Muse of Fire’s spring project gives budding young writers a stage of their own
A lanky 12-year-old girl swings her legs nervously in her chair, at the side of a stage where she’s illuminated by the soft twinkle of icicle lights. She looks around with apprehension as the lights dim and a group of actors step onto the stage. The lights come up; she freezes in her seat and watches as the actors begin bringing a story to life: her story.
Suddenly, a burst of laughter from the audience brings a grin to her face so large it could engulf the entire room. Her eyes glow as the story she imagined takes on a life of its own right in front of her. This is her moment, and it’s magical to watch.
The Muse of Fire Project gathers a diverse group of ten kids, ages 10-12, three times per year to produce original plays which are performed by adults. The kids spend two hours once a week for ten weeks developing and writing scripts before these are turned over to the group of actors who have approximately two weeks to create the plays’ worlds. The playwrights see their ideas in the flesh for the first time on the night of the performances.
This is the beauty of The Muse of Fire Project, a self-proclaimed “cool after-school theatre club for kids from all over Chattanooga,” co-created by Stevie Ray Dallimore and Kate Forbes in 2011, based on the 52nd Street Project in New York City. “People come and are blown away by that very element,” Dallimore says. “That’s maybe one of their favorite things about what we do…watching the playwright onstage watching her play, watching her take it in and then taking a bow for it.”
“Musers,” as they are affectionately referred to by the staff, come from diverse backgrounds and writing abilities, but are worked with closely to ensure their success. “Part of the mission of this particular program is an emphasis on writing,” Forbes says, “because especially at that age, they could tell you all of their ideas, but then I would say, ‘Well, how are the actors going to know that? How’s the audience going to know that? You’ve got to put that in the script.’”
As the weeks progress, the playwrights are encouraged to edit and make revisions to ensure the best possible version of their play is performed. This process is not always smooth sailing, but is ultimately rewarding for the playwrights. “One kid wrote for ten minutes and he said ‘That’s the longest I’ve ever written about anything,’” Forbes chuckles, “and he said, ‘I wrote about that long about Martin Luther King for school, but this is more fun.’”
Once the scripts are turned over to the actors and directors, the playwrights learn another valuable lesson: collaboration and letting go. “They’re a little nervous,” Dallimore says. “We we have a pizza party celebration of their plays where the actors come and read their plays for the kids and make sure they’re signing off on them…and then we basically say, ‘OK, see you opening night!’” Then, the adult volunteers set themselves the task of creating worlds known and unknown; learning lines, developing characters, and building sets, costumes and props.
“It takes an enormous amount of energy to put these plays on,” Dallimore says. “It’s not just a play. It’s eleven plays with 14 different actors and we want to honor each kid’s play to the best of our ability.” But that hard work and support pays off in a uniquely fun night of original plays. “That’s a real, major point,” Dallimore emphasizes, “to see it, to get it done, to get it on its feet, to bring it to life, and all of us take ownership of that. That’s part of the beauty of it.”
The shows are intended for a wide audience, not only parents and friends, but anyone eager to see unique, funny, moving original theatre. “It’s a great date night,” Forbes enthusiastically suggests, and Dallimore adds, “It often gets written off as a kind of cutesy children’s theatre thing, which it’s not…It’s really an entertaining night out, no matter what age you are.”
They both describe it as being “a mashup of Off-Broadway play meets Saturday Night Live meets The Muppet Movie,” and Forbes adds, “with some heart-piercing moments. It’s really fun theatre.”
The Muse of Fire Project’s spring performances will be held at the Downtown Public Library, 1001 Broad St. April 17, at 7 p.m. and April 18 at 3, 7 p.m.