In a basement rehearsal space at the Reformed Church of New Paltz on a recent Friday afternoon, a handful of young actors-in-training are blocking their scene, working on how to best coordinate their stage movements to express the lyrics in the song they’re learning. The youngsters are part of the 90 Miles Off Broadway Summer Children’s Musical Theater company, now in its 12th season, an extension of New Paltz’s adult 90 Miles Off Broadway community theater company that celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
The children’s company is rehearsing an original musical, The Prince and the Sphinx, written by Katherine Elliot. Katie, as she’s known, has been involved with the children’s group from its beginning, serving in various capacities from narrator to musician. She is also the daughter of company co-founder and director Judy Elliot, who wrote the lyrics to the show’s music composed by musical director, Paul Carroll.
The trio work together at rehearsal along with production coordinator, Joyce Zagorini, to bring out the best in the young performers, encouraging enunciation of their lines and patiently going over the staging. It’s all part of the creative process, and while it looks like the show is a long way from completion at this point, Zagorini said it’s always rewarding when they see it all come together by performance time.
There will be six performances of The Prince and the Sphinx in the social hall of the Reformed Church at 92 Huguenot Street. Performances Wednesday, July 23 through Saturday, July 26 will be at 10 a.m. On Friday and Saturday, July 25 and 26, there will also be afternoon performances at 2 p.m. Admission costs $8 at the door, or $6 for groups of ten or more.
The morning performances encourage organizations like the YMCA to bring groups of kids to the shows as part of their day camp activities, said Judy. “And it’s a great opportunity for the kids to not only see live performances of original plays, but live musicians, because the shows always have ‘pit’ musicians accompanying the performances.” The musicians are usually students of the company’s musical director: local piano teacher Janet Salt for the company’s first ten years, said Judy, and now Paul Carroll, a music teacher in the Newburgh school system.
The storyline in The Prince and the Sphinx is set in ancient Egypt as the pharaoh, the royal family and all the people await “the inundation,” a time when the waters of the Nile River flood, making the land fertile for another year. A New Year’s celebration is planned but, by evil treachery, all the meat has disappeared from the storehouses. The plot turns on whether Prince Thutmose can appease the gods to replenish the food and allow the celebration to commence.
The Prince and the Sphinx cast includes Rhys Weires, Jack Hyland, Jessica Dugatkin, Ariana Rodriguez, Will Lawrence Paine, James Hyland, Griffin Defino, Bode Raffa, Reggie Gold, Rachel Reinking, Gracie Jentsch, Zofia Trzewik-Quinn, Elise Gingold, Sarah Perl, Rosie Savelson, Harper Seringer, Solo Diedhiou, Sadie Spring, Samantha Wong-Pan, Josie Quinn, Cianan Reiter, Ryan Hyland, Jamie Newell, Jamishay Cammann, Maeve Prendergast, Asha Wilson, Reina Werner and Stella Prince.
The 90 Miles off Broadway Summer Children’s Musical Theater holds auditions every June. This year the company has 28 members, who rehearse in workshops five days a week in the month of July before the season closes with the six end-of-month performances. Tuition costs $100 for the season and includes a t-shirt. Family vacations do get in the way of that schedule sometimes, but accommodations are made. The kids range in age from nine to 13 and often return each year once they’ve started with the program, Judy said. “We think of it as a four-year program, and often the kids come back after that to do behind-the-scenes work.”
The productions are always of original material, written by Judy until she passed the baton to her daughter this year, and encompassing a wide range of themes from mythological Greek gods and goddesses to animal rights to fractured fairy tales. The topic of garbage even made it into last year’s show, Trash.
Judy has a master’s degree in theater and helped organize the Catskill Community Players in Catskill before moving to New Paltz and starting the children’s branch of 90 Miles Off Broadway 12 years ago. The Reformed Church is the site for rehearsals and performances but is not involved in production of the plays.
The costumes are made by the mothers of the kids. “Our parents are absolutely phenomenal,” Judy says. “There are always parents eager to make wonderful costumes and paint [sets]. We pull some costumes from the 90 Miles costume barn, and then use anything we can find to construct anything that’s missing.” The production of The Prince and the Sphinx will involve the making of elaborate Egyptian headpieces and neckwear, probably of papier maché.
The end goal of the program is to help children reach their fullest potential on and off the stage while fostering safe, fun and educational activity. Along with being on the stage and learning all the terminology and traditions, the children are encouraged to participate in all the other aspects of producing a show, including backstage, set design, costumes and props. All skill levels are welcome.
For more information, call (845) 255-8142 or visit www.90milesoffbroadway.com/#!children/c6lr.