It’s the year 2025 and cannabis has just been legalized for use and production across the United States. One small town is about to become home to the nation’s very first “weed factory,” and it’s causing a stir of mixed emotions amongst its citizens. While some are excited about the new legal status of cannabis and the arrival of the factory, others are completely terrified. The town has always thought of marijuana as a dangerous gateway drug that leads to violence and criminality, a belief well enforced by Mr. Candy Man, the town’s trusted pharmacist. So, it’s up to eccentric outsider and hemp enthusiast, Mr. Willy Wonka, to convince the townspeople that weed is not, in fact, “the devil’s lettuce,” but is, instead an environmentally sustainable plant with many useful properties. But, when Mr. Wonka invites five “Golden Spliffen” winners into his factory to enlighten and educate them, he unexpectedly learns something from the townspeople in return.
No, this isn’t children’s theatre and yes, our local children’s theatre company YST did just produce Willy Wonka Jr. This production is brought to you by Welland Productions and written by two of its founders Brittany Belland and Weslie Lechner with music by Patrick Boylan. The writers coyly tell us “this is Willy Wonka for the grown-ups. Get a sitter and come have a glass of wine with us…Willy Wonka for you!”
Lechner, also directing, was actually in YST’s December production of A Christmas Carol and got to know and love Jack and Gloria Bennett, YST directors. At one point, Gloria approached Lechner with an idea; she knew Lechner and Belland wrote comedy skits and asked if they might want to do a show in the week during the summer that the theatre would be dark while Jack and Gloria took a much needed vacation. They would simply split the box office and if it didn’t work out, nobody loses much but on the other hand, if it’s a success, they might be on to something. Lechner immediately said yes because she says, “no one in LA ever offers you a theatre for free. It’s become increasingly difficult to produce small theatre in LA so we jumped at the chance. Jack and Gloria have been absolutely wonderful.” Adds Belland, “we are so grateful to Jack and Gloria. They are even allowing us to use their Willy Wonka Jr. set! It’s fate!”
They started with the smallest whim of an idea, “what if Willy Wonka ran a weed factory?” They thought the idea was hilarious but in April, once Lechner confirmed that Gloria had indeed been serious, both Lechner and Belland decided to go all in and hunker down to write a real story. As they researched and wrote they realized that the movie is actually just a jumping off point and that they had a real story to tell about dispelling the mythology around cannabis. Lechner says it’s more referential than a full mapping of the original story; a satire rather than a parody.
Their own personal experience is reflected in the story in that they both come from small, conservative areas and were raised with the notion that marijuana was a very dangerous, evil, bad thing. As they became adults, they began to discover the medicinal properties and Belland says she uses the CBD oils for anxiety and says, “we realized we didn’t just want to do a classic parody of the movie but rather write something meaningful. The hope is to help reduce the stigma associated with cannabis use so that people start to realize that it isn’t what everyone has been told for decades; that it leads to criminality for example, but that it’s actually gentle and effective when used correctly.”
They hope to change people’s perspectives and although the subject matter has been challenging for their parents, they are being incredibly supportive and will be flying in to see the show. Belland says, “I don’t think we realized how much we would covert ourselves through the process.” Echoes Lechner “we learned a lot while writing it. Most surprising to me was learning the 5000 year history of the medicinal uses for cannabis and how the US government started demonizing it after the Mexican American Revolution because Mexicans had it in their medicine cabinets. They used the fear of the other to convince people that it was dangerous.The campaign was led by Harry Anslinger, the Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, as a way to basically justify his job and his department by having a new drug to go after and demonize the Mexican population at the same time.”
In fact, Anslinger asked 20 doctors if cannabis should be illegal and 19 said no, so he took the one doctor who said yes on a propaganda tour. They used a false anecdote about a man who killed his whole family while using cannabis which was later proven false. Fascinating history that most of us know very little about. Belland and Lechner site this video as one of their favorites to break it down in simple terms.
If you’d like to get your “Golden Spliffen” and see what it’s all about, the show opens Thursday July 20 8pm and runs Friday July 21 8pm, Saturday July 22 8pm, Sunday matinee July 23 3pm and closes Monday July 24 8pm. Tickets on sale at https://www.wellandproductions.com/tickets $25.
Written by Brittany Belland and Weslie Lechter, Music by Patrick Boylan, Directed by Weslie Lechter, starring Brittany Belland, Patrick Boylan, Jim Marsillo, Brock McKenzie, Ben Wickham, Alexandria McCale, Hannah Pearlman, Jaqueline Besson, Weslie Lechner, Adam Wasser, Jodi Skeris, Alex Stegmaier, Alesander Paul. Poster and logo design by Stephen Nachreiner. The production is sponsored by the South Pasadena native company, Spliffin, who enthusiastically collaborated in support of their cause and their love of the Fremont Centre Theatre.