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Jul
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2024
Performing Arts

Participants in Mad River Theater Works’ summer theater residency for youth play “Museum Freeze” in the Foundry Theater. (Photo by Lauren "Chuck" Shows)

Mad River Theater Works | ‘Mysteries’ in youth theater

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Have fun. Respect each other. Be kind. Clean up after yourself. Be safe — but be bold.

These principles are written on a large poster board displayed in the foyer of the Foundry Theater, where the Mad River Theater Works summer youth theater residency kicked off its second year last week. The principles will guide young thespians — whose ages range from 8 to 17 — as they are introduced to the ideas and methods of devised theater, or theater created collaboratively without a script from a unifying theme.

This year, the summer residency focuses on the theme of “Mystery.” Over 10 days, the students have explored the theme through discussions, games, exercises and collaborative vignettes.

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A final performance of the group’s collaborative work will be presented Friday, June 14, beginning at 7 p.m. in the Foundry’s black box space. The general public is welcome to attend, though priority seating will be given to participants’ families.

Last Friday, students came together after lunch to play a game, “Museum Freeze,” in which one student is selected to act as a “museum guard,” and everyone else acts as living statues that can only move into new poses when the guard is not looking.

After the game, the students broke into small groups to perform scenes they had created line by line and movement by movement, each investigating their own mystery: Who stole the magic tape at the Air Force base? Who witnessed the crime outside “Bucking-wham” Palace as the guards snoozed? What was the murder weapon used at the French-New York bakery? Who killed Jennifer in her own living room, and why?

Leading this year’s residency are playwright, actor, director and educator Daniel Carlton; Mad River Theater Works Managing Director Chris Westhoff; New York actor and educator Gabrielle Archer; and Yellow Springs educator, actor and musician AJ Breslin.

Carlton told the News last week that the residency is hosting more students this year than last, and that the students’ age range is wide — which presents both challenges and rewards. Students of all ages work together in small groups.

“They all have things to offer,” Carlton said. “But often at lunch, they separate themselves by age groups, or go off on their own — it’s important for them to have that option.”

In addition to the residency’s four staff members, students have also been supported by other sources in the community: Storyteller Omope Carter Daboiku and artist Migiwa Orimo have visited to counsel the students on narrative and set design; photographer Dennie Eagleson has dropped in most days to document the comings and goings of the young actors. Musician and personal trainer Guy “Tron” Banks presented an activity that aimed to both get students moving and instruct them on how burgeoning artificial intelligence can threaten human creativity.

“It was kind of like an obstacle course,” Carlton said. “The idea was that you had to keep your dreams and humanity as you were stepping through technology traps.”

Westhoff said the residency staff have been encouraged and inspired by those in the community who have given of their time to further enrich the experience for students.

“Theater work is cultural work, and it occurs to me that there are these naturally occurring cultures — that’s how bread is made, what fermentation is made of, these cultures,” Westhoff said.

He added: “When you make bread, you can just leave your starter in the fridge for a long time, and you can bring it back to life, and I’m really struck by that. … We did this camp here once. Some of the students have come back. New students are coming. And guests are coming.”

Westhoff said that, early in the first week, an Antioch alumnus came into the Foundry to speak with him. The alumnus, Russell Gwinn Lacy, presented Westhoff with a script and show notes for Antioch Area Theatre’s 1957 production of Judson Jerome’s “Winter In Eden,” for which Lacy provided sound production. After speaking with Lacy, Westhoff introduced him to the students.

“He was a young theater student here, and he was moved to see all these children,” Westhoff said. “There are amazing things that we didn’t plan or work towards that are happening — and it’s all a result of the door being open.”

The residency is supported by the YS Community Foundation and the Ohio Arts Council.

Contact: chuck@ysnews.com

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