Since Wamego’s signature event OztoberFest began 13 years ago, organizers have continuously worked to keep its offerings current.
“The actors who played the munchkins used to come to the festival, and the festival was very large back then, but since then the munchkins have all passed away except for one, so the festival started dying a little bit,” said Kimberley Shepherd, Oz Museum gift shop operations manager and one of the event organizers. “So we had to start bringing in newer generations of Oz dignitaries.”
This year, Oz celebrities include Gabriel Gale, who conceptualized and co-wrote the new book trilogy “Ages of Oz”; Shanice Williams, who played Dorothy in NBC’s TV production of “The Wiz Live!”; and Hamilton Meserve, the event’s keynote speaker, with his illustrated presentation “OZ, The Witch, and Mom.”
Festivities kick off Friday night with the premiere of a Wizard of Oz-themed murder mystery. Three different mysteries written by local kindergarten teacher Bryan Scruggs will be performed in the Columbian Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 5-7. Tickets for the murder mystery range from $25 to $30 each night and are available at columbiantheatre.tix.com.
“Friday night we have a kickoff event as well as an art gallery opening, and that is a time the public is invited to meet the special guests before they start working for the weekend,” Shepherd said.
From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6, Lincoln Avenue is closed in downtown Wamego as vendors set up for the weekend and antique cars start filling the parking spaces. There are all kinds of entertainment and street events for guests to explore, including Uncle Henry’s farmers market, the Wicked Witch Dunk Tank, the FCCLA Yellow Brick Road Sale, Oz Market with crafts and antiques, Munchkinland Inflatables and more.
Tickets are sold for daily passes inside the Columbian Theatre and Oz Museum, where there will be a Munchkin Junction with activities for kids ages 6 and under, as well as presentations by Williams, Meserve and Gale. Wristbands cost $10 for adults and $8 for children, with military discounts available. Guests with wristbands can visit the museum, theater and inflatables all day.
“There are definitely two kinds of Oz fans, the Oz fans who are strictly fans of the 1939 MGM film and then there are fans who appreciate all of the interpretations of Oz, such as ‘Oz the Great and Powerful,’ ‘Return to Oz,’ ‘Wiz,’ ” Shepherd said.
By incorporating relatives of the original film’s cast as well as characters from the popular 2015 musical remake, Shepherd said, organizers hope to appeal to the widest demographic of Oz fans.
Sunday is more laid back as OztoberFest winds down, Shepherd explained, with smaller presentations held inside the museum.
Other activities during the weekend include a costume contest and character group photos, a street dance from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday, and Professor Marvel’s Marvelous BBQ Cook-off. For information, visit visitwamego.com/events/oztoberfest.