A new theater company is rising in Ojai. A Muse of Fire puts a “fresh spin on the classics” by creating “contemporary and classical theater with socially relevant themes.” Soon to launch its inaugural season, the company was founded by theater, film, fine art and educational professionals, led by Susan Kelejian and including Jaye Hersh, Jolene Harrington, Vonder Gray and Susanna Joslyn Johansen. 

The idea for A Muse of Fire was forged during the aftermath of the Thomas Fire, when Kelejian was reminded of “how theater can be transformative.” Emboldened, Kelejian thought to herself, “screw the destructive Thomas Fire.” She and her co-founders partnered with the Nordhoff Parent Association and drama department and set about to form a company that would elevate theater and connect people.  

Its name was inspired by a line in Shakespeare’s Henry V:

O, for a Muse of fire, that would ascend 

The brightest heaven of invention, 

A kingdom for a stage, princes to act.

And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!

At the heart of A Muse of Fire’s mission is to raise the bar of dramatic training in the area — from developing an actor’s craft to teaching basic theater skills and etiquette. It would also give the community a forum in which to come together to experience and discuss important works that address big themes.

During this same time, Kelejian began to contemplate “the third act” of her life. “We have a finite amount of chi,” observes Kelejian, before adding matter-of-factly, “I have one more push.” The “push” to create something meaningful for the community is fueled by her years as an award-winning playwright, director and actor.

“I’ve done it all,” she muses.

That includes managing the Ojai Shakespeare Festival and being the artistic director of Hourglass Figures and Equine Dell Arte theater companies. One of her most recent projects was performing in Macbeth at the Ojai Art Center Theater. The fact that the majority of the cast was over 50 was not lost on Kelejian. It made clear the area’s need for a multi-generational theater company that would provide solid conservatory training.

A Muse of Fire empowers young actors to learn from veteran actors. “This is a master!” Kelejian says, referring to any one of the mature actors in the company. In return, older actors get to see the art of theater through fresh eyes. The goal is to “connect through theater,” explains Kelejian. It all comes down to “what we can learn from our past to create a better future, by coming together in the now.” 

A Muse of Fire’s inaugural performance, or “coming out party,” as Kelejian calls it, is a staged reading of her own The Tragedy of Boudicca. It will take place at Topa Mountain Winery on Friday, March 29. Madrigali, an Ojai-based a cappella singing group that specializes in Renaissance and medieval music, will also perform. The event is free and will feature a Q&A session. “To create a dialogue after the performance, that’s the most fun,” says Kelejian.

Other events are planned in the summer and fall as well.

During the summer, A Muse of Fire will hold a three-week conservatory for teens, led by theater professionals and culminating in a weekend showcase. (More information on the conservatory is available on the company’s Facebook page.) And in November, the company will perform a staged reading of Kelejian’s reworking of Chekhov’s Three Sisters, which she sets in a retirement home. Kelejian explains that Three Sisters/Homecoming (working title) blends “what is real and what is in the mind,” as it takes on the themes of “aging and looking for life’s purpose.”

Kelejian and A Muse of Fire certainly have found theirs. 

For more information about A Muse of Fire Theater Company, visit amusetheaterco.com or the company’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/A-Muse-of-Fire-Theater-Company-1405349419595373/.