstage and downstage are still used in every sort of theater. Upstage, as you can see, refers to the very back of the stage—what would be the highest point on a raked stage. Downstage is the part of the stage closest to the audience, angled downwards on a raked stage.

Upstage: The back of the stage, farthest from the audience
Downstage: The front of the stage, nearest to the audience


StarStruck Legacy: Les Misérables, 2010

Did you hear the people sing? Throwback to summer 2010, Les Miserableswhen StarStruck brought Victor Hugo’s epic story Les Misérables to life on stage. Against the backdrop of 19th century France, an ensemble of youth and young adult performers wowed the community in StarStruck’s stunning portrayal of Valjean’s journey to redemption, Javert’s obsession with justice, Fantine’s tragedy, and the courage of all in the face of revolution.




















Principal Cast:
Jean Valjean: Michael Landreth
Javert: Benjamin Hall
Fantine: Callie Garrett
Eponine: Karina Simpson
Marius: James M. Jones
Cosette: Chelsey Sue
Monsieur Thénardier: Connor Stokes
Madame Thénardier: Kimberly Chatterjee
Enjolras: Lance Smith
Gavroche: Andrew Apy
Young Cosette: Rachel Sue

Did you know…?: Areas in a Theater

Now that we know who does what in the theatre, let’s have a look at WHERE theatre magic happens.

Quick note:
Theatre: The art of theatre
Theater: The physical performance space (i.e. the Jackson Theater, StarStruck’s performance home)

Ohlone College's Jackson Theater stage

Ohlone College’s Jackson Theater stage

There are different types of theaters, and we will give some examples of the different ways theaters are configured at a later time. For now, there are a few general areas and terms that all theaters have and use.

The Jackson Theater's house

The Jackson Theater’s house

Stage: The area where the performance takes place.

House: The area where the audience sits.

Wings: The areas on either side of the stage where actors wait to go onstage, set pieces are kept, and equipment is stored. The left wing and the right wing are collectively called Backstage.

Green Room: The room where actors wait between scenes (Note: Most green rooms are not actually green).

Dressing Rooms: The area where the actors get in costume and apply character makeup.

Front of House: Any area patrons encounter before entering the house; this can include the lobby or atrium, and the box office, where tickets are sold.

The Jackson Theater's control booth

The Jackson Theater’s control booth

Control Booth: The room at the very back of the house,facing the stage, where the stage manager, light board operator, and sound technicians work during performances.  The light board (the equipment that controls the lights) and the sound board (ditto for sound) are located here, and the stage manager is able to see the performance and call cues (telling the lights & sound techs, as well as the run crew backstage, when to execute cues. The entire technical crew communicates through headsets).

Catwalk: The narrow walkways above the stage and above the house, from which technicians can access lighting instruments.

Ohlone College's scene shop

Ohlone College’s scene shop

Scene Shop: Many theaters have a scene shop, where the set designers and carpenters can construct set pieces and paint. This area may also be used for storage during performances, if it is located adjacent to the stage as it is at Ohlone College’s Jackson Theater.



Stay tuned for our next piece on stage directions—how to find your way in a theater!