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Augmented reality comes to the theater in 'Elements of Oz'

The production fuses the classic story with all the ways it’s influenced our culture.
Try looking at this image from "Elements of Oz" through their app to get a taste of tThe Builders Association

Augmented reality is 2016’s hot trend in tech after this summer’s Pokémon Go brought video game creatures into our world. What better use could it have than bringing “The Wizard of Oz” to life?

The Builders Association’s “Elements of Oz,” now playing at 3LD Theater, was actually ahead of the trend when it opened in New Jersey last year. “All the big, iconic moments from the story have this augmented layer,” explains director Marianne Weems, who got the idea to bring to life the more spectacular aspects of the story — flying monkeys, poppy fields — from one of her collaborators with experience in architecture. “I’d say we’re at the cutting edge of it.”

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While the majority of the show unfold live onstage (it’s still theater, after all), the audience is prompted to pick up their phones through the show’s app at key points, whether it’s to watch a video, use the augmented reality feature or other digital surprises. “It’s about that dialogue between live performance and media and how we as 21st-century citizens negotiate that,” she says.

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There’s a grain of irony to the whole thing, as Weems points out: Using our smartphones is really like escaping our own reality and into a more interesting one, after all.

Though the production follows the familiar story of Dorothy’s journey from colorless Kansas to Oz’s Yellow Brick Road, it’s more like a framework for exploring all the ways the movie has influenced our popular culture.

From “Friend of Dorothy” as gay slang in the ’40s to the alternative musical “The Wiz,” speculation about economic allegories from Ayn Rand to the Tin Man representing dormant American factories, Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of Moon” synching up with it, “it is such a compelling story that people just feel they own a part of it,” Weems says. “It’s really about these zeitgeist moments and the kind of social and political and psychological resonances of the story.”

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Don’t expect the production to get too bogged down even in the serious parts. The tone overall is light, dipping into comedic, especially when the cast of just three rapidly change costumes and switch roles — all of them take a turn as Dorothy.

The show, just as the film, is also very much of its time. “The story was written during the Depression, and of course the movie is a Depression-era icon of the 1930s,” says Weems.

“We’re in our own tumultuous time, so it really is something that in hard times, people turn to.”

Elements of Oz
Through Dec. 18
3LD Art and Technology Center, 80 Greenwich St.
$25, thebuildersassociation.org

 
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