We Welcome You to Munchkinland—Elisabeth Gray Engle on Directing This Summer’s Children’s Musical The Wizard of Oz


Lions, and tigers, and bears! Oh My!

Sixty-five children of all different ages from the Columbia area came together this summer to bring you the youth edition of a beloved classic, The Wizard of Oz through Workshop Theatre.

“We are very excited to be doing The Wizard of Oz this summer! There are so many magical elements to this show already, so that is really fun to explore. But the real magical feeling comes from the cast members. We have a very large cast of kids of varying ages and schools who come together to create this show. They form bonds and friendships, and the excitement and energy that they bring to rehearsal is the real magic of the show,” director Elisabeth Gray Engle says.

The range of experience and ages might often lead to complications in the directing process, but Engle uses each child’s unique talents and personalities to create their own interpretation of such a well-known show.

“…Many of our roles are double cast, so there are two actors who alternate the role. This is really fun because you get to watch these two young actors create two very different characters from the same material,” Engle explains. “So much of the humor of our production has come from the actors, and I think that is what makes our production unique. We have a very talented group of kids who each bring something different to their characters.”

While the 4 to 18-year-olds bring a lot to the theatrical table, the production team has also put their own spin on things. With people like Alexis Doktor doing costumes and Baxter Engle doing set, the wonderful land of Oz is sure to excited audiences aesthetically.

“I cannot say enough good things about our Oz Team. Katie Hilliger (Choreographer), Jordan Harper (Musical Director), Jeni McCaughan (Producer), Braxton Crewell (Stage Manager), just to name a few, make this experience so positive and meaningful for our kids. We have high expectations for our cast, but we have a lot of fun along the way,” Engle affirms.

Engle, herself, is no stranger to the stage or directing. She is a company member at Trustus Theatre where she has taught, performed, and will be seen next in the world premiere of Big City. On top of all that, this is Engle’s 5th summer production through Workshop, her 11th year directing youth theatre, and she continues to teach theatre at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School.

“I love working with kids in the summer because it is such a joyous time of year in their lives. The summer musical is different than a school musical or a show during the year because the kids (and adults!) have that special energy that can only exist during the summer,” Engle elaborates. “…They come together during the summer to create this show, so that [in] itself sets the experience apart from school year productions. It’s really exciting to see so many kids from so many different schools who love musical theatre come together. They get along so well, and they love being with ‘their people.’”

The show runs June 25 through June 28, with both evening and matinee performances at the Heathwood Hall Episcopal School auditorium. Go to workshop.palmettoticketing.com for times and tickets!

“Theatre always has a unique way of bringing people together, and we have certainly seen that this summer with our cast,” Engle endearingly states. “Our cast is made up of kids from varying backgrounds, schools, locations, and experiences, and we have loved seeing them come together to create art.”

By Haley Sprankle

Shame On You

I’ve been thinking a lot about shame lately. If this blog had a soundtrack it would be Evelyn Champagne King, 1978, “Shame.” (Yeah, I'm listening to it again while I write. Listen along!)

You can see him, can’t you? That skinny gay kid with bad Barry Manilow hair, dancing in front of his mirror to the eight-track tape….

Maybe I’m thinking about shame because I spent some time in my childhood home earlier this year, sleeping in that bedroom. (The mirror and the eight-track player and the Barry Manilow hairdo are gone now.  It gets better.)

Maybe it’s also because this is Gay Pride week in Columbia—rainbow banners on every street.  Pride is supposed to be the opposite of shame, a way of reclaiming as good an identity that has been, in the past, pathologized, demonized, stigmatized. (I do love those rainbow banners. I remember how excited we were, when I was on the Pride planning committee years ago, and that first gay pride street banner went up. We kept driving by it, smiling.) Pride is shame turned inside out. (A list of Pride events can be found here.)

Mostly, though, it’s because I’ve been working with the Sebastian art show, which I wrote about in an earlier blog. The beauty of the vilified.

Shame is a fundamental emotion of our childhoods—I think that it is amplified for some gay and lesbian kids. Therapists like to draw a distinction between shame and guilt: guilt is what we feel for something we’ve done or haven’t done, but shame is what we feel for who we are. It’s connected to our identities.

Shame can’t be erased or excised or purged. Nope, the residue of it sticks to us, no matter how much we try to wash it away, pretend it's not there. All we can do is transfigure it in some way, use it, understand it, recognize it, learn from it.

And write about it.

So in my poems about Sebastian, I was thinking about how and why we learn from shame, from the ways we’re shamed and the feelings of shame and the ongoing effects of shame. I don’t have answers; I was thinking of my poems as gestures, provocations, explorations, attempts. I was thinking about Sebastian and John O'Hara and Pinhead and Debussy and archery books and ampallangs and the Cowardly Lion. (Dorothy yells at him, “Shame on you,” before he breaks into his song: “It’s sad believe me, missy, when you’re born to be a sissy….”)

I wrote a series of poems or prayers for Sebastian. Here’s the last one of the series:

For Saint Sebastian

Arms, be bound. Legs bound, rope wound.

The rope that binds is shame. The arrow is shame, the bow.

Shame is a wound, shame is a caul. That we may learn the eloquence of shame.

That we may learn that the arrows do not kill you.

The tree stiffens the spine. The arrows do not kill us.


I’m still listening to Evelyn Champagne King. I know she’s singing about something else, but still, those lyrics sing for me. “Gonna love you just the same. Mama just don’t understand….”

- Ed Madden


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