Washougal 17-year-old isn’t afraid of the spotlight

Teen has 2 roles in ‘Jasper in Deadland’ in Portland

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian Arts & Features Reporter



If You Go

What: “Jasper in Deadland” by Hunter Foster and Ryan Scott Oliver; directed by Dani Baldwin. Recommended for ages 13 and up

When: 7 p.m. Oct. 27-28, Nov. 3-4, Nov. 9-11; and 2 p.m. Oct. 29, Nov. 5 and 12.

Where: Young Professionals Studio Theater, 1939 N.E. Sandy Blvd., Portland

Cost: $12 advance, $15 at the door.

Information: www.octc.org

Tirza Meuljic wouldn’t surrender the spotlight. The ambitious young performer just stood there soaking up dance-recital applause, certain that her future was set.

She was 3 years old. “I wouldn’t leave the stage. It’s just in me,” she said.

Now 17, the Washougal resident has appeared on community theater stages all over Clark County, and last year graduated to the Young Professionals Company at Oregon Children’s Theater. That’s a group of advanced theater students, ages 14 and older, who pursue college-level training, mentorships and peer support as they perform in Portland.

A committee of these young thespians reads possible scripts and selects what they want to do, Meuljic said; last year the group even worked with playwright Matthew B. Zrebski while he wrote “Chrysalis,” a surreal, “otherworldly” play about transformation and last chances.

“It was an incredible experience” to play a teenager reliving traumatic childhood memories and coming out as bi-gendered, Meuljic said.

Starting tonight, Meuljic will enjoy the equally surreal experience of playing two different characters in “Jasper in Deadland,” a pop-rock musical that overlays the tough life of a typical teenager atop ancient Greek mythology — specifically, the legend of Orpheus trying, and failing, to rescue Eurydice from the underworld.

“It takes place in the underworld but it’s still relatable to what people go through,” she said. “Like being in love and even figuring out what love is. Through the entire show Jasper is looking for his best friend, Agnes,” because she’s his cherished confidante and “most important person,” Meuljic said.

“It’s a metaphor for life,” she said. “When you go through all these troubles, what you need most are the people who care about you.”

Ways to move

One of Meujlic’s roles is Hathaway, assistant to the keeper of the underworld river Lethe; the other is Eurydice, heroine of that original myth, who shows up to warn Jasper, in song, that “he’s got to keep fighting. He’s got to keep going. He can’t give up.”

They’re totally different people with totally different behaviors, Meuljic said. Hathaway is a nervous girly-girl; Eurydice is calm, commanding and wisened by tragedy.

“The most challenging thing has been finding a way to make each character distinct,” Meuljic said. “It’s been a learning experience.”

The many supporting actors in “Jasper in Deadland” all play multiple roles, Meuljic said; director Dani Baldwin “took us through these exercises where we found different walks and worked on which part of our bodies to lead with. The physical aspect really gets you into finding different voices and different ways to think and move and feel,” she said.

Meuljic, a Running Start student at Clark College, hopes to attend a four-year college or conservatory and emerge with a degree in musical theater.

This show also stars Oregon Children’s Theater veteran Clayton Lukens of Camas — who was featured in a Columbian story earlier this year — in multiple supporting roles.