There are some elements of “Elements of Oz” that might appeal to children and teens. During segments of the play — a new multimedia version of “The Wizard of Oz” that opened the 2015-16 Peak Performances series at the Kasser Theater at Montclair University this weekend — viewers can watch the action through their cellphones or iPads, with visual and sonic effects added. In the course of the evening, many scenes from the beloved movie are reenacted.
But there is more, though, in this new work by the New York-based experimental theater company, The Builders Association. “Elements of Oz” includes some discussion of the way the movie and the book it was based on related to the economic and political realities of their time, and actors portraying Ayn Rand and Salman Rushdie take the audience on unexpected tangents. There’s a glimpse of an embittered Judy Garland, later in life; and even references to Pink Floyd The Dark Side of the Moon — an album that supposedly can be synced to the movie — and the movie’s impact on gay culture.
The audience watched snippets of scenes being filmed; the snippets were then merged and shown as longer film sequences. This technique underscored how things can play differently on the stage and on the screen, but also made for a lot of repetition, even in a fairly short (75-minute) production. Live instrumental music helped, providing an urgent pulse that linked everything together.
There is a lot going on in “Elements of Oz,” and I, honestly, enjoyed the capriciousness of it all a lot more than my 13-year-old daughter Sarah, with whom I watched it, did. Below is a transcription of our post-show discussion.
(Remaining performances are Oct. 1-4; visit peakperfs.org).
Jay: I liked the fact that they were trying something new: That they were both telling the story, and bringing some other aspects into it.
Sarah: I found it an okay experience. While it did provide new information, there were a lot of parts that I felt just dragged on and I just did not get at all.
Jay: There were parts of the play in which they introduced characters such as Ayn Rand and Salman Rushdie, talking about “Oz.” And I think since I’m more aware of who those people are, I think it was easier for me to enjoy those parts than you.
Sarah: During those parts, I had absolutely no idea who these people were, what they were talking about, and why they were there.
Jay: I think we both agree, though, that visually, the play was pretty impressive, and I thought there was some nice humor there, with the actors really hamming it up as Dorothy and the Tin Man, and so on.
Sarah: I didn’t really find it that funny. I got what they were aiming for. It just didn’t make me laugh.
Jay: So, was there anything you liked about it?
Sarah: In the play, there was this vlogger lady, and I thought she was very good, just because the information she presented, I got, and I got who she was talking about. Like, she presented new information about the witches and the monkeys (in the movie) and things that happened on the set.
Jay: Yeah, like, she talked about how they filmed the scene where (the movie) went from black and white to color. She explained how they did that, and then they acted that out (live), which was pretty interesting. Or they talked about how Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch, got burned when they were filming one scene.
Sarah: That was interesting. They talked about all these disasters that happened, and those were pretty interesting. And I liked how they used the phones. In one portion, on everyone’s phone they had a different person singing “Over the Rainbow,” to show how big an impact that song had, and how beautiful it is. I thought that was pretty clever.
Jay: I liked how, at times, you would hear the munchkins giggling on your phones, so it was like you were surrounded by munchkins.
Sarah: Yeah, how they incorporated video and sound into the phone was kind of interesting. And at some points you would take your phone and hold it up, and there would be graphics on the phone, and you would watch through your phone, on the screen, and see these graphics. But I found that just kind of basic. It didn’t work, for me, mostly because I’ve seen apps like this. And also, the way that it was framed, it was hard to watch (the action) through the phone, because the graphics were all over the place, and the actors on the stage looked so small.
Jay: I know people have done graphics on phones, but to see the combination of live acting with the graphics, I thought was something different. I think you’re definitely right, though, in that the actors ended up being very small on the iPhones, which we both had. I did notice that some people, though, were using iPads, and with the bigger screen, I think it worked a little better.
Sarah: Recommendation: Get that iPad!
Builders Association Elements of Oz from Fez Empire on Vimeo.