Performing in Saudi Arabia ‘a dream come true,’ says ‘Wizard of Oz’ star

The show — a celebration of the classic 1939 movie — is being performed for the first time in the Kingdom in the Red Hall at Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University until Oct. 26. (Photos/Supplied)
Updated 24 October 2019

Performing in Saudi Arabia ‘a dream come true,’ says ‘Wizard of Oz’ star

  • Arab News speaks to lead actress, production manager of the musical, now being staged in Riyadh
  • The show has already toured twice in the US, then for 13 weeks in China. The regional tour began two weeks ago in Bahrain, before arriving in Dhahran and Riyadh. Its next stop is Jeddah

RIYADH: People in Riyadh have been enjoying a lavish new rendition of the beloved musical “The Wizard of Oz” for the last week. 

The show — a celebration of the classic 1939 movie starring Judy Garland as the young heroine Dorothy Gale — is being performed for the first time in the Kingdom in the Red Hall at Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University until Oct. 26. The stunning visual effects employed by the touring production — and, of course, the timeless, classic songs — have left audiences spellbound.

Marc Ciemiewicz, company manager at production company APEX Touring, expressed how important performing in Saudi Arabia is for the cast and crew.

“To be in a country that has never had an American musical theater performance is history-making, and that is what I think is the biggest honor for us,” he told Arab News. “We are part of history. It is something that we can tell our grandchildren: ‘You know what? I was (part of) one of the first shows that ever went to Saudi Arabia.’ That is very exciting.” 

Ciemiewicz admitted that no one involved in the show was sure what to expect from a Saudi audience. “It’s a first-of-its-kind experience and we have met with incredible audiences who have absolutely loved the show. It has been such a wonderful thing to be able to bring such a show to a country that has never had that experience.”

The show has already toured twice in the US, then for 13 weeks in China. The regional tour began two weeks ago in Bahrain, before arriving in Dhahran and Riyadh. Its next stop is Jeddah.

To be in a country that has never had an American musical theater performance is history-making, and that is what I think is the biggest honor for us.

Marc Ciemiewicz, company manager, APEX Touring

Such a heavy schedule can take its toll on everyone involved. Ciemiewicz’s solution? “Rest, rest and more rest.” But he also stressed that it is important to the team to be able to explore the countries they visit, and that they were all keen to embrace the Kingdom’s culture while they are here.

“It’s an absolute honor and privilege to be here,” Megan Urz, who plays Dorothy in the show, told Arab News — adding that she has always been “fascinated” by the Middle East. “I have always wanted to come here. It’s blowing me away,” she said.

Performing in the Kingdom has been “beyond what we were expecting,” Urz said, adding that her favorite part of the job is the audiences’ reaction to her performance, and those of her fellow cast members.

“I think about it every night,” she said. “All the many new faces who get to experience this show with all of us for the first time.”

“As an actor, you have to learn how to play with the audience as much as you are playing with the actors on the stage,” Ciemiewicz said. “Sometimes you will find an audience that is more reserved and they’re very quiet through the show, and then at the end they go totally crazy.”

For Urz and the rest of the cast, each performance they give on tour is special and unique, and the experience is just as enjoyable for them as for the audience.

“I still have to remind myself that I am actually here in Saudi Arabia performing ‘The Wizard of Oz’ to these beautiful people. It’s a dream come true,” said Urz. “It is so heartwarming for all of us to be able to spread and experience (this) joy with them.”

Saudi pursuit of ‘green Kingdom’ goal gets a boost

Updated 18 November 2019

Saudi pursuit of ‘green Kingdom’ goal gets a boost

  • Agreement between agriculture ministry and Dubai's ICBA aimed at conserving natural resources
  • Kingdom's biosaline agriculture research and systems stands to benefit from ICBA's expertise

DUBAI: Agricultural development and environmental sustainability in Saudi Arabia will receive a boost in the coming years, thanks to a new agreement between the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) in Dubai and the Saudi Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture.

The agreement aims to enable Saudi Arabia to achieve its goal of preservation and sustainable management of its natural resources by raising the quality of biosaline agriculture research and systems.

The ministry says that the agreement will make use of the ICBA’s expertise in capacity development besides agricultural and environmental research, especially in the fields of vegetation development, combating desertification and climate change adaptation.

“It also includes training programs for Saudi technicians and farmers,” the ministry said. “In addition, it will localize, implement and develop biosaline agriculture research and production systems for both crops and forestation, which contributes to environmental and agricultural integration.”

Dr. Ismahane Elouafi, the ICBA’s director general, told Arab News: “The agreement had been in the making for about two years. That was when we were approached by the Saudi government.”

Dr. Ismahane Elouafi, ICBA Director General, at the center's quinoa fields in Dubai. (Supplied photo)

She said: “We put forward a proposal to demonstrate how the ICBA can help the Saudi government to implement its Green Kingdom Initiative, through which the ministry is trying to restore green coverage in the country and revive old conservation practices.”

Geographical features and climatic conditions very greatly from one part of the country to the other.

In the past, experimentation with such crops as potatoes, wheat and alfalfa proved detrimental to the Kingdom’s environment and natural resources due to faster rates of groundwater withdrawal.

“The ministry wanted to put a halt to over-abstraction of water, so they went through different policies,” Elouafi said.

“They made sure, for example, that farmers stopped producing wheat because about 2,400 liters of water is consumed to produce 1 kg of wheat. It was a huge amount,” she added.

“The new strategy is to find more appropriate crops for the farming community, which is quite large in the Kingdom.”

Saudi Arabia has been trying to grow its own food on a large scale since the 1980s. 

The objective of the Green Kingdom Initiative is to reduce the agricultural sector’s water demand by finding alternatives to thirsty crops.

The agreement will require the ICBA, over the next five years, to build for Saudi Arabia a new biosaline agriculture sector. 

As part of this shift, cultivation of a number of crops, notably quinoa, pearl millet and sorghum, will be piloted in high-salinity regions and then scaled up.

“The crops did very well in the UAE,” Elouafi said. “We’re looking at Sabkha regions, which have very high salinity and wetlands, and are on the ministry’s environmental agenda.”

Another objective is “smart” agriculture, which will involve raising water productivity, controlling irrigation water consumption and changing farming behavior.

Elouafi said that getting farmers in the Kingdom to stop cultivating wheat took some time as they had become accustomed to heavy government subsidies. In 2015, wheat production was phased out, followed by potatoes a year later and then alfalfa. 

“Farmers were provided everything to the point where they got used to a very good income and a very easy system,” she said.

“Now farmers are being asked to start producing something else, but the income won’t be the same, so it’s very important at this stage that the ministry has a plan and it’s fully understood.”

The agreement envisages preparation of proposals for ministry projects that involve plant production, drought monitoring, development of promising local crop and forestation varieties, and conservation of plant genetic resources.

“We’re also discussing capacity building because the ministry is big and has many entities. Because Saudi Arabia is a large country and has the capacity to meet some of its food requirements internally, what’s required is a better understanding of the country’s natural capabilities in terms of production of the crops it needs, like certain cereals,” Elouafi said.

“The way the authorities are going about it right now is more organized and more holistic. They’re trying to plan it properly.”

Elouafi said that having a better understanding of Saudi Arabia’s water constraints and managing the precious resource is essential.


Although almost the entire country is arid, there is rainfall in the north and along the mountain range to the west, especially in the far southwest, which receives monsoon rains in summer.

Sporadic rain may also occur elsewhere. Sometimes it is very heavy, causing serious flooding, including in Riyadh.

“They (the government) are very interested in drought management systems. The Kingdom has a long history of agriculture,” Elouafi said.

“It has large quantities of water in terms of rainfall, and certain regions have mountainous conditions, which are conducive to agriculture.”

Clearly, preservation of water resources is a priority for the Saudi government. But no less urgent is the task of conversion of green waste to improve soil quality, increase soil productivity and water retention, and reduce demand for irrigation.

The Kingdom is one of at least three Gulf Cooperation Council countries that are taking steps to develop a regulatory framework for the recycling of waste into compost.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman are respectively aiming to recycle 85 percent, 75 percent and 60 percent of their municipal solid waste over the next decade, according to a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) entitled “Global Food Trends to 2030.”

Saudi Arabia and the UAE rank in the bottom quartile of the 34 countries covered by the EIU’s Food Sustainability Index, with low scores for nutrition and food loss and waste. 

The answer, according to many farmers, policymakers and food-industry experts, is a shift toward more sustainable management of each country’s natural resources.