‘Saving Camp Winola’ by Murtagh is latest in string of FET originals

Writing an original musical in a week is not something many people would attempt. But it was actually therapeutic for James Murtagh, FCRH ’15.

“I had a lot of creative energy coming off a tough year,” Murtagh said. “I wanted to get it all out on paper and put my stress toward something.”

10801908_375776179247652_835663836373289927_nFordham Experimental Theatre (FET) is presenting Saving Camp Winola, the product of Murtagh’s marathon effort, this weekend as part of its fall season.

The show, about a group of campers and counselors who unite to save their summer camp after it has gone bankrupt and been purchased by the Boy Scouts, was also inspired by Murtagh’s childhood vacations in Maine, Vermont and Pennsylvania.

“I just have a love for the wilderness,” Murtagh said.

As he went through the creative process, Murtagh made a conscious effort to challenge himself, including composing the score on piano, an instrument with which he has little experience, and taking care with every word of the book.

“If I wrote something easy quickly, it wouldn’t have as much heart in it,” Murtagh said. “I could’ve taken the easy way out with a joke or a theme, but I had a lot that I wanted to say personally.”

Though he has an individual stake in it, Murtagh, who is also directing the show, is encouraging his actors to find new dimension in their characters.

The cast and crew puts finishing touches on the set.

The cast and crew puts finishing touches on the set.

“There’s the show you think about, the show you write and then the show that happens,” Murtagh said. “More than anything with this show I’m trying to force the people in it to play their characters truthfully.”

Cast members of Saving Camp Winola say this openness does not preclude Murtagh from giving them clear guidance.

“James is a creative writer and skilled musician,” said Maddy Hoepf, FCRH ’16, who plays camper Margaret. “He has a pretty clear vision for the show, since he wrote everything.”

Caitlyn Letterii, FCRH ’17, who plays camp counselor Jean, agreed that it was valuable to have the show’s director and composer all rolled into one. “It’s not like we can’t talk about music since the music director’s not here,”Letterii said.

The two actresses had very different reasons for being in the show. Hoepf’s was mainly creative. “I’ve never been in a musical before, and it’s on my bucket list,” Hoepf said.

Letterii, however, said nostalgia was what drove her to the production. “I wanted to go back to camp again, in theatre form,” Letterii said.

Hoepf and Letterii both said that original, student-written shows like Saving Camp Winola are what give FET much of its appeal. “It’s a fun experience,” Hoepf said. “It’s at the core of the spirit of FET.”

Letterii concluded that the fact that FET’s offerings are off the beaten track is why they have had high profile success — last summer, the FET productions My Personal Hell and Take Your Base were presented at New York theatre festivals.

From left: Letterii, Murtagh, Hoepf

From left: Letterii, Murtagh, Hoepf

“We put on a lot of interesting things, which is why so many of them have gone on to festivals and such,” Letterii said.

Murtagh said he appreciated having an incubator for original theater on campus that was willing to take a chance on his weeklong burst of creativity; this also helps other artists.

“I think all of us would be writing regardless because we all have that energy inside of us, but we have a club that will not only put your show on but accept it and love it so much,” Murtagh said. “It forces us to be more honest and creative with our work.”

Saving Camp Winola will be performed at the Blackbox in the back of Collins from Nov. 20-22. More information can be found on the show’s Facebook event page.