What: "Beowulf," presented by Four and Twenty Blackbirds
Where: Ellis-Porter Riverside Park amphitheater
When: Saturday, Oct. 26 at 6:15 p.m.
Cost: Free, and appropriate viewing for children ages 10 and up
What to bring: Dress warm, bring stadium blankets/seating or lawn chairs, and hot drinks
"First and foremost, it's a story about a hero fighting monsters - and winning. That's why it's lived and been loved for so long," Melissa Ortega said of the story of Seamus Heaney's translation of "Beowulf."
New production company Four and Twenty Blackbirds will perform its adaptation of the story this weekend. The poem, which has inspired so many other stories over the years, will be performed outside by firelight, and the Blackbirds have combined the old with the new, adding some modern sights and sounds.
"There will be humor, and audience interaction. Although this story is notoriously gory, we have worked very hard to make it friendly to kids 10 and up by using techniques that imply rather than gorily detail the violence," Ortega said.
The story will be played out by several actors taking on multiple roles. Because the production company is small, many of those on stage also worked on set, costumes and music. The Blackbirds have added original audio effects and vocal performances, as well as built a shadow theater that will highlight the battle sequences.
"We are excited about seeing all the details we've been crafting come together and bringing the story to life," Ortega said.
One thing the Blackbirds want people to know is that they understand they are amateurs.
"We are doing this for fun, not to impress the world with our awesome talent," Ortega joked. "We hope audiences know that this has been an educational process for everyone involved, and we hope to mature a little more with each performance."
Challenges faced along the way to its debut performance include weather, and since the set is built for the outdoors, it is too large to fit "in your average building," Ortega said. Other challenges have been translating the language, pronunciation, and too few people for too many roles.
Too few cast members still proved to be the biggest challenge, however, because there are cast members playing two characters who are on stage at the same time.
"While difficult, this really led to a design decision that ended up being the most exciting and entertaining part of the program. And I'm not going to spoil it," Ortega said. "Folks will just have to come find out how we did it."
For audiences who have seen "Beowulf" before, Ortega said they should just throw out and forget any film version ever seen before.
The Blackbirds wanted to do the story "to sort of redeem it from the hideous interpretations that are out there," she said.
Also, the audience should know "Beowulf" is a story which is "more than it appears to be," Ortega said.
It has inspired some of the world's greatest stories, from "Lord of the Rings," to "Hamlet," to the "Chronicles of Narnia," to "Harry Potter," for good reason.
"That said, its themes and meaning may not be immediate to the audience - and that's OK. ... If J.R.R. Tolkein wrote a thousand pages on this story, and he and C.S. Lewis met every Tuesday to talk about it for years, then it has to be a pretty deep well!"
All that aside, Ortega said, the Blackbirds encourage the audience to come and have fun. "It's a fairy tale, and people need fairy tales. Desperately."
Those performing Saturday night include: Beowulf, Zack Helton; Grendel, Zack Helton and Justin Duren; Wiglaf, Jake Wise; Hrothgar, Funtez Robinson; Grendel's mother and Wealtheow and Wulfar, Eva Lange; the three muses, yesterday - Carlie Land, today - Dorea Slagle, forever - Melissa Ortega; Beowulf (the elder) and the dragon, Nathan Ortega; the watchman, Doug Stephens; cameo, Sam Gilbert; cameo, Chris Duren; scrim crew and combat choreographers, Chris and Justin Duren.