“Come along and join the thrill / Here in Storyville”
Storyville, an original children’s musical written by JSU drama professor Eric Traynor, opens Tuesday at JSU’s Stone Center. Performances run through Saturday.
Traynor, who also directs and performs, described the production as “a light musical romp” that throws all the familiar fairytale faces under one mixed-up, magical roof.
“Storyville takes place where all the stories of the world take place,” he said. “All the fairytales are here.”
The plot centers around the Ugly Duckling and those old feelings of insecurity are creeping up once again.
“She’s upset she’s being made fun of again so she decides to visit the Old Witch,” Traynor explained. As visits to fairy tale witches often do, it turns out to be a bad idea. “The Witch changes everything in Storyville around and everyone is confused and lost,” he said. In the ensuing chaos, fears are faced, hearts are won, the Ugly Ducking learns an important lesson and the audience has more fun than a house of gingerbread.
“Parents tell me they enjoy it as much as their kids but my main concern is the children enjoy themselves,” Traynor said. And part of making the show fun is getting the kids involved.
“I pull a Goldilocks from the audience, a Baby Bear,” he said. “The show ends with a kick line of audience members on stage.”
Cast member Cody Hunt, a JSU sophomore majoring in drama, said the audience participation is what sets the show apart.
“The energy of the kids makes the show a lot of fun,” Hunt said. “It’s really upbeat.”
Traynor chose the script, written back in 2001, for his summer show after learning the theme of the public libraries’ summer reading was ‘One world, many stories.’
“Storyville just fit,” he said.
Traynor’s original production called for a cast of 16 but the current version has been scaled back to just three with Traynor and Hunt playing multiple roles in the comedic style of the Italian Renascence known as Commedia dell’Arte.
Commedia dell’Arte features familiar character archetypes, often signified by a mask, with actors donning multiple masks throughout a performance. Traynor said he studied the theatrical style while writing his master’s thesis at the University of North Carolina. He narrates and portrays the roles of Fudgey Pig, Papa Bear and Big Bad Wolf of Little Red Riding Hood fame, not to be confused with the Three Little Pigs’ huffing and puffing Big Bad Wolf. He has also taken up residence in Storyville, one of the eight characters played by Hunt including the Handsome Prince and the Old Witch. Judy Shealy, a three time veteran of Traynor’s children shows, tackles the duckbilled mask of the Ugly Ducking.
As Traynor described it, the inspiration to incorporate Commedia dell’Arte into a children’s musical was the style’s capacity for make believe.
“I put on a mask and suddenly I’m a handsome prince, suddenly I’m a pig. And that gets across to the kids,” he explained. “They see us changing and becoming different characters. It teaches them to use their imagination and they can be anything.”
Traynor last tackled the serious side of theater, directing JSU’s production of the heavy, historical drama Southbridge last month.
“It’s nice to get into the dark stuff but for me, theater should be fun,” he said. “This is fun.”
If you go
Where: Ernest Stone Performing Arts Center, JSU campus.
When: Tuesday through Saturday at 2 p.m.
How Much: All tickets, $5