Theatre de Jeunesse performing ‘Camelot’

The classic love triangle of King Arthur, Lancelot and Guenevere will grace the stage at Marietta College’s Hermann Fine Arts Center Friday as the Theatre de Jeunesse puts on its fourth annual summer performance.

The theater group will open its two-weekend production of Camelot Friday with the hopes of a full house.

Theatre de Jeunesse, a summer acting program specifically targeted toward high school and young college students, is one of the 2014 recipients of a special projects grant from Artsbridge, fulfilling the organization’s mission of enriching arts education in the Mid-Ohio Valley.

“We want young people to learn about all aspects of the theater, but we want them to have fun, and both are just as important as the other,” said Executive Director Linda Buchanan.

The pre-professional program is a nonprofit that since 2011 has put on yearly July performances of classic theater productions, and will soon add Camelot to its list.

“We want to introduce young people to classic theater, because youth programs are the casualties of budget cuts,” Buchanan said.

Buchanan said the group was formed as a brainchild of the Actors Guild in Parkersburg, when a few members realized there was a gap in opportunities for teens and young adults.

“We helped start the fourth-through-ninth-grade program, but from 10th through 12th grade we felt there was a gap,” she said. “They’re too old for the youth programs, but they’re too young for a lot of community programs.”

The Theatre de Jeunesse leases rehearsal space in West Virginia and performs at Marietta College with the goal of recruiting Wood and Washington County students, and staff visit area high schools to spark interest in the shows, which Buchanan said can be difficult with how many activities young people have going on in summer.

“We’re still building an interest and a reputation as we get started,” she said. “But theater does such good things for self-esteem and team building skills.”

Past performances by the theater include Les Miserables, Once Upon a Mattress and Pirates of Penzance.

The theater continuously rotates staff to give young people a chance to work with wide ranges of professionals, and brings in career actors to educate them both on skills as well as what it takes to act professionally.

“Once they get in the door, they realize it’s fun and they like it,” Buchanan said.

Caleb Nicholas, 19, of Marietta, did not have to be convinced of the fun theater offers, but he did have to be talked into taking on the major role of Merlyn just a month before opening night.

“I’m friends with the music director, and they needed more guys for the chorus, so I didn’t have lines or anything, I was just there to fill space,” he said. “But they had some trouble with some of the bigger roles, and they put me in with four weeks left in the show.”

Nicholas said memorizing lines has always come easy to him.

“It was frightening at first, but for me, learning lines is pretty easy, and I don’t have to sing at all, so it played to my strengths,” he said.

Rachel Sullivan, 16, of Parkersburg, is playing the role of a fairy in the ensemble as her first performance with the theater.

“King Arthur is actually played by my boyfriend, and he’s been acting forever, and he auditioned for it and got the part,” she said. “They needed more singers, so I tried and I got the part, and I’m really glad I did.”

Sullivan and Brady Miller, 18, both perform in shows at Parkersburg High School in addition to the Theatre de Jeunesse.

“I like the fact that he is such a dynamic character,” Miller said, who plays the lead role of King Arthur.

Miller said he is not really interested in making a career of acting, but loves the opportunity to do performances in his free time.

Zak Ivey, 20, of Belpre, is playing Sir Lionel in his first performance with the group.

I’ve been acting since I was 8, and in this show there are a lot of age ranges, but a whole lot of talent, too,” he said. “And at times, it really seems like a quirky soap opera that only comes on at 10:30 at night, but it’s wonderful and beautifully written, and I think audiences will really get a kick out of it.”

The Theatre de Jeunesse’s six weekend performances will include Friday and Saturday evening shows and Sunday matinees, including a special July 20 sign language interpretation show put on with help from local support groups for the deaf.