Lions, tigers, and bears (oh, my!) invaded Heathwood’s campus this summer when we hosted Workshop Theatre’s June 25-28 production of Wizard of Oz.
Directed by Heathwood drama teacher EG Engle, the show featured some 60 young actors ranging in age from four to 17, including Heathwood students Gracie and Maggie Tanner, Marra Edwards, and Ellie Hedgepath. This was Engle’s fifth year directing summer children’s theatre for Workshop, and the first time Heathwood hosted one of Workshop’s plays.
Recent upgrades to Belser Auditorium made Heathwood an attractive venue for a production like Wizard of Oz, with its large cast of children of all ages. Thanks to a 2013-14 Fund the Need fundraising drive, Belser now has new lighting and sound systems and new curtains that significantly enhance the experience of both student actors and their audience. By creating six wings for entrances and exits, the new curtains, says Engle, have doubled the usable performance space on stage, while the lighting and sound equipment “allows our productions to have a professional quality and aesthetic that we were unable to achieve before the upgrades.”
Belser’s 250 seats were almost entirely sold out for the six performances ofWizard of Oz, which brought people from all over the Midlands to our campus, many for the first time. “I heard so many comments about how beautiful our campus is,” Engle says. “The sunflowers were blooming and the corn was up, so the drive in was spectacular. And Belser is a very comfortable, intimate environment, even for a big production like Wizard of Oz.”
Summer theatre is a labor of love for Engle. “It’s such a magical time of year in kids’ lives,” she says. “A summer musical is different than a school-year show because the kids have that special energy that can only exist during the summer. And it’s really exciting to see so many kids from so many different schools who love musical theatre come together to create art.”
The upgrades to Belser, Engle adds, will also have a significant impact on Heathwood students’ fine arts experience. “Prior to the improvements, our auditorium was not reflecting the caliber of work that our students produce,” she says. “And the performing arts can be so powerful and transformative in the lives of our students. Working on a play is a collaborative experience that requires students to not only learn the material that they will perform but also work together to create a unified performance. I love seeing students gain confidence from the performing arts that changes the way they see themselves and what they think they are capable of accomplishing.”