In devising The Wizard of Oz as a three-man walkabout show, clarifying our relationship to, and departure from the original text has been key. Our backstory begins to shape what has happened to the characters before the street performance begins…
~backstory: a work in progress~
After Dorothy returned to Kansas, carried by her gleaming silver shoes across the desert. The Tinman ruled the Winkies, the Lion ruled as the King of the Beasts in the great forest and the Scarecrow ruled the Emerald City. Each was a good and wise leader, and they lived happily for many years. Their lives were almost too good to be true. Their people flourished: the Winkies harvests were plentiful, the forest beasts shared their resources fairly, and the inhabitants of the Emerald City prospered. Whilst the Lion was content to bask in the sun, and the Tinman to delighted to play lord of the manor, it was the Scarecrow who knew something was amiss, but he couldn’t quite figure it out on his own. The problem was, his new brain was taking a long time to reach an intellectual maturity, and the citizens of the Emerald City were, quite literally streets ahead of him.
The Tinman sent a note to his friends, setting up a meeting to discuss the situation. The three friends met at the crossing place, where the yellow brick road intersects with Oz’s north-south border.
‘The thing is’, said the Scarecrow as he fell down on the grass verge, ‘nobody shares anything anymore. The money is piling up, so we set up a thing called a Bank, to keep it safe. Except, the Bank Manager appears to be more important than me. Everyone looks to him for advice. Instead of making sure everybody has enough to eat and drink. The Bank Manager is focused on profit margins, capitalising on investment strategies and privatising public services. It’s all about the bottom line, not about health, welfare and being content with what you have. I just don’t understand any of that. Can you help me? I’ve asked to see the Manager, but he’s very busy and I’d have to wait a long time. He did send me a memorandum, but everything began with the letter ‘c’ – capitalism, consumerism, corporations, conglomerates, and it was very confusing.’ The Scarecrow glanced hopefully at the Lion, who replied ‘in the forest, the weaker, smaller animals are helped by the bigger, stronger animals. They’re also careful not to accidentally eat or kill them. I’m not sure I know how to help you Scarecrow.’ The Scarecrow frowned as much as his painted mouth could let him, and looked at Tinman. The Tinman swivelled his head and looked up at the sky. ‘In the land of the Winkies, we use municipal barns to store the harvests. Everybody helps to plant and tend to the crops, and we share the produce equally. I’m not sure I know how to help you Scarecrow.’
The three friends sat in a companionable silence by the side of the road. They each missed Dorothy, and her ability to answer all their questions. The Tinman’s head had become stuck looking at the sky, so he was the first to notice how the wind was shaking the trees, and chasing clouds across the sky. He thought it was normal. The Scarecrow noticed how the wind was nipping at his straw body. But he too thought it was normal. The Lion was too busy enjoying the wind ruffling her fur to notice an ominous grey column had appeared on the horizon. Each character was too absorbed in their own thoughts to realise they were sat in the direct path of a cyclone. The Lion did not have enough courage to carry her friends out of danger. The Tinman didn’t have enough heart to try to save his friends. The Scarecrow didn’t have the brains to realise how much danger they were in. Suddenly they were caught up by the whirlwind and began chaotically tumbling and spinning through the air.
Just as suddenly, they handed in a tangled heap on a very hard grey surface. Luckily, they landed on top of the Scarecrow, so nobody was hurt. They got up, dusted themselves off and looked around. They saw that everything was grey. Grey buildings, grey slab pavements and dark grey roads. Even the shrubs sat in grey planters looked drab. Thin grey trees broke through the ground, but these strange trees bore neither branches, nor leaves – just one horizontal bud at the top of the stem. The road was edged with two parallel yellow lines, and they each separately thought, maybe we can find our way back to the Oz by following this yellow track?
Almost at once a great bell chimed five times, and the streets were suddenly full of bustling crowds. Men and women wearing grey suits and carrying black umbrellas and walking very fast and very purposefully. The Tinman, Scarecrow and Lion were swept along with the throng. After a while they were able to take a little more control of their direction of travel and take shelter in a sturdy grey stone nook. ‘What we need’, announced the Scarecrow who had just remembered he had a brain, ‘is a newspaper. Then we can find out where we are, and gain knowledge about what has been going on here. This grey land is most strange’. ‘What we need’, announced the Lion, ‘is the courage to take charge, this grey land is miserable, and the people look glum and a bit hungry. This is not the way to live. Life in the forest was full of vitality, happiness and full bellies.’ ‘What we need’, announced the Tinman, ‘is to work hard and find out where we are, and who is in charge. Maybe this is the Kansas Dorothy described?’
Although they each wanted to sound confident, the Tinman, Scarecrow and Lion’s voices echoed with a strange emptiness. The Tinman privately wondered whether the cyclone had damaged his heart. He didn’t feel as joyful as he did in Oz. The Scarecrow thought very hard, but even though he had been practicing thinking and making decisions, his brain didn’t feel as sharp as it had done in Oz. The Lion puffed up her chest and pretended to feel courageous, but inside she was shaking with anxiety. Had the cyclone somehow twisted the courage out of her body? When the Wizard of Oz gave them heart, brains and courage, he didn’t say whether they would function in worlds beyond Oz. Surely the Wizard wouldn’t have tricked them? thought the Lion. ‘We can’t just stand here’, said the Scarecrow, ‘let’s find somebody who can tell us where we are, and how we can get home to Oz.’
And so, as the Tinman, Scarecrow and Lion mulled over their options. They agreed they needed to acclimatise to their new grey surroundings. They agreed they needed to adapt, and to each adopt a new persona for their time in the grey land. So, the Tinman became Nick Chopper, the Scarecrow became Socrates Strawman and the Lion became Leonie Redmayne.
Thus Nick Chopper, Socrates Strawman and Leonie Redmayne set out on a journey to learn more about the land they had arrived in. They learned to their dismay that the Men and Women who ruled this new country were biased by money, and that the Bank Managers were as influential here as in the Emerald City. They learned that a career in politics seemed to be the way to change this grey world. They learned about democracy, and about how leaders could become elected to lead the citizens of this grey land. All these long words were new ideas to the three travellers, and they were mystified. But they understood they were important ideas, and maybe the Leader of this strange democracy city would have the compassion to give them new heart, brains and courage to understand properly, and the kindness to help them get back home to Oz.
Thus, the three friends set out on a new quest, a road trip to meet The Great Leader of this strange grey land.