“There’s no place like home.”
“Somewhere over the rainbow.”
“I’ll get you my pretty...and your little dog, too!”
Such iconic sound bites have infiltrated our collective consciousness, making The Wizard of Oz one of the most beloved feature films in cinematic history. The Builders Association—one of New York’s beloved downtown theater companies—brings to theatrical life the immense web of cultural references to Oz in its latest postmodern performance, entitled Elements of Oz. Using a truly innovative format, the company combines film, theater and an interactive phone app to produce a performance that is both technologically astounding and culturally nostalgic.
Upon arriving at the theater, audience members are encouraged to download the “Elements of Oz app” to their smartphone. Technophobes may grumble over this feature, but the Builders Association has collaborated with augmented-reality app experts to make this process as smooth as possible. Ushers provide portable phone chargers, direct you to the free Wi-Fi network, and point to the easy-to-follow instructions in the program. Though the show’s opening curtain speech insists that Elements of Oz can be enjoyed with or without the app, it is an experience not to be missed. Throughout the performance, the app plays sounds and images at key moments, as well as providing beautifully designed filters through which to view certain scenes. Enhancing rather than disrupting the liveness and communal feel of the production, this nearly glitch-free app adds a layer of technological magic that is sure to win over even the most tech-averse participants.
From the pastoral wistfulness of Dorothy’s sepia scenes in Kansas to the Technicolor brilliance of Munchkinland and beyond, the production creators (Moe Angelos, James Gibbs, and Marianne Weems) use live-feed cameras, onsite editing, and playback to frame and replay the quintessential moments of the 1939 film. Beyond these cinematic visual reenactments, however, Elements of Oz expands the frame to show performers Angelos, Sean Donovan, Hannah Heller behind the scenes. In a campy style reminiscent of a zany Christopher Guest documentary, the actors produce a world of irresistibly hilarious outtakes and antics that happen between “cuts.” Indeed, imagining a zany, disorganized creative process behind the original Oz film proves to be one of this show’s many strengths.
Yet Elements of Oz does not stop there. On top of its cinematic citations and behind-the-scenes vignettes, the production reaches deep into the annals of YouTube to explore the wide world of Wizard of Oz commentary. From gay Judy Garland fans, to armchair film historians, to avid memorabilia collectors, this element of the show peeks into the wide world of Oz trivia and theory.
More highbrow, literary references are made through interviews with Ayn Rand and Salman Rushdie, who both illuminate certain contemporary relevancies of the film. This is where Elements of Oz gets really postmodern, compiling a bricolage of seemingly endless references to the film.
The magic and humor conjured by Elements of Oz make it broadly appealing (it would be a suitable show for families). On the other hand, the show contains moments of captivating darkness, such as a glimpse into Judy Garland’s mental instability. If anything, Elements of Oz could continue to pursue these darker facets within the wide world of The Wizard of Oz, such as the terrible set conditions and author L. Frank Baum’s racist beliefs. As it stands, however, Elements of Oz is still one of the most delightfully innovative pieces of experimental theater playing in New York this holiday season.
Co-presented by the Builders Association and with 3LD Art and Technology Center (80 Greenwich St., at Rector, in downtown Manhattan), Elements of Oz runs through Dec. 18. Evening performances are Tuesday-Saturday at 8 p.m. (no performance on Dec. 6); matinees are at 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Performances are Tickets are $25 and are available by visiting the Builders Association website.