“Once you get a little bit of Lumina, you can’t stop,” said Alex Monsell of Takoma Park.
Monsell, 18, is a rising sophomore studying theater at Temple University. But this summer, he’s reconnecting with other graduates of Silver Spring’s Lumina Studio Theatre to direct “The Lion in Winter,” the first play from Raye Players, named for Lumina founder the late Jillian Raye.
“She was a mentor for all of us when we were growing up,” said Claire Koenig, who joins fellow 2012 Lumina graduates Monsell and Nick Coffey to direct the inaugural Raye Players production. The show opens Friday at Joe’s Movement Emporium in Mt. Rainier.
Lumina Studio Theatre performs at Round House Theatre in downtown Silver Spring and offers young actors of varying experience the opportunity to perform Shakespeare and other classics, along with modern plays. Lumina is divided into six rehearsal groups based on age and experience.
Monsell, Koenig and Coffey all started at Lumina in elementary school. The 2012 graduates of Montgomery Blair High School traveled to New York City last summer for Lumina’s production of “Girls Who Think They’re Hot.” The show was a “Pick of the Fringe” at the 2012 Washington Fringe Festival before it was revived off Broadway last August.
“We were all in New York helping out and decided we all really wanted to come together again,” Coffey said.
“We decided that we wanted to work together even after our last show,” Koenig added.
Though they were headed in different directions — Coffey is studying psychology at DePaul University and Koenig will attend the National Theatre Institute in Connecticut in the fall — the three decided they would reunite this summer to produce a show.
“We all liked ‘The Lion in Winter,’” Coffey said.
Written in 1966 by James Goldman,“The Lion in Winter” is a fictional account of the personal and political conflicts of Henry II of England, his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, their children and guests during one Christmas in the 12th century.
“Contextually, the play really fits what we’re doing,” Monsell said.
“All of the characters have strong relationships which is really the best way to work with people around you,” Coffey added. “You have to build relationships.”
At its heart, the Raye Players are all about relationships. The show’s seven cast members — including Koenig, Monsell and Coffey, who will act as well as direct — know each other well, thanks to years of collaborating with one another in Lumina rehearsal groups and summer camps.
“It’s very collaborative,” Monsell said. “Everybody feels very comfortable saying, ‘Oh, you can try this or you can try that.’”
But for Coffey, the group’s closeness and familiarity has caused some challenges with directing. The show’s lead, Michael Novello, is a 2005 graduate of Lumina Theatre. Over the past several years, he’s returned to the studio to perform in the company’s Theatre Group shows, featuring mainly adults. Novello, 26, was also Coffey’s camp counselor.
“One thing I had to work on was directing people who were much older than me,” Coffey said. “Mike was my counselor when I was younger and I always looked up to him. And now we’re kind of in a different place. It’s hard for me to criticize him because I’ve always looked up to him.”
But Koenig said the whole idea behind the alumni group is to reunite actors who all have Lumina training in common, no matter how old they are.
“We want to reach out to older alumni and people who are just graduating and we’re hoping it’ll expand,” she said. “We can’t just do it this one year.”
The directors hope the group helps Lumina to expand in other ways, too. They said presenting “The Lion in Winter” at Joe’s in the up and coming Gateway Arts District will hopefully attract artists from other areas, too.
“Hopefully a lot of local theater people will come and see what it’s about,” Monsell said. “Hopefully that will grow and we’ll have a working relationship with Joe’s. The more we expand, the more people can see us. The more new audience members we have, the more [students] we’ll get.”