Arts and Entertainment

Island children star in family theater production of 'Stars Lore' at SJCT

Chiara Power rehearses for ‘Stars Lore,’ a family theater production that opens Nov. 19 at San Juan Community Theatre. - Jane K. Fox
Chiara Power rehearses for ‘Stars Lore,’ a family theater production that opens Nov. 19 at San Juan Community Theatre.
— image credit: Jane K. Fox

Penelope Haskew has lost her months. The group of children assigned to play the roles of January through December are not yet on stage. Instead, they are outside, eating snacks on a park bench. Their energy is high and excited as Haskew shoos them inside, Pop Tarts and all.

“I did children’s theater as a child, and I remember it being the best of everything ... I loved the way that anything you could think of, you could do ... everything seemed so possible,” Haskew said.

This sense of narrative possibility infuses Haskew’s new piece, “Stars Lore: A Mythological Musical,” Nov. 19-21 at San Juan Community Theatre.

The play is the SJCT’s third locally-written, full-length play of the year. Perhaps equally important is the fact that it is the theater’s fourth “family theater” show. The idea of “family theater” is one that Executive Director Merritt Olsen has put a lot of thought into.

“The concept is that we all can learn from each other, no matter what our age and experience may be,” Olsen said. “Family members act, work backstage, build and paint scenery, provide snacks for the cast and crew and put props and costumes together. It’s like going to watch your child’s soccer match and discovering that you are going to be in the game, or you’re the scorekeeper or you’re the coach.”

The musical centers around a San Juan Island campsite, where campers share four stories among the group. Each story is about the mythology of the star’s constellations, given in the context of four different cultures: Roman, Babylonian, Indian and Slovakian.

“When I first met with Merritt, he was looking at a bunch of scripts and he was inclined to go with a Greek myth story, so I suggested I write something based on what I had done in children’s theater,” Haskew said.

The compromise saw Haskew reading a lot of folk stories, and gaining an appreciation for the origins of many of the more contemporary fairy tales. Indeed, Haskew relates how some of the cast had this experience too, spotting the similarities between the ancient stories they were enacting, and more popular stories like “Cinderella.”

Cast members have been in an intensive rehearsal schedule since September, working as many as six days a week on the show. Originally, 85 children auditioned; this number was further honed down to 60, then 53, a task that Haskew said was “the worst part of the process.”

Local musicians and songwriters Ian Byington, Teddy Deane and Richard Hieronymus contributed lyrics and songs to the piece. Deane, who originally intended to contribute one song, ended up contributing nine. His commitment further snowballed to accompanying pianist and musical director.

Deane said that this extra work on his part was inspired by his respect for Haskew’s work. “It’s not the usual children’s fare, it’s more clever ... it’s very well written,” Deane said. “Also, it has subject matter that kids don’t usually talk about. Ordinary people would enjoy it more than they think they would.”

Showtime: Nov. 19 at 7 p.m., and Nov. 20 and 21 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $14 for adults, $7 for students and $5 for RUSH. Visit the theater box office, call 378-3210, or visit www.sjctheatre.org.

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