I recently had the privilege of working with the Hot Springs Thespian Troupe No. 78 for their Spring 2022 production of Percy Jackson: Lightning Thief. Ms Kaitlin Potts, theater teacher at Hot Springs Junior Academy, directed a wonderful student cast and crew. I came to help with the show, but the music and the message ended up helping me.
Lightning Thief challenges the notion of challenges. Our hero Percy Jackson, not exactly on the honor roll, deals with dyslexia and A.D.D. and, kicked out of six schools in six years, doesn’t really fit in anywhere. But, as sung beautifully by the talented Brianna Burnell, “Strong” teaches us that the “things that make us different are the very things that make us strong.” Our respective idiosyncrasies give us unique insight and perspective. Like the Camp Half-Blood residents, our differences work together to achieve the ultimate victory. So own your odd. Work your quirk. The challenges we face and overcome add value and substance to our lives and the lives of those around us.
The story also encourages us to forgive and extend grace. As we learn in “The Campfire Song,” Camp Half-Blood serves as the dumping ground for the the Greek gods’ seemingly forgotten demigod offspring. The villain in the story blames their father for the tragedies that have befallen them and plots bitter revenge. Our hero, on the other hand, discovers that, while parents don’t always get things right, they try their best. Through divine intervention, Percy gets reunited with both his parents, an opportunity not afforded everyone. Whether we had one or both parents in the home or a friend, family member, teacher or even stranger stepped in, someone loved us.
The gods in the story, though often physically and emotionally unavailable, each gives their child a gift. The goddess Demeter gives her daughter Katie Gardner a fern in a jar, the goddess Athena gives Annabeth an invisibility cloak, and Percy’s father gives him something weird that ends up coming in handy later. Each of us receives something from our parents, even if in a cautionary way. If we blame our parents for their failures, we run the risk of harboring anger and resentment, but if we appreciate what they’ve given us, we can achieve healing and restoration.
The gods give perhaps the best gift in staying out of their children’s way. In losing his family, friends, and the safety net of school, Percy ultimately finds himself. What the half-bloods consider abandonment later emerges as empowerment.
The musical also admonishes us to make decisions. In “Lost in the Woods,” our hero, granted a coveted quest, must lead his friends through the treacherous woods of New Jersey. No cell service, GPS, or Uber, Percy must rely on his instincts. At one point or another, we all suffer from analysis paralysis. Leadership requires action. This reminds me of the four lepers at the gate of Samaria (2 Kings 7). If we do something, it may fail spectacularly or it may turn out better than we could have ever imagined, but doing nothing guarantees failure. Do something.
If you never search, you won't find. If you never ask, you'll never receive. It might not be as bad as it seems. How will you know? - Kim Burrell, "How Will You Know?"
Lightning Thief features several laughable and lovable supporting characters: Mr. Brunner, the thoughtful thoroughbred; Ms. Dodds, the sinister substitute; and Mr. D the crotchety camp counselor eternally bested by his love of wine and wood nymphs. The musical encompasses a variety of genres, from Grunge Rock (“Put You in Your Place”), to Hillbilly (“Drive”), to Disco (“D.O.A.”).
This wonderful experience has converted me to a complete Percy Jackson devotee. I look forward to reading the books, watching the movies, and of course playing the Lightning Thief soundtrack on repeat.
tl;dr Embrace your uniqueness, don’t harbor bitterness, and face your fears. In other words, “Bring on the Monsters!”
Please support the Hot Springs Thespian Troupe No. 78.