Northgate HS drama students perform "Little Women" for elementary and middle school students
Months after hatching a plan to bring Northgate HS live theater to elementary and middle school students, Northgate HS Drama Artistic Director John Litten and a small cast of drama student staged three back-to-back performances of "Little Women" over three days - Tuesday through Thursday, Jan. 23-25 - sharing their joy of acting with younger students. Their goal was to spark an interest in high school drama while students are still young. Based on the enthusiastic response the show received from students, teachers and administrators, Litten and the Northgate cast achieved their goal. They performed the full-length play for Ayers and Woodside elementary students and teachers in Northgate's Little Theater on Tuesday, then took a "traveling show" on the road to Foothill Middle School and Walnut Acres Elementary on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. Litten hopes to expand the program to more schools next year, possibly with help from Prop. 28 arts funding for travel and other expenses.
Before the first show, Litten told the 4th and 5th-grade audience to become engaged in what they were seeing on stage and to feel free to react by clapping, laughing or expressing themselves in other ways. The audience did not hold back. Students laughed at funny lines, gasped when Amy burned Jo's book in a fire, and erupted with surprised "oohs" when Jo pushed Amy, and later when Jo rejected a marriage proposal from Laurie. But the audience grew completely still and silent when Jo cried out in anguish after her beloved sister Beth died. At the end of the play, the audience cheered and applauded, then peppered the cast with so many questions that Litten had to end the Q&A while hands were still raised so the elementary students could head back to their schools.
Ayers Elementary teacher Carlene Tamichi and Woodside Elementary teacher Lori Bergman said the field trip to see a live performance in a real theater was very special for their students, including some who had never seen live theater before. "They were invested in the performance," said Tamichi, who brought 29 4th-graders plus chaperones to the show, adding that some students have older siblings in Northgate's drama program. Lily Carroll, whose sister Maryolla Carroll participates in drama at Northgate, said she wants to follow in her sister's footsteps when she is in high school.
The traveling shows were also a success, said Foothill MS Drama teacher Erica Davis and Walnut Acres Elementary Principal Lauren Ashton. Davis said the Northgate students performed in her classroom, then told her students - who will attend Northgate - what the drama program there is like and how to squeeze drama into their class schedules all four years. "They talked about the different types of classes they offer," Davis said, adding that some of her students were interested in back stage classes and that she would love to expose them to Improv. Northgate student Bryn Sullivan told the middle school students that drama has made her more outgoing and taught her many invaluable skills that will help her throughout her life. Ashton said the Walnut Acres 5th-graders "loved it." Litten told them he is a Walnut Acres alum, "so he was able to ge the kids really excited" by saying he was taught by the same teacher who now runs the after-school musical theater program. "The kids were thrilled," she said, adding in a tweet: "I love that our students can see what wonderful opportunities they are going to have at their future high school! Great job!"
Litten said he is incredibly proud of his Drama II students. "They answered the call and did something much bigger and more impactful than they ever thought they could," he said, adding that theater helps bring people together. "I want all MDUSD students to know there is a place in our district which is considered Our House. Whatever I can do to help produce and facilitate student engagement with the performing arts, I will do. For me, it starts by putting up a show and bringing our students to the theatre."
A short video reel highlighting the performance is here.
- Ayers Elementary
- Foothill MS
- Northgate HS
- Walnut Acres Elementary
- Woodside Elementary