"Sing a song of sixpence a pocket full of rye, four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie. When the pie was opened the birds began to sing - wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the king?"
In an effort to create something they love, as well as to engage a fresh audience, a group of like-minded individuals will debut a new production company in Jefferson City this fall. Four and Twenty Blackbirds Productions will take to the stage in a rustic style, using the blackbird, and all it represents, to set the tone for the new company's existence.
Organizer Melissa Ortega explains, "We chose the blackbird not only because they appear so much in mythology but because when they do, they famously signal that something significant is about to happen. Sometimes good, sometimes bad."
Blackbirds Productions is a part of the Mythopoeic Arts community. In Ortega's words, that simply means "a steadily growing techno-geek, philosophy-hungry, lit-loving culture."
Mythopoeia is the art of myth-making, Ortega noted. Many stories fall into the genre, incorporating both philosophical and imaginative scopes.
"For the Blackbirds, Mythopoeia is personally powerful because it removes labels and awakens a sense of fundamental truth, both in the hearer, and perhaps especially, the storyteller.
"For us, art is the language by which we explore and best understand our world in our search for truth," she said.
Blackbirds Productions hopes to merge the old and new, showing that the space between them isn't as wide as one might think.
"We would love for people who, at the outset, reject a good story just because it's "old,' to discover its cultural transcendence, and for those who instantly dismiss what's new as "lesser art' to discover the renaissance that's occurring right now in modern myth-making," Ortega said.
Although there are several other art communities in Jefferson City, Ortega said Blackbirds just wants a place where it can create the kind of art its members care about. Many of them are involved and will continue to be apart of other theater groups in the area.
"It has been said that "we read to know we're not alone,' but the same can be said of all art. We're hopeful that as quickly as we found each other, we can find audiences who share the same wish for the same sorts of plays/music/etc. we are creating," she said. "That's really what we're doing - celebrating what we love, and inviting others to share in that joy."
The new arts company, which is working toward its first production, started from a conversation between friends in 2011. Ortega and Lexi Bair started talking about the type of plays they wished were being created and performed in today's theater world. Eventually they asked why they weren't writing and performing the stories themselves.
With a third person added, Jake Wise, the idea quickly grew from there. Now more than 24 people are helping to adapt Seamus Heaney's translation of "Beowulf" into a performance-ready masterpiece.
"Beowulf" will be performed just after sunset on Oct. 26 at the Ellis Porter outdoor amphitheater.
"Our dream is to perform in venues that best fit the story or community, rather than taking up residence in a single playhouse," she said.
Blackbirds is excited to perform the story of Beowulf "as it would have been when it was new - raw, at night around a fire."
The company is working toward not-for-profit status, but currently operates out of the pockets of its members. Ortega said they will strive to pour themselves into one play a year, performing in various locations. Blackbirds eventually hopes to create a moveable theater, allowing its stories to travel and adjust to fit multiple venues.
"We would love for people in Mid-Missouri who drive by a theater a hundred times a year without going in, to suddenly discover a play going on in their backyard, and rediscover its magic."
Four and Twenty Blackbirds Productions are adapting or have secured rights to the following plays: "William Shakespeare's Star Wars," "Til We Have Faces" and "The Great Divorce," by C.S. Lewis, "The Eagle & Child," G.K. Chesterton's "The Man Who Was Thursday," an award-winning Agatha Christie style-thriller called "Twilight of the Gods," and a few Blackbirds originals.
Look for more on Blackbirds in the Escape section of our newspaper and online as its first production draws near.