Muse of Fire founder and director Stevie Ray Dallimore describes his nonprofit as a “cool after school theater club” designed to unleash kids’ creativity. Three times a year, the program invites 10 area students between the ages of 10 and 12 to become amateur playwrights. “At the heart of what we do is the belief that kids should be heard and respected for their ideas,” he says.
Muse of Fire is inspired by the renowned New York City 52nd Street Project where Dallimore volunteered while working as a professional theater and film actor. After relocating here in 2011 to raise a family, he decided it was time our city had a project of its own. Today, Muse of Fire acts in partnership with the Chattanooga Public Library, which supplies space for the project’s classes and performances.
During free playmaking classes held twice a week, students hone their writing and character development skills. Dallimore stresses that the project is not children’s theater; rather, it’s a full-blown theater experience where participants dictate the topics by relying on their own experiences and ideas, realities and perceptions.
The selection process is need based, and first-come, first-serve. No writing sample is required, only an active imagination and a desire to work hard. “We strive to bring together a diverse group in each session, so students come from all over the city,” Dallimore explains. “Part of our goal is to expose kids to new experiences and new people.”
When the creative process is complete, adult actors take over to produce and act in the student creations complete with costumes, sets, and a musical score. Each session culminates in three live performances where the 10 completed plays are presented as the student playwright sits on stage. “It’s an exceptional and challenging beast—a combination of the Muppet Show, Saturday Night Live, and Broadway,” Dallimore explains.
What impact does he believe the project has on its young writers? Life skills like problem solving, completing a task, self-confidence, and giving and receiving feedback, to name a few. But perhaps the most important is the celebration of each young artist’s unique voice. “They literally stand taller as they take in the audience reaction and realize they have created a real play, and that adults have validated their work by bringing it to life.”