The ‘Elements of Oz’: A new and inevitable way of experiencing theater

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Published October 12, 2015
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The Montclarion
Photo courtesy of montclair.edu

Elements of Oz was first in the Peak Performance lineup for 2015 to 2016. Perhaps taking theatre into the future, The Builders Association made use of our smartphones in the performance experience. Students who usually do not attend live theatre may have been pleasantly surprised by the film and downloadable app woven into the context of the piece.

Elements itself included a total dissection of The Wizard of Oz, the 1939 film of the classic book by L. Frank Baum. Broken down to its hard elements, the classic story was told in increments and was spliced with tons of video shot live onstage.

As to be expected of The Builder’s Association, the NYC theatre troupe fused live theatre with tons of multimedia. Marianne Weems, director of the company, has toured productions in London, Paris, Frankfurt and several other cities around the world. 14 miles from New York City, Montclair State University was a trip not far from Builders’ home. Montclair State University’s own BA Theatre Studies students, Kelsey Mulholland, April Sigler and Kasia Skorynkiewicz served as production assistants.

Despite its use of technology, Elements maintained its essence as a live experience. In Brechtian spirit, the line between actor and character was visible at all times. The contrast between the events of live action and the product of digital media was glaring and intentional. Costume and set changes occurred as part of the performance action and all traditional transitional moments were integrated into the script. Audience members received both the raw and refined forms of this old and familiar story.

Mostly upbeat and comical, the play explored the dark and unspoken history of the 1939 film starring Judy Garland. Horrors include the second- and third-degree burns experienced by Wicked Witch of the West actress Margaret Hamilton, the asbestos snow that woke Dorothy in the field of poppies and of course, the gratuitous drug abuse of young Judy Garland, who used drugs to maintain a horrendous working schedule. Gloomy themes revealed themselves from underneath loads of slapstick humor. Unexpected fun included Dorothy with a moustache played by male actor Sean Donovan, up-close and personal interviews with Salman Rushdie and Ayn Rand and a techno dance interlude.

Elements received varied responses from its diverse audience. Ushers in Kasser Theatre were equipped with batteries and chargers for all guests young and old who may or may not have been expecting the show they got to see. Nick Hernandez, fifth -year English major, said, “I thought it was really cool to see art that really incorporated our smartphones. I think that’s where art is headed.” April Gormley, a BFA Theatre Production major, was also surprised by the performance. “From the beta-test I saw, I thought it was going to be serious or even creepy. It was really awesome to see the evolution of the show.”

Next in the Peak Performance line-up is Rooms of Light: The Life of Photographs (A Song Cycle), by Fred Hersch and Mary Jo Salter. It opens Oct. 15 at 7:30 p.m. in the Kasser Theatre. There will be a pre-show “Sneak Peek” with the director at 6:30 p.m. that is open and free for the public

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