Seeing Linda Hartzell at work is a bit like pulling back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz himself—minus the smoke and giant head. On just her third day postsabbatical, she’s buried deep in color-coded cast lists of Munchkins and Emerald City kids for this month’s production of The Wizard of Oz, opening November 15. “How many Winkies do we have?” she asks choreographer Marianne Roberts. It’s an age-old question.

After 28 years as artistic director of Seattle Children’s Theatre, Hartzell is officially the hardest-working wizard in town, setting the vision for a theater that has changed the way we think about art for children. “The only difference between adult and kid theater is that children aren’t cynical,” she says. With that motto in mind, SCT has staged some of the most compelling professional theater in the region, tackling complex issues like homelessness and bullying while also putting on playful productions of Peter Pan and Robin Hood that draw eight- and 28-year-olds.

At the center of it all, checking on costumes and watering the office plants, is Hartzell. She has the heart of the Tin Man—a den mother with a tough side who wants the office to be a place of kindness and respect—and the courage of the not-so-Cowardly Lion to stay committed to scholarship tickets for underprivileged kids, even when the budget’s tight. Sometimes she worries that, like the Scarecrow, she’s misplaced her brain: “What’s the award you’re giving me? The Soon-to-Expire Award? The Stage 1 Alzheimer’s Award?” She’s too modest to admit this isn’t her first award. Given how many happy little customers (and parents) have been served—five million and counting—it likely won’t be her last.

$100 would send five schoolchildren in the free and reduced-price
lunch program to see their first play.

The Wizard of Oz
Nov 15–Jan 6, Seattle Children's Theatre, Seattle Center
For ages 5 and up, $18–$36

Read our full list of Light a Fire Award winners for achievement in the nonprofit community.