McKay stages a multicultural version of Oz, play finishes Saturday

McKay High School’s production of “The Wiz” continues Saturday, Jan. 26. (Caleb Wolf/Special to Salem Reporter)

McKay High School’s Royal Scots Theater is starting the new year off strong staging the musical “The Wiz” in a way student actors hope reflects the diversity of the cast and the student body through costumes, makeup and choreography.

The play, based on the original “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” opened Jan. 18 and  includes two performances on Saturday, Jan. 26, at 2 p.m. and at 7 p.m. at the McKay High School auditorium. Admission is  $7.

As Dorothy travels through the whimsical land of Oz, she encounters many new and rich cultures.

The Munchkins represent McKay’s large Latinx population with Ballet Folklorico inspired costumes in the colors of the Michoacan flag, and a dance with Jalisco elements.

Addaperle’s hair and headpiece pay homage to black American culture, and her makeup has Nigerian and Liberian influences.

The Winkies wear traditional Chinese wudang fu robes and kung fu tang vests.

Various Pacific Island cultures are represented through costuming with Aunt Em’s Micronesian hair combs, the Lion’s Yapese influenced headdress and makeup, and the Scarecrow’s star-spangled makeup and costume drawing from the Chuukese blue and white flag. The Kalidah warriors perform a traditional Chuukese stick dance and Maori poi ball routine.

The yellow brick road dancers blend elements of Russian dance with American disco. The poppies perform a Middle Eastern veil dance.

“The Wiz” himself reads from The Book of Mormon, and some characters sport pins aligning with their LGTBQ identity.

McKay’s theater is mostly student run, and for them the production was as much about learning to appreciate diversity as it was to showcase it.

A scene from McKay’s “The Wiz” production on Friday, Jan. 25. (Caleb Wolf/Special to Salem Reporter)

“We relied a lot on our students that identify with particular cultures to help educate us,” said director Tiffany Carstensen, a Chemeketa teacher. “We had guest speakers come in, parents come in, family members, community members… so the kids weren’t just learning the dance, they were also learning the stories behind the dance.”

The line between cultural appreciation and appropriation can be easily crossed, and many discussions were had about how to express the myriad of cultural identities found within McKay’s student body without falling prey to stereotypes or insensitivity.

“We had a lot of conversations where the kids had to get really comfortable with talking and listening without getting offended, and being able to say ‘this would be appropriate, this would not be appropriate’,” said Christensen.

Olivia Perman, who plays the part of Evillene, was happy to have an opportunity to express her Pohnpeian and Palauan identity.

“It’s a small step towards people being aware of our existence, and the different parts of the islands,” said Perman.

The musical not only teaches audiences about the wealth of cultures in Salem, but helped bring the cast together.

”If anything, I think this show has brought people out of themselves,” said Perman. “We’re comfortable with each other and we respect each other.”

Nadia Isom is a student at Chemeketa Community College and a writer for its student newspaper, The Courier. This is part of a collaboration between The Courier and Salem Reporter.