2006 - 2009: Finding the Spirit
The Spirit of Oz experienced a great deal of growth from 2006 to 2009. Cast members changed regularly and the costumes saw several revisions to improve the authenticity of the troupe. In 2007, actors from the Junior Costumed Characters cast began crossing over with the festivals Official Costumed Characters, as longtime performers began to retire. As this happened, the Junior Characters' presence at the festival increased and started to absorb duties originally designated to the Official Characters. Not only did the group’s involvement in the festival grow, but the characters began receiving invitations to attend events across the state of Indiana. In May of 2008, Dorothy and her friends made their first appearance at the Indy 500 Festival’s Kids Day. Later that same summer they made a special visit to the Indiana State Fair, which resulted in their television debut when they landed a small spot on the Hoosier Lotto program. There was no doubt that what started as a small team of amateur costumed characters was quickly growing into a respected, self-sustaining entity.
By 2008, the Chesterton Oz Festival's two character troupes had integrated so much that it was hard to tell the Junior Characters from the Official. Both the festival and "Kokomo Kids" were optimistic as they made plans to fully integrate the Junior and Official characters as a singular unit. Unfortunately, however, plans quickly fell apart when a devastating storm swept through Northwest Indiana the weekend of the 27th Annual Festival. Everyone at the festival tried their best to remain optimistic and make the best of the situation, but the damage had been done. In November of 2008, Lakeshore Festivals and Events officially discontinued The Chesterton Wizard of Oz Festival after a nearly three-decade run.
With the 70th Anniversary of the MGM film version of The Wizard of Oz on the horizon, the cast was not about to give up on the dream that they had spent the last four years building. Events across the country were celebrating all things Oz on the largest scale in a decade and the team had to be a part of it! After investigating the available options, the characters reached a deal with the organizers of Oz-Stravaganza! in Chittenango, New York, to act as the official characters of the festival in June of 2009. The cast loved the idea of celebrating the 70th Anniversary in the hometown of L. Frank Baum, the creator of Oz. In preparation for the event, the festival committee asked how the group should be billed in advertising and programing. They were at a loss for words. They had never really needed a title; they were just Chesterton Oz Festival Costumed Characters. Of course, that title wouldn't do now that the Indiana festival was defunct. The Kokomo Kids wasn't a viable option either as the cast was now comprised of college students and adults from across the state. Members of the group racked their brains for days and had very little luck coming up with ideas. The name finally came on the eve of their departure as they sat around discussing the numerous actors who had played these characters over the years. In doing so, they realized that Dorothy and her friends were more than just fictional characters. In many ways, they were entities as real as could be. They inspired countless performances and interpretations in their 109 years of existence Realizing that every time the cast came together they collectively represented the heart and soul of the story, they officially dubbed themselves The Spirit of Oz; the very name still proudly used to this day.