Performing in the Muse Theatre Company's first Picnic With A Bard production of William Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in 2017 was the first time Jessica Cayou had acted since she was in college.
She not only fell back in love with theater, but she was appreciative of how Kira Rutter — owner and director of Muse Theatre Company and its Itsy Bitsy Broadway — made what can be a challenging piece of literature into a fun and educational theatrical experience for all ages.
"People often think Shakespeare is so intimidating. It is more than 400 years old, and the words — even though they are English — may not be common," Cayou said. "Through this summer program we have the chance to make it more accessible while keeping it Shakespeare with all the lingo, characters and dynamics between them. It is fun to give people the opportunity as a family to enjoy a little bit of Shakespeare."
The community will have the opportunity to enjoy another Shakespeare favorite, "The Tempest," at 6 p.m. Friday at Itsy Bitsy Broadway's stage at Capital Mall and 6 p.m. Saturday at Ellis-Porter Riverside Park Amphitheatre.
Muse Theatre Company's Itsy Bitsy Broadway fall and spring terms allow child participants to learn, produce and perform a play or musical. The Picnic With a Bard program has a small cast of child and adult actors, including Cayou as Prospera, one of the adapted play's principal characters.
"It is really fun to play somebody that is kind of angry just because in normal life you don't usually get to act super angry," Cayou said.
That anger comes when Prospera — altered from Shakespeare's original male character Prospero — is exiled along with her daughter, Miranda, played by Rutter, and cast adrift on a boat at sea. After washing up on an island, Prospera is able to master the spirits who live there, also at first befriending native islander Caliban, played by Cayou's eldest son, Benjamin.
"Caliban gets all bent out of shape that it's his island and it belongs to him, threatening Miranda by scaring her or making her fall off rocks," Rutter said. "Being exiled for (several years), Prospera uses her newfound grasp of magic to cause the boat of the person who exiled her, Queen Alonsa (another female adaptation to the original King Alonso) and her son, Ferdinand, to be shipwrecked on the same island."
Island spirit Ariel, played by 14-year-old Emma Ewing, and her water sprites, played by Hailey and Violet Kimlinger, Katherine and Hannah Jansson, and Beatrice Cayou, cause the storm to break and the crew, including a sailor played by Grant Cayou, to come ashore on the island. Ferdinand, played by Rutter's husband, John Michael, sees Miranda, with the pair forming a romantic bond. Prospera all the while conspires with Ariel to torment Alonsa eventually realizing vengeance is not "all its cracked up to be," Rutter said.
"Jessica and I are really good friends in real life. So it is fun to play opposite of that in this play and not be very nice to each other," Jennifer Kimlinger said. "I enjoy being somebody completely different than myself."
Rutter loves that this program allows families to engage in what the theater is doing and connect with Shakespeare in a fun, relatable way.
"Like 'A Midsummer Night's Dream,' 'The Tempest' has strong magical elements to it, which makes it a really easy adaptation for kids. It is naturally going to have elements they find fun and exciting," Rutter said, noting she cut down the normally 11- to 20-person cast of "The Tempest" to six main characters. "The main roles are played primarily by adults, but our water sprites do all the set changes have some pivotal points in the play where they chase people and interact with the audience."
Due to construction at the Missouri State Capitol and Jefferson City Parks and Recreation's Stars Under the Stars outdoor movie series moved to Riverside Park Amphitheatre, the Friday performance will be inside the theater's Capital Mall space.
Admission costs $4 for adults, $2 for children age five and older and free for those under 5 years old. However, Saturday's performance will be back at the amphitheater and include vendors Sno Biz and Street Dawgs on site for guests.
"We will be doing some crafts, have pre-show games and have face-painting before each performance. Our water sprites have water markings on their face, and kids will be able to get those. We are also hoping the kids can make rainmakers so when the storm is happening in the play, they can contribute to the sound," Rutter said, noting 16-year-old Shelby Orme will be in charge of all the light and sound during the productions.
Seeing the Muse Theatre Company's performances often sparks an interest in theater for children. With a slew of summer camps, a Last Minute Theatre program and performance with a series of short plays written by children and multiple plays and musicals incorporated into the Itsy Bitsy Broadway's upcoming fall and spring curriculum, youth at all skill levels can fulfill that interest through Muse.
For more information, visit musetheatrecompany.com.