Another young hero celebrated by Youtheatre
Little Women author latest to be featured
Although a theater with youth actors, Fort Wayne Youtheatre does not shy away from addressing heavy topics in its Linda Ruffolo Young Heroes of Conscience Series. And its upcoming performance will be no different.
The theater will premier Making Little Women: Louisa May Alcott on Friday, March 4, at First Presbyterian Theater in Fort Wayne. The theater company will host seven shows, including a sensory-friendly performance, at First Presbyterian. Then they will stage a school show the morning of Monday, March 7, at Embassy Theatre.
“In keeping with the tradition of the series, it celebrates the heroism and the groundbreaking effects that a young person from history had on society and the world,” director and co-writer Gregory Stieber said in an interview with Whatzup.
“Past subjects have included Ryan White, Ruby Bridges, Anne Frank,” he said. “Those were more socially justice-based.
“Louisa May Alcott was exceptional as a young woman, as a writer. It was quite unheard of at the time for a woman writer to even write, let alone get published.”
Stieber said Alcott’s upbringing helped to shape her drive to become a poet.
“And she came from quite a pedigree, and her family, of a passion for literature,” he said. “Her father was acquainted and friends with (Ralph Waldo) Emerson and (Henry David) Thoreau. So she had a strong background in being exposed to literature. But also, her father made her very well aware of social injustices, largely the slavery act of the time which was, in the North, sending escaped slaves back to the South to continue their slavery.”
Bringing Story to Modern Day
The director says audiences can expect to learn about Alcott through the lens of a young student in the modern era.
“I was very unaware of how active she was and what a moral compass she had,” Stieber said. “So that’s what we’re presenting. In the background, in a modern setting, the whole thing takes place at an arts academy, where a young woman has been given the assignment of translating Little Women and directing it. Because she’s a young woman in the 21st century, she resents that she has to do Louisa May Alcott because she wants to do something more modern and progressive and has this kind of disdain for the subject matter which she views as trite and irrelevant. But as she starts researching Louisa, we get to know about Louisa’s accomplishments through this young woman’s perspective.”
Historic Series is Born
Stieber says the Young Heroes of Conscience Series came about somewhat unexpectedly.
“It was almost an accident,” he said. “Several years ago, former Youtheatre Executive Director Leslie Hormann asked me to adapt something for the Youtheatre series that year. But her request was something that was literature-based and something that would have an appeal to both a young audience as well as their parents and grandparents. So I adapted the Little House on the Prairie book by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
“But instead of focusing on Laura, I focused on her sister, Mary, that went blind. (For example), what a challenge that was in that time frame, and their financial background, where they were regionally in the country.
“And so out of that, we thought why don’t we keep going every year and look at a different young person from history that went through great challenges but persevered in the end,” he added.
The series has focused on heavier topics, such as social issues, during its run. Stieber said these stories are drawn from the lives of real children who worked for change.
“Given the subject matter of the stories we’re telling, they’re quite often pretty raw, and it’s not the usual fare of a Youtheatre show where you have Snow White or Rumplestiltskin or those classic stories,” he said.
“These are dealing with content that sometimes is volatile and not pretty. But always there’s inspiration drawn from these real kids and what they went through and what they accomplished.”
Stieber said that addressing certain societal issues through a youth production brings a lot of satisfaction to the work he does for the theater.
“So it’s been one of the greatest gifts I’ve had as a theater practitioner is to tell these stories,” he said. “But the formula for them that I came up with is: It’s about young people, for young people, by young people. And so the young people that have been involved in the shows themselves, those actors, have really driven the series. With their passion, their own research, their own respect for people like Ryan White, Ruby Bridges, Helen Keller, Martin Luther King (Jr.).
“The series blossomed in a way that we didn’t anticipate. It’s been received by the community so very well. We received the inaugural mayor’s award for the arts two years ago for the series, and it’s just been very much embraced by the Fort Wayne community.”
‘true Fort Wayne Treasure’
Fort Wayne Youtheatre puts on several productions each year and also offers relevant classes for those aged three to 18.
Beginning with The Steadfast Tin Soldier in 1934, the children’s theater is the fifth-oldest in the country.
“I would say Fort Wayne Youtheatre is a true Fort Wayne treasure,” Stieber said. “It is an organization that is so dedicated to the betterment of young people through performing arts, and Youtheatre has so encouraged going beyond just putting on great productions. I think one of their greatest missions is to instill excellence in a young person, both in their craft but also in their integrity. And it’s just such a pleasure to be a part of it.”