FARMINGTON — Cascade Brook fourth-grader Cyrus Engle, 9, considers himself quite the jokester. One way he expresses his inner clown is by playing pranks on his friends and classmates. But another one of his favorite ways to gets laugh is through acting, and this month he is loving the opportunity to play some goofball characters in the Farmington Children’s Summer Theater Camp’s production of the Norwegian folk tale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon.”

“In this play I am Oloff, and the third hag,” Engle said.

“The third hag is really funny, and my favorite line that she says is, ‘And I know a duke that was made into a blade of grass!’ Which is my favorite for obvious reasons,” he said, laughing to himself as enjoyed a snack break with his fellow theater camp friends at Mt. Blue High School last week.

The Farmington-based theater camp, in its 20th year, is sponsored by the Mt. Blue Music Boosters. Performances are being held at 7 p.m. this Friday and Saturday, and 15 children ages 7 to 15 have been rehearsing three hours a day, five days a week since July 18 in Bjorn Auditorium at the high school. This particular music boosters program helps the Music Boosters raise money for up to $3,000 in summer scholarships for music camps and summer music lessons.

Deb Seeley, a camp organizer, said her hope has always been “for the kids to have fun, meet new friends, be comfortable working with a group of strangers and for this to be the groundwork for them to be comfortable speaking in front of people.”

Seeley, a member of the Mt. Blue Music Boosters, said it’s “also for them to travel, meet interesting characters and learn to feel comfortable with who they are.”

“East of the Sun and West of the Moon” was picked as this summer’s production by the camp’s director, Clare McKelway, 21, a native of Belgrade who graduated in May from the University of Southern Maine with a degree in theater. McKelway, who has been involved in theater since she was 12, said the tale was one of her favorites as a child.

“I liked the idea of being able to give this story that was really important to me when I was their age to them, because it’s not (a story) you run into a lot,” McKelway said.

The tale follows the journey of a young woman named Tilda, who on a cold night is bartered by her family to live with a polar bear, who promised to make the family “as rich as they were poor” if Tilda went to stay with him in his castle. With the bear away most of the time, Tilda is left to peruse the castle.

At night she disobeys the bear’s orders to stay away from the basement and travels down there with a candle, where she finds “the most handsome prince she has ever seen,” locked in a cage, McKelway said. She spends most of the night listening to the prince sing, and when she makes a trip home to talk with her mother, she realizes that the prince is in fact a troll.

When she returns with a brighter lantern to see the prince, she learns he is actually the bear and that a troll princess has put him under a spell, rendering him a bear during the daytime and a man at night. He tells her that if she had stayed away from seeing him for a full year, the spell would have been broken; but now that they have both seen each other in full light, he must go to the land east of the sun and west of the moon to marry the troll princess. The rest of the play follows Tilda as she tries to find the land, and ultimately her prince.

The play has 27 characters, so many of the children play two roles. Brynne Robbins, 12, who attends Mt. Blue Middle School, plays the lead role of Tilda in the production. This is Robbins’ third year at the Music Boosters’ camp, and she said this play has been her favorite so far because everyone gets a role with lines.

“It’s really fun, and I think this is my favorite year so far. The parts are more equal and it’s a smaller group, so it allows the directors to have a little more one-on-one time, I think,” Robbins said. “What I like about this play especially is that every role has at least five lines.”

McKelway said the benefit of theater for children is that in the scope of a production, every role is important. Unlike in sports, there is no “getting benched,” she said.

“As a young kid, theater helps you form a community and learn how to be a part of a group in a way that you don’t find other places. There is no person involved in any aspect of theater that is unimportant,” McKelway said. “We have this conversation with them right before we posted the cast list. There is this idea of the lead being the most important, but no one wants to watch a production of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ that is just Belle.”

At this camp, McKelway is time teaching and directing children in a theater setting for the first time, and she said it has been an enjoyable adventure. While the camp’s primary focus is working toward putting on a final production, the participating children also are learning lessons in theater along the way. McKelway spends time with them every day going through lines for the play and rehearsing the logistics of stage play. She and her assistant director, Matt West, a 2015 Mt. Blue High School graduate, spend time during each camp session engaging the children in theater games that emphasize character projection and posture.

McKelway said one of the most enjoyable parts of directing children has been watching how quickly they grow, and they learn to express themselves through their roles.

Eight-year old Adalaid Minton plays Tilda’s mute little sister, Fried, in the play. Fried ultimately finds her voice by the end of the play — a role Minton said isn’t too far from her own life.

“I used to be one of the most shy people in the world,” Minton said. “(Acting) made me less shy.”

Robbins, who has been involved in theater for five years through various other programs and camps, said she and Minton have become close throughout this camp and one they did together over the winter. While their two personalities couldn’t be more opposite, Robbins agrees that theater can be an outlet of expression for any type of person.

“I love doing theater because I get to express myself. I love to sing. My whole family calls me drama queen,” Robbins said. “I feel like you can see the patterns between the characters. Like kids who are really good at playing funny roles, they’ll get that comic relief every year. I feel that you can really project yourself.”

Lauren Abbate — 861-9252

[email protected]

Twitter: @Lauren_M_Abbate

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