A q&a with The Cowardly Lion

Vancouver’s Carousel Theatre brings The Wizard of Oz to the stage this holiday season in a production local gay actor Josue Laboucane says will have something for all ages.  Laboucane, who plays The Cowardly Lion, talks about performing for young audiences, the enduring nature of the story and its place in queer history in our Q&A.

Gay Vancouver actor Josue Laboucane plays The Cowardly Lion in the Carousel Theatre production of The Wizard of OzIs there any difference in preparing for a role knowing your audience will primarily be made up of young people?

There’s not really a difference other than I prepare to do more shows in a week with higher energy levels.  I have to raise my stamina.  Each production has it’s own style and demographic but the creative process is basically the same.

The show is for ages 4+ – how do you prepare for the potential of short attention spans?

During the rehearsal process, I try to make what I do as interesting and fun as possible.  We all do.  If I’m having a great time in my role in the story, I believe the audience will be having a great time too.

The primary audience is young people – how do you ensure the adults that attend are just as entertained?

I think the best family shows are ones that are fun for everybody.  We are certainly having a fun time and I think that sense of fun will be contagious.  The more open hearted the adults in the cast and in the audience can be, the better. Adults will also love the writing and the music.  It’s based on the classic film and it works on many levels.  Some moments will be for the child at heart and others more for the grown up.  There’s something to enjoy for both young and older!

The show materials call it a “fresh take on a classic story” – what makes it fresh?

We’re finding the heart of this story and these characters in our own unique individual ways.  We’re not the actors from the movie.  We’re not trying to be the movie.  We are 10 actors when the story calls for more like a minimum of 30.  Right there we have to come up with new ways of staging the story and in less running time than the film.   Our take on the tornado is different and theatrical.  Some of the music will be new to people because it was cut from the film.  We’re focussing on telling a fun, clear, heartfelt story.

Most adults, at least, will remember Bert Lahr in the movie role as The Cowardly Lion, are you afraid of the comparisons?

Well, I am a little nervous.  I hear Bert Lahr`s voice in a lot of these lines.  And I loved his portrayal.  I’m not doing a Bert Lahr impression, but at the same time his essence is in there somewhere, paying homage to him.  The lines he said in the movie( which our script is following, for the most part) were his mannerisms, accent, inflection and stutters.  So I’ve begun to accept that I can’t fully get away from him.  So I’ll embrace it.

The Cowardly Lion is, well a coward. Do you see yourself in him? What are you afraid of in real life?

I definitely get scared and have lots of fears.  The two of us are very similar that way.  I’m afraid of doing a bad job in the show.  I’m afraid of making the wrong choices in my work, in life, in relationships.  I’m afraid of hurting people and people hurting me, emotionally and physically.  I guess all these fears can be reduced to a fear of not being accepted.  The Lion has that fear as well.

What do you think makes The Wizard of Oz such an enduring story?

We all connect to it on a true human level.  We can see ourselves in the story and characters.  It’s a journey of imagination, friendship, acceptance and love.  Dorothy and her Oz friends go searching for what they think they don’t have: a loving home, a brain, a heart and courage.  In the end, they discover they always had what they wanted they just didn’t know it.  It’s beautiful.

Scarecrow (Darren Burkett), Tinman (Mike Stack), Dorothy (Robyn Wallis) and Lion (Josue Laboucane) wander the Haunted Forest in Carousel Theatre's The Wizard of Oz.
A scene from the Carousel Theatre production of The Wizard of Oz. Photo by Tim Matheson.

Do you prescribe to the idea that when you sing ” I’m just a dandy-lion” it refers to the lion’s sexuality?

I think it certainly can hint to that.  But I don’t think the Lion’s sexuality is the most important piece of information in that line.  He thinks of himself as a lion that fits the label ‘dandy’ better than the label ‘courageous’.  He’s saying he’s not like the other lions.  So that connects to everything that can make someone different from sexuality, to gender, to physicality to colour, height you name it.  His journey is accepting himself for who he is and believing in himself.

The term “friend of Dorothy” has lost some of its meaning in recent years – do you think a younger gay community is missing out on anything because of it?

Yes, perhaps.  But I’m sure I’m missing out on a lot of their great references too!  And that’s one of the points of telling stories.  To share ideas.  Maybe it’ll gain more meaning, maybe even new meaning, if we share what it meant.

What do you want audiences to walk away thinking after seeing the show?

I want them to be thinking about the people in their lives that bring them joy, and give them love and support.  I would love people to leave with a smile on their face, lightness to their step and a bit more in love with their world and the people in it!

The Wizard of Oz
2 – 31 December 2011
Waterfront Theatre, Granville Island

This holiday season Carousel Theatre invites young audiences to follow the Yellow Brick Road as Dorothy and friends learn about courage, compassion, and the meaning of home in the beloved family musical, The Wizard of Oz. Visit http://www.carouseltheatre.ca for tickets and information.

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