5th Avenue Theatre
November 20 – December 23, 2022 get tickets and more info here.
Kataka Corn (pronounced Ka-TAW-Ka) has been performing in the Seattle area for quite some time. Their (pronoun of choice) work has been seen at The Village Theatre, Arts West, and on several occasions, The 5th Avenue Theatre’s stage. They are now starring in the lead role as Dorothy in the classic 70’s musical, The Wiz.
Eric Andrews-Katz: Who were your earliest influences in becoming a performer?
Kataka Corn: I would probably have to say my brother, Branden. He’s been performing music for a very long time. I listened to him and his band during my high school days. That was influential. My Mom’s favorite was Barbra Streisand, so that’s another influence. Pat Benatar would be the third one.
Andrews-Katz: What was the show that gave you the ‘Theatre bug’?
Corn: Probably the film, Funny Girl. My mom played the film for me, as well as Oklahoma and Singing in the Rain. Those were my three musical movies that I saw. The first stage musical I saw was The Lion King.
Andrews-Katz: You played the role of “Ti Moune” in Once on his Island. How would you say you are alike (and different) from her?
Corn: I think – in likeness – Ti Moune is very determined to do good as well as determined to push boundaries. I feel that I am very ambitious and determined myself. Unlike her, I think that I am wearier of things than she. I consider things logically first, and break them down before I go after and pursue. I wait to make sure it is safe for me. I go at it with the same force and ambition as she does.
Andrews-Katz: You’ve played roles in “Head Over Heels” (songs by The Go-Go’s) and also “Mamma Mia” (songs by ABBA). Is it easier or more challenging to do a musical when the songs are part of Pop Culture?
Corn: I would have to say it is more challenging because we are trying to tell a story that really, has nothing to do with the music we all know and love. It can be tricky. People will go see a show for “the Go-Go’s music”, or “ABBA’s music”. They will pay attention to the music, but not necessarily the story we are telling around it. I think the challenge is fun. I like to think “we like this music too, so we’ll put on a concert for you”.
Andrews-Katz: Another role you had was in The 5th Avenue’s production of “Afterwords”. What challenges do you face as part of a morphing entity in an original production?
Corn: My personal challenges began with the casting. I was an external cover (someone who only goes on in case of an emergency) and didn’t have a part in the original show. I went on to cover the narrator of the show. That only happened on closing weekend. I only had maybe four full rehearsals in an eleven-week process. I had less rehearsals, and then to go on at that point, the director team had already left. By the time I went on, I didn’t have as much support from the director’s team since they were gone. That was all me. The acting choices wall all me. I wasn’t going to imitate the person going on previously. I made all the bold choices that I could, and I had faith in myself. I had to trust myself to know the lines and choreography without rehearsals. With the new undercover practices, staying in the room from day one, I’ve watched each formation that the show took on. Weather I had muscle memory or not, I could figure it out and remember what the blocking was as I had seen it.
Andrews-Katz: You currently star in The 5th Avenue production of The Wiz. How do you find your personal connection to the role of “Dorothy”?
Corn: I was thinking about that. In any and every incarnation of the character, that is a person who has been adopted, or in the foster care system. I am adopted as well. Some of the challenges that Dorothy faces are feeling separated, not part of the true family that she is in. I felt that. No matter how much love comes to you, it is still an emotional and mental struggle to find the place within that family that you can call home. I know several other adopted children that struggle with that as well. It’s like an identity crisis since you don’t know your background. I never met my biological family until I was 18. Until then it was a question game. Dorothy goes on this quest to find home and it’s an understanding as what Home really is. It’s not just a place but the people, in your heart.
Andrews-Katz: How does Dorothy’s life change after she returns home?
Corn: That’s a good question. In the show she returns and that’s all we see at the end. We can imagine that through this journey of empowerment, she has discovered this leadership for herself. She comes back with a different perspective and appreciation for this adopted family that she’s placed into. We are playing with this feeling that Dorothy is not disrespectful, she just doesn’t know how to show her appreciation because she is confused and doesn’t know her place.
Andrews-Katz: Dorothy learns when looking for happiness, not to look farther than her own back yard. What have you learned during your experience in the role?
Corn: I’ve learned a lot of different things. Oh my gosh! Pertaining to happiness, you can find happiness in a lot of different places. It’s not physically within the bounds of the physical home. I think it’s also finding confidence in who you are and in the love that surrounds you. It allows that happiness to be found anywhere opposed to being stuck in one place and told that’s where you can find your happiness. I can take that anywhere with me and be happy.
Andrews-Katz: The Wiz was written to have an “all-black” cast. It was not only a musical theatre break-through, but also a statement to society. How does The Wiz speak to today’s society?
Corn: I think that when the Wiz was originally created it was the era of Black Pride and Black Joy. That was a time to embrace those things opposed to now (in my opinion), when the honest truth is it is split. You either love being black or don’t. I have wrestled with that. There’s confusion of what Black Pride is. I think we have done integrity with the show and showing that Black pride comes in different shades and sizes. That’s where we are in these times. I think it will speak to many different people who get to see it.
Andrews-Katz: If you could play any role – regardless of any limitations – what would it be and why that role?
Corn: I have a list of dream roles. Amazing enough Dorothy is one of them. If I had to choose one other role, the first that comes to mind is probably any character in Les Miserable. I think Fontaine holds a special place in my heart. It was a character I played right after I graduated high school in 2018, as part of Village Theatre’s kid theatre. That was at a time when I was embracing my own blackness and what that meant for me. Playing a role that is traditionally a white cast role, it was different for me to play it in a transitional period. It took on a different story when a person of color going through their own personal hardships (those that have been experienced throughout time) and it’s well, complex. When I was doing it, I didn’t understand the meaning it held as a young black person playing that role. There are moments when Fontaine is blamed for a lot of things and told she is in the wrong. I think people can relate to that especially in the emotional challenges of the role. When I played that role, it was a big challenge not only as a black person, but as a younger person. It’s not an easy role. It depends on how you go about it. If you choose to dig into it, it’s not going to be easy.
The Wiz was on Broadway in 1974. It was one of many shows that were produced with an “all-black” cast, such as “Timbuktu!” or “The Gospel at Colonus”, that retells stories with an African-American reimagining.