Struggling to develop a theatrical masterpiece worthy of the Smyrna Opera House stage, more than a dozen actors/actresses will find inspiration courtesy of four muses in the debut of “Misusing Muses” this Friday.
The musical, which is part of the Smyrna Opera House’s annual two-week Summer Theater Camp, will be held at the Smyrna Opera House for free.
“Misusing Muses” — written and directed by Jim McGuigan with Vera Mrohs as musical director — is a production rooted in Greek mythology serving as both a community theater piece and assessment show for campers (ages 8 to 15) in the theater program.
Set in modern day at the Smyrna Opera House, “Misusing Muses” spotlights a group of uninspired actors/actresses who aren’t having any luck deciding whether to create a musical, dance or comedic production at the historic theater.
Noticing the performers lack passion and direction, four invisible muses from Greek mythology — Thalia (muse of comedy); Terpsichore (muse of dance); Euterpre (muse of music); and Melpomene (muse of Tragedy) — help to inspire them to get the show on the road by secretly taking a trip to the theater.
Ever so annoyed by anyone and everyone, muse Melpomene waves her magic wand while the performers are on stage, causing them to enter into a deep slumber. Now with the group counting sheep, the real fun begins!
Since Summer Theater Camp began in 2006, McGuigan, 48, of Smyrna, has always penned an original script for campers. And this year is no different.
Currently a history teacher at John Bassett Moore Intermediate School, McGuigan says his attraction to scribe a mythological show was due to the recent “mythology boom” of Hollywood films the last couple of years such as “Clash of the Titans” and “Wrath of the Titans,” as well as his observation of “kids in school reading Percy Jackson [novels].”
(Perseus “Percy” Jackson — son of Zeus — offers a modern take on the demigod while as a kid in Rick Riordan’s popular “Olympians” series.)
“Misusing Muses” includes fast-moving dialogue and three show tunes: “Go the Distance” from Walt Disney Pictures’ “Hercules,” “One Brick At a Time” from “Barnum” and “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat” from “Guys and Dolls.” Lyrics to the latter were slightly tweaked to appropriate for the young performers.
Madison Kinsey, 14, cast as Melpomene, gets a kick out of playing a bossy pants.
“The muse of tragedy, she’s always kind of irritated by everything,” said Kinsey, of Smyrna, a rising sophomore at Polytech High School in Woodside, who has attended theater camp since the program’s inception.
She added, “I have to think about a time I got really mad at somebody and just carry that throughout the whole show.”
Unlike Kinsey and the three other muses, most of the cast in “Misusing Muses” are nameless. With 28-plus cast members, many performers are simply identified as “Actor” and the number they represent.
For instance Sean “Cheese” Saxton, 14, who has attended theater camp since 2007, plays Actor 26 — someone the muses are really keen on.
“When he was younger, he always liked to act and people made fun of him like, ‘Oh, girls only act,’” said Saxton, of Dover, regarding his character. “Then the muses see I could be a possible leader for the group to lead these [actors]. And I have these ideas, but I’m, too, shy: I can’t get it out and nobody listens to me. So what happens is, they help me to find my heart.”
Behind the scenes
In preparation for “Misusing Muses,” McGuigan hosts a two-week workshop to prep campers for the assessment show. During the first week of camp, which began last week, performers learned the fundamentals of performing in theater arts: characterization, movement, improvisation, speech/projection and singing.
During the second and final week of the workshop, campers will hone the skills they’ve learned and apply them in Friday’s show.
Second-year camper Thadd Balcerak, 11, of Clayton, says he began the program a timid actor, but has since evolved into a more confident one.
“When I first came here last year, I was really shy,” said Balcerak, a recent graduate of John Bassett Moore who’ll begin seventh grade at Smyrna Middle School this fall. “But this has helped me to get out there a little more. Even in school, I started getting better parts.”
For Kinsely, a former fifth-grade student of McGuigan, theater camp has allowed her to develop strong improvisational skills.
“It helps you to ‘improv,’ so if somebody drops a line, you know how to fix it,” she said of the program.
Enthused to see campers showoff their acting and singing skills, McGuigan and Mrohs — who’s a Dover resident in the process of moving to Smyrna — are super excited about seeing students take the stage in “Misusing Muses” Friday.
“Our fondest hope is they have a blast,” beamed McGuigan.