Steph Douthit, Cecile Beavin, Maria Sanderson and Cali Hoffacker.

The Fairytale Theater

by Barney Quick
photo by Barney Quick

It doesn’t take a big production budget to create a world of enchantment. Every year, Fairy Tale Theater demonstrates that when it presents one of its original musicals in the meeting hall of Hilltop Christian Camp to a packed house. The sets, props, and costumes are all made of everyday materials: pantyhose, feed bags, plastic milk jugs, mattress foam. The cast volunteers its time. There is no admission fee for the audience, and the theater company receives no funding from any arts agencies.

Simplicity is the point of the shows, says theater founder Cecile Beavin. As intensely as she applies herself to this project for a good portion of every year, it’s just one of this vibrant woman’s many passions.

Fairy Tale Theater is an outgrowth of Beavin’s experiences in her main career, mental health counseling. “One way to see my work is as the receiving of stories,” she explains, “and helping clients reclaim some parts of their personalities that they’d seen as little and insignificant. That’s generally what the protagonist of a fairy tale does: reclaim a treasure he or she had overlooked.”

There is one performance of each play, held about this time of year. Cecile begins assembling her team months in advance, and by show day everyone, from the actors, to the musical accompanists, to the ushers, to the refreshment committee contributes to the whole event with apparently effortless poise.

The adult cast members are culled from among her acquaintances and neighbors. She scouts a wide array of schools for the children. “We have a fairly even mix of students from public and private schools and those who are schooled at home,” she says.

Beavin writes the stories and scripts, assembles the music, makes the sets, props and costumes, and directs the cast. Projects of this scope are usually not her forte. “I’m really an introvert,” she reveals. “Being in charge of every aspect of something means stepping outside my comfort zone.”

The 2006 production was entitled “The Keepers and Seekers of Starlight.” Characters included Stella, a young girl who has lived he life in a castle among the stars, Auntie Applejoy, who spends her days stirring her apple pot with the help of a team of worms, Frostina the Ice Queen, Dinnis O’Day, an opportunistic leprechaun who mistakes Auntie’s apple pot for a pot of gold, and Wickersham the Wise, a Merlin-type figure.

Beavin says the names come to her easily. “I love words,” she explains. “I came up with Auntie Applejoy while I was thinking of the round cheeks of children. The Furry Worry Warts [a gaggle of perpetually shivering, whining, winter-coat-clad characters] are a bit of self-parody, since I tend to worry a lot. Frostina is my comment on people who sell things that the public doesn’t need. Frostina and her assistant Jeeves are always persuading the Worry Warts to eat their ’lovely chilly icies’ [giant cones].”

Beavin has lived her life in central Indiana for the most part, but it’s been a remarkable journey in many ways. She was the oldest of ten children in a happy musical family. Her mother used to lead Beavin and her siblings in song when they came home for lunch. The family moved to a bigger house to accommodate a newly-acquired grand piano.

She spent ten years as a Benedictine nun. That monastic order’s mission is teaching. For Beavin, that took the form of directing plays in a women’s prison. She transformed convicted drug dealers, prostitutes, and murderers into fairy-tale characters. “I actually felt the most free during my time working in prison,” she says. “People felt free to question the order of things. I’d tell someone to act a certain way or say some particular thing, and she might respond, ‘That doesn’t make any sense.’ That was very different from the environment of obedience in our order.”

The convent wanted her teaching activities to take a more conventional turn. “The Prioress was a musician,” Beavin recalls. “She wanted me to be a music teacher and a band director, but I wanted to lead the contemplative life.”

After leaving the nun’s life, she met her husband, Michael. They live in Brown County, where they raise Morgan horses (from whence Beavin gets the feed bags she uses for props).

Cecile doesn’t plan to expand her theater to a bigger venue or more frequent productions. “No, my first love is my work as a therapist,” she says. “I spend my mornings tending the horses or organic gardening, and then I come to the office. I also take time to have a good marriage to my great husband.”

So Fairy Tale Theater remains the unique Brown County jewel that it is. Cecile Beavin can be contacted at (812) 988-6854.