Follow the yellow brick road to ‘Wizdom’

Students collaborate with community on play about socioeconomic discrimination

With the sun shining and the end of the semester approaching, the last thing on one’s mind might be, ‘How do I feel about socioeconomic discrimination?’ Professor Brooke Kiener of the Whitworth theatre department said she wants to challenge students and community members to think deeper about this subject.

The Whitworth theatre department is putting on the production “Wizdom: Making Dollars and Sense” at the Bing Crosby Theatre May 6 at 7 p.m. The production is to inspire discussion and new perspectives on stereotypes and discrimination of socioeconomic status, Kiener said, who is directing the production.

The production itself is a parody of the Wizard of Oz, Kiener said. The main character, Dorothea, is a Whitworth student who falls asleep on a bench in the Loop and wakes up in downtown Spokane. Lost and confused, Dorothea tries to find her way back to campus and has a few run-ins with different community members.

“[While downtown] Dorothea meets a Native American woman named Tsuts Poo and she tells Dorothea to go on an adventure for wisdom,” Kiener said. “Dorothea misunderstands her and thinks she says to search for the wizard and on her journey she runs into Mr. Scarecrow, Mr. Tinman and Ms. Lion.”

The show was created to inspire a change in thought of community members, but not only about how people of lower socioeconomic status are perceived.

“We really didn’t want the show to only be about how the rich oppress the poor,” Kiener said. “We wanted the show to be about how we all have these preconceived notions about socioeconomics and discriminate across the board. There are plenty of nasty things we say about rich people, too.”

Freshman communications major Quincy Cooper is in Kiener’s theatre class that is putting on the production. Cooper spoke of the impact the production had on students involved.

“When I came into the class I really had no idea what it was about or exactly what being in a community-based theatre class entailed,” Cooper said. “It wasn’t until the first day of class that I found out it is all about making people aware of the economic injustices in Spokane. It’s been great being able to learn about things in our community that we don’t understand or are aware of.”

Another cast member, sophomore psychology and theatre major Katie Gary, said the production inspired her. She said the community members in the project are using “Wizdom” to tell stories of their lives, giving a personal feel to the project, and also making it relatable to the audience.

“I really feel that doing this project has lit a passion in me to be more aware of the issues this play touches on,” Gary said.

Patricia Bruininks, a psychology professor who focuses on social psychology, has students in her Psychology of Poverty and Social Class course complete a “Voices of the Poor” project. It requires the students to create a project that attempts to inform community members and other students about issues of poverty.

“The main purpose of this project is for the students to be able to see these issues from the perspective of those living in poverty, and so ‘Wizdom’ is a beautiful example of that same concept,” Bruininks said. “By including those who are of low income in the play’s production, ‘Wizdom’ is allowing the audience to understand these key issues from a lower socioeconomic status point of view.”

Although the production is happening this year, the actual development of the project started in 2004.

“In 2004 Julia Stronks in political science had a grant to do programming around campus on justice issues,”  Kiener said.

The grant provided funding to hire a company to come to Spokane for a week to do a theatre project on socioeconomic discrimination.

It was during that week that Kiener and a group called VOICEs got together and shared stories that helped create the script. VOICEs is a group of low income individuals who do advocacy work for issues that affect those who live on low incomes.

“We had over 50 people sharing stories on the first night, and we recorded all of them,” Kiener said.

The script was made, but not used right away. Kiener explained that the theatre department’s budget simply did not allow for the production to happen at that time.

“We don’t have any extra money in our budget for anything outside of the main stage productions,” Kiener said. “And this just didn’t fit the bill for a main stage production.”

So the script collected dust for eight years until Kiener got a phone call from Lynn Noland, Whitworth’s director of sponsored programs and IRB administrator of academic affairs, about a grant that made her think that “Wizdom” could become a reality.

“I was planning to teach my community-based theatre class this spring and it suddenly occurred to me [that] if we could get enough money to cover production, the class could work on putting up the show with those community members,” Kiener said.

Kiener applied for the grant, got back in touch with VOICEs, was accepted for the grant and then began work on the production immediately.

Kiener said she is excited to see a piece that has been in the making for eight years finally make its debut.

“I will be very proud,” Kiener said. “Whatever the show looks like, I will only see the good things. It will look amazing to me and will be a glorious moment making us all forget about the difficult moments up until then.”

Tickets are free for this production.

Story by Jacqueline Goldman Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of: Brooke Kiener

Contact Jacqueline Goldman at jgoldman13@my.whitworth.edu.

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