‘Liberty!’ Outdoor Drama is family tradition of Michelle Shumate, family

Published 9:22 am Friday, May 12, 2023

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When “Liberty! the Saga of Sycamore Shoals” begins its 44th season of the Official Outdoor Drama of the State of Tennessee on June 2 this year, Michelle Shumate will reprise her role as Elizabeth MacLin for the fifth time since 2018. As the Fort Watauga amphitheater comes to life with the sights and sounds of the late 18th century on the colonial frontier, she won’t be alone. She will have her three children with her, continuing what has become a family tradition.
“I think I saw an ad for auditions on Facebook our first year,” Shumate said. “We had just had our third baby, and [my daughter] Avery was having some attachment issues. I was looking for a way to spend some time together, just some mom/daughter time.”
Avery was six when they auditioned that year. Her experience was one of the reasons that Shumate keeps coming back. “That first year, she loved it, she really came out of her shell,” she said. “For her, there was no question. We had to do it again.”
Shumate, originally from Greeneville, is a veteran performer. She’s been in dozens of productions across the region. The character that she plays in “Liberty,” however, was a real person. Elizabethton was named in her honor and her husband, Landon Carter, is where the county derives its moniker. Portraying a historical character has been a rewarding experience for Shumate.
“It’s different than a lot of the theater that I’ve done where it’s just complete fiction,” Shumate said. “This is a true story; it has a firm basis in history.”
Though she had studied this history in school, Shumate had forgotten a lot of it. Taking part in “Liberty!” has led her to feel more grounded in the roots of her home. “The first time I played Elizabeth, I really had to learn all about her,” Shumate said. “I did my research and talked to some of the historians that work at Sycamore Shoals, and I do feel a connection to her now.”
This history has become important to Shumate’s children too. Avery, now 12, joins her mom on the outdoor stage, along with her brother, Nolan, nine, who plays young Landon Carter. Even Shumate’s youngest, Hayden, five, gets to participate in the first part of Act I, before he goes home to stick to his bedtime. The drama is part of their lives, along with the story that it portrays.
“They think it’s so neat to learn about where we live and how this county became what it is, and how those people were instrumental for that,” Shumate said. “Though we don’t understand the depth of what was at stake for those early settlers and patriots, the drama helps connect us to the choices that were made that led us to the freedom we all now enjoy.”
As Shumate brings her family back to the drama this year, another reason they stay involved is the fellowship they share with the other actors. Though she’s been in many productions in her life, those relationships aren’t the same as what they experience being in “Liberty!” She and her children have made friendships that go beyond just four weeks in June.
“The thing that is different about this is that it is so family friendly,” said Shumate. “Everyone is so welcoming. It’s such a safe atmosphere and a learning atmosphere.
“There’s nothing else that I can compare it to. We can’t wait for it to open.”
“Liberty” runs weekends in June beginning Fridays and Saturdays – June 2 & 3 and June 9 & 10; Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays, June 15, 16 & 17 and 22, 23 & 24, in the Fort Watauga Amphitheater at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park in Elizabethton.
General admission tickets range from free for children 5 and under; to $6 for students 6 to 17 years; $12 for seniors 60 and up; and $16 for adults. Members of Friends of Sycamore Shoals can pay $8, while Veterans and First Responders may attend the drama any night for a reduced adult/senior admission price of $7.
Online Ticket Sales – www.TheLibertyDrama.com or you can purchase tickets at the door until all seats are sold.

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