While veteran community stage company 90 Miles Off Broadway has recently reincarnated, with a new board of directors, into the 90 Miles Theatre Company, its youth arm, the 90 Miles Children’s Summer Theatre, has just kept on chugging along, virtually unchanged. Every year, Judy Elliot spends four weeks teaching acting and backstage basics to a group of kids between the ages of nine and 14; and every year they wind up their summer theater “camp” with a live production of an original musical, directed and usually written by Elliot herself.
But this year, the choice of material is particularly timely and thought-provoking. The 90 Miles Children’s Summer Theatre has performed Sanctuary once before, in 2008; but when Elliot first wrote the play and some of the songs, all she had in mind were endangered species of animals. She wasn’t thinking about “sanctuary” being something that a whole lot of humans would suddenly find themselves needing. But in these political times, the work can take on new levels of meaning as a subject for family discussion.
“The story revolves around Melina’s B & B [Bird and Beast] Sanctuary, which is open to all animals. The animals come themselves — both domestic and undomesticated animals,” Elliot relates. “Then one day, some of them start getting letters from endangered relatives. Their habitat is disappearing, mostly due to deforestation. So they get together and decide to do something.”
What the animals decide to do is put on a cabaret show to raise money. They sing; they dance; a bat gives a lecture on bat facts (“That’s one of my favorites,” says Elliot). It all adds up to a fast-moving stage musical format — with an underlying message of compassion and environmental activism. “Hopefully it’ll provoke some conversation when they leave,” says the director/educator.
Sanctuary is not the only one of Elliot’s original stageworks to have an environmental theme. The first time the group staged it, she created a fundraiser to benefit Conservation International. When she spoke with the New Paltz Times about the summer 2017 production, she was getting ready to reach out to that group to organize another such event. Her young charges have been making posters of endangered animals to put up onstage and in the lobby to encourage contributions.
This year’s performances of Sanctuary will be held next week at the Social Hall of the Reformed Church of New Paltz, located at 92 Huguenot Street. Curtain time is 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, July 19 to 22, at 10 a.m. There are also 2 p.m. shows on Friday and Saturday. (Tip: Friday performances, especially in the morning, seem to be the least crowded.)
The songs in Sanctuary were written by Jane Salt, Charles Fromer, Roberta Coupe-Franks and Elliot herself. Coupe-Franks (“an amazing trumpet-player,” according to Elliot) recently created new songs for this updated version of the play. Joyce Zagorini is the production coordinator.
Tickets for Sanctuary cost $8 each at the door, $6 each for groups of ten or more. To order, or to obtain more information, call Judy Elliot at (845) 255-8142.