What do blueberries, magic, and teamwork have in common?
They’re the crux of the Penobscot Theatre Company Youth Troupe’s newest workshop and production: “The Blueberry Balladier”.
According to Jasmine Ireland, director of education and outreach at PTC, Youth Troupe is open to children ages 4 through those entering eighth grade and is a workshop experience that teaches children about all the facets of theater production in a fun environment. Children who take part in this program, starting January 7, will perform the world premiere of the original play, written by one of PTC’s own.
Penned by Andrew Frodahl, PTC’s production manager and technical director, The Blueberry Balladier has 25 characters ranging from “Miss Maine to dogs, bees, and Bavarian gnomes,” Frodahl said.
Frodahl’s “modern fairy tale” spins a fantastic tale about the blueberry farmers of Washington County. These farmers, he said, have relied on the Blueberry Balladier to sing an annual lullaby to protect the crop from blueberry blight. Some in the county consider the annual lullaby sheer superstition, but when an ancient pestilence known as the Willisoggle gives the Balladeer a cold before she can sing, farmers, beekeepers, and berry pickers must unite to stop the Willisoggle before it ruins the harvest and the livelihood of the workers of Washington County.
“This show has a fantasy element to it, but it’s grounded to a part of the economy in the state,” she said. “Due to the subject matter, Wyman’s Blueberries, the Maine Blueberry Commission, and one of the former Miss Maine’s have all gotten on board to produce it.”
According to Ireland, children of all skill levels who are interested in theater are perfect for Youth Troupe. “I don’t know of anywhere in the state where a play is tailor written for kids to perform,” she said. “And the kids in Youth Troupe will be first to perform this show ever.”
Frodahl, a Maine native, noted that some of his second cousins ran blueberry farms. He recalled that he even used a blueberry rake for a time growing up.
“It’s a big part of the Washington County economy,” he said. “This play shows how much is invested in blueberry farming because all of the people are affected.”
Children not only learn skills for the theater, but they also get to give input. Last semester’s thespians were able to provide input to Frodahl on “The Blueberry Balladier” as it was being written.
“The last creating a character class workshopped the script and gave feedback,” she said. “It’s super cool for a six-year-old to [provide feedback].”
Ireland noted that while some children will be new to the workshops, others will return with a renewed appreciation for theater.
“We really do get everyone at these workshops,” she said. “We have the diehards and the ones who just want to have fun. We have some who have come to us for years and they are becoming leaders with the younger ones. We love seeing them grow a love for live theater. It’s a class, but for many it’s more. For instance, in ‘A Christmas Story’ we had seven children who had gone through the program. We want to welcome them in at age 4 and allow them to stay with us until they go out into the big wide world.”
To register for the semester of workshops, visit http://penobscottheatre.org/education.php or call Ireland at (207) 947-6618. Registrations close on January 7.