WILLIAMSBURG – Andy Linn walks in, a ball tucked tightly under his arm. Simultaneously, another adult instructs dozens of Lafayette High teenagers to move objects into the correct position for the action about to begin.
“A Rams football practice?” you wonder. Well, not when Lafayette junior Sadie Westbrock enters stage right, wearing a blue-and-white-checked dress similar to the one Judy Garland made famous as Dorothy of Kansas, holding a dog bearing a striking resemblance to Toto of motion-picture fame.
Linn, best known for coaching the Rams’ football team to three consecutive unbeaten regular seasons, is about to engage in his other passion — one unknown to most beyond the halls of Lafayette High. Acting.
Linn’s latest show-biz gig will run at the Lafayette auditorium from April 21-23, when he plays The Great and Powerful Oz in the school production of “The Wizard of Oz.” So, on a weekday afternoon, Linn hustles from the weight room, where several dozen football players are lifting, to the auditorium, where about the same number are preparing for the play under the direction of Suzan McCorry.
The ball Linn carries onto the stage is the crystal ball that Professor Marvel, who later becomes The Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz, uses to trick runaway Dorothy into believing her aunt is ill so she will return home. When Linn delivers the Marvel line that reading Dorothy’s thoughts is “my trade, my calling,” he’s convincing enough to make you believe acting is as much his trade as developing dominant offensive lines annually.
“Usually, when they bring a teacher in (for a play), I think they might not put all of their effort into it,” said Westbrock, who has played in the Virginia Musical Theatre and is in a professional training program at the Virginia Repertory Theatre in Richmond. “But (Linn) learns his lines so well, and there are a lot of lines a paragraph long.
“He works on those lines every night and he’s so invested in it. It’s amazing working with someone as passionate as I am, and it’s a lot of fun.
“He’s so funny.”
Linn’s acting career was sort of forced on him at the start of the decade at the request of then-Lafayette principal Park Land, who suggested he join him in the school production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
“When your principal asks you, you kind of have to say yes,” said Linn, a health and physical education teacher who has coached football at Lafayette for 19 years. “I didn’t have any trouble getting up and talking in front of a crowd. Being a football coach, I could do that all day.
“But I had to sing a solo. Luckily, I can sing fairly well.”
McCorry, a drama teacher at Lafayette, says she’s “thrilled” to work with adults in her plays, especially “a teacher and coach as well-respected by the students as Coach Linn.” Linn’s early acting impressed her enough to give him the role of the Captain in the Cole Porter musical “Anything Goes,” which called for another solo.
“With Coach Linn, I remember he really studied his lines,” McCorry said. “Things came naturally to him, but he really worked on character and interpretation.”
Linn’s daughter Madison, a Lafayette freshman with multiple parts in “The Wizard of Oz,” does not dispute that.
“Every night he’s acting out his lines,” said Madison, who first performed with her dad as an extra in “Anything Goes” as a fifth-grader. “He even does them when we’re in the car, which isn’t necessarily safe.
“I know he’s dedicated to everything he does, but his dedication and heart to the play impresses me most. He has a really big heart.”
McCorry is most impressed with how naturally Linn handles the Great and Powerful Oz’s lengthy monologues. That’s particularly true of the scene in which Dorothy (in this production) pulls aside the curtain to expose the fraud of the Wizard, who then gifts the Scarecrow with a diploma, the Lion with a medal of courage and the Tin Man with a ticking heart-shaped watch.
“A lot of what the Wizard says is almost nonsense, and he’s making up words off the top of his head,” McCorry says. “Coach Linn has to make it appear he’s pulling it out of his head versus having memorized it.
“He’s doing excellent.”
Linn admits it’s “challenging” stringing together a line like the one as he gives the Scarecrow his diploma: “Therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Universitartus Committiartum E Pluribus Unum, I hereby confer upon you the honorary degree of ThD (Doctor of Thinkology).”
But he says it’s fun and adds, with a monologue of his own, that there are a lot of extra benefits.
“Even though you see these kids in the halls, you realize what a tremendous amount of time they put in and what a good job Ms. McCorry does,” Linn said, noting that the cast and crew have been working on the production six days a week since early January. “Spending time with Madison is a big part of it, too.
“You rarely get a chance to do something like this in your lifetime, so you take advantage of it every time you get it. It’s something she’ll never forget and I’ll never forget.”
The play will be performed at 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, then at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday. For tickets, call 565-4244. Reserved seating is available.
O'Brien can be reached by phone at 757-247-4963.