For years, Trish Black Melehan has worked with the Scotts Valley Performing Arts Youth Shakespeare program, mostly adapting and directing Shakespearean plays and Broadway musicals to be performed onstage by local high school and middle school kids. This weekend the theater group will perform Melehan's adaptation of The Tempest, relocated to medieval Japan.
But this year, Melehan also decided to do something completely different. In response to fans and parents asking for a production that younger children could participate in, Melehan came up with a second show, Journey Fantastique: Art and Poetry in Motion. It's a cycle of 12 poems written by Melehan that were inspired by 12 of the whimsical, kid-friendly paintings of artist James Aschbacher. Reconceived as a theater piece called "Verse in Many Voices," the poems are now designed to be recited (and at times, enacted) onstage by a cast ranging in age from five to 65, while an image of each of James' paintings is projected on a scrim behind the stage.
We crept into rehearsals last week at Bethany University Community Theater for a sneak preview. Melehan gives fanciful names and backstories to the characters in each painting, and the young performers take on those personae in voice and movement. The verse was a bit demanding at times for some of the smaller children, but seeing these exuberant little kids dance around onstage as various cats, birds, frogs, or other Aschbacher-style critters is just about the cutest thing ever! (That's Sebastian Hardison, Elli Streller, and Makenna Damhorst above, in front of James' painting Wild Horsey Ride.)
We all know how important it is to get kids involved in the arts, especially in this era of criminal under-funding. Big kudos to Melehan, co-director Lisa Kirk-Williams, and the tireless folks at SVPAA for providing this literal platform to help launch local kids into theater. (Darwin Garrett, currently on the boards in Cabrillo Stage's terrific production of The Full Monty, is an SVPAA alumnus.)
The Tempest: Revisited In Medieval Japan plays July 14, 15 and 16 at 7 pm, and July 17, at 2 pm, at Bethany University Community Theater, Scotts Valley.
Journey Fantastique: Art and Poetry in Motion plays July 16, 2 pm, and July 17, 6:30 pm, at Bethany University Community Theater, Scotts Valley. For more info, visit the SVPAA website.