New student group eases on down to MA, benefits young women in Kenya

Dorothy, Lion, Scarecrow and Tin Man all sought self-bettering gifts from The Wiz, but were taken aback by what they received at the end of their journey.

“The Wiz” was brought to the stage of Shippensburg University’s Memorial Auditorium (MA) Friday and Saturday nights — ushering forth the first production of SU’s Productions for Progress, a new student group with a mission.

“The Wiz” is an adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz,” set in New York City in the context of modern African-American culture. The movie originally starred Motown hits like Diana Ross and the King of Pop — Michael Jackson. It also featured an all-black cast, a trait that Productions for Progress upheld.

The impact of the show transcended “The Wiz” and the mystical land of Oz. From its conception, Productions for Progress planned to donate all of its proceeds to a lesser-known charity that is not frequently donated to. 

This year, the group chose the Zana Africa Foundation, a charity that educates young women in Kenya on reproductive health and delivers sanitary pads to them. The goal is to test whether these approaches to reproductive health keep Kenyan girls in school, according to their website. 

The organization, recently approved by the Student Government Association, began the ambitious undertaking of putting a show on the stage of MA in early February.

Director Malick Sokunbi, a junior political science and criminal justice dual-major, helped pioneer this year’s show. The Monday after Thanksgiving break, Sokunbi had five different meetings trying to entice sponsorship. 

“A lot of people were hesitant,” he said. “We knew people were going to doubt us because we were new to this.” 

But Sokunbi rallied up 40 people to help him put the project in motion — 10 production staff members and a cast of 30. While they were at first hesitant to express their creativity, Sokunbi said they eventually opened up to radiate their talents. 

“Hearing my cast sing every night at rehearsal — I remember my first time hearing them sing — I was just like, mesmerized by how good they were.”

Putting on a show for the first time is a very ambitious feat. The campus, faculty and staff rallied to help Productions for Progress, according to Elizabeth Yoder, MA’s assistant director for technical and event services.

Yoder said the student group Act V Theatre Co. helped get Productions for Progress’ feet off the ground by lending them props, costumes and microphones.

“They wanted any suggestions they could get, but at the same time, they did it all on their own,” Yoder said. “The founding members of this group have set the bar really high for future members of the group.”

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