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Northgate HS Drama students to share joy of acting with MDUSD 4th-8th graders in January

Northgate HS Drama students to share joy of acting with MDUSD 4th-8th graders in January

As the Mt. Diablo Unified School District prepares to expand its arts education with Proposition 28 funding that starts arriving next spring, Northgate High School's Drama students are getting a head start by offering free performances of "Little Women" to 4th-8th graders in January. Their idea is to inspire a love of acting in elementary and middle school students, creating a pipeline for high school drama programs throughout the District.

Northgate HS Drama Artistic Director John Litten is excited to provide his students with the opportunity to spark an interest in drama among younger students, while also challenging them to perform two different versions of "Little Women." On Tuesday, Jan. 23 from 10:30 a.m. to 12 noon, the cast will perform the same full-length version of the play that has wowed audiences at Northgate HS over the past few weeks, followed by a short workshop with time for Q&A from the student audience. They can accommodate up to 250 audience members in their Little Theater on a first-come, first-served basis by request from MDUSD teachers or administrators. 

Then on Jan. 24 and Jan. 25, a small cast is offering "traveling shows" that will visit MDUSD schools and perform a 45-minute version of the play in a classroom or multi-use room. The cast has rehearsed this version in a smaller space with a minimal set so they won't need as much room as they do when they perform on their theater stage. "It's a good reminder that you can take away all the bells and whistles of a production, but you can't take away the heart," said Kayden Ives, 15, who plays Laurie, the boy who lives next door to the four sisters in the play. These touring performances will also be followed by short workshops and are also available on a first-come, first-served basis by request from MDUSD teachers or administrators.

"We had a glorious run!" Litten said. "I was totally blown away by all the talent on stage. We are going to provide an awesome show." And this is only the beginning. Litten hopes to connect with English teachers throughout the District to find out what literature they would like to see brought to life on a stage. He plans to provide schools and teachers who request traveling shows with a questionnaire asking for suggestions. "Based on that data, I can start to create scripts that are customized for MDUSD schools and classrooms," Litten said. "It will open a whole new platform for us while advocating for the Performing Arts."

Litten's Drama students are thrilled to share their passion for acting and theater with younger students and are eager to see how MDUSD will use its new arts funding to expand performing arts. Northgate HS is the only District school with a theater, which includes lighting and sound equipment that students operate. They said the equipment could use an upgrade to prepare students who want to pursue theater arts in college with opportunities onstage, in the production crew and as student directors. "I feel so lucky to be in this District," said Bryn Sullivan, a 17-year-old senior who plays Old Ms. Laurence. "We don't just act. We light our own shows. We do our own makeup and costume design." Upgrades to the sound and lighting would benefit everyone who uses the theater, including band, choir and dance students, as well as administrators and others who use it for meetings, cast members said. 

But most of all, they want to share their personal stories with younger students. Most got their start in elementary or middle school plays and knew they were hooked. And although Little Women is set in the 1800s, they believe younger students will still be identify with its themes involving siblings, friendships and family dynamics. They said they draw on their own emotions to interpret the characters they play, which brings a timeless quality to the play. And after years of performing and rehearsing together, they form special bonds, said Alex Leahy, a 16-year-old sophomore who plays Amy in the play. "It's the feeling of having a close-knit family," she said. And when the show ends, they share a feeling of triumph, they said.

Little Women cast
  • Northgate HS
  • Performing Arts
  • drama