Elementary school writers see stories come to life

Sophomore Karisma Beltran performed in Skies The Limit: Stories from Orangethorpe in the Little Theater on Dec. 1 and Dec. 2. The eight vignettes were based on stories written by elementary school children.

Photo by Anette Araiza

Sophomore Karisma Beltran performed in Skies The Limit: Stories from Orangethorpe in the Little Theater on Dec. 1 and Dec. 2. The eight vignettes were based on stories written by elementary school children.

Sophia Galvan and Anette Araiza

Pam Keller’s first, second and third grade students are just learning how to write. But what the Orangethorpe elementary school children lack in experience, they make up for in enthusiasm.

Students from Michael Despars’s advanced theater classes were able to take eight stories written by Keller’s students and transform them into a lively show of scenes ranging from a cookie mystery to a dancing spider dragon. 

The FUHS students performed a matinee of Skies The Limit: Stories from Orangethorpe on Dec. 1 when Keller’s students visited the FUHS campus. Encore shows were performed in the evening on Dec. 1 and Dec. 2 in the Little Theater.

When the children arrived at the FUHS campus on Dec. 1 to watch their creations go from page to stage, they also learned theater etiquette, played improv games, and ate lunch with the high school students who produced their stories.

For many of the children, it was their first time witnessing live theater.

The Theater Production class worked for three weeks to edit, direct, costume and set each of the eight stories. The high school students were in charge of creating their own costumes, props and set pieces. The majority of the props used in each scene were handmade or brought from students’ homes. For the scene “The Boat,” written by Orangethorpe student Matthew and directed by Ava Carlson, Charlotte Krammer, and Jeremy Taboada, the cast traced cutouts of the student’s actual boat drawing from the story onto cardboard to make larger-scale versions of the storybook page.

Sophomore Donny Cannady was affectionately mobbed by elementary school children during an improv game on Dec. 1 in the library. (Photo courtesy of Connor Udhus)

Execution of projections, lighting and sound elements were done by four volunteers; junior Janae Pease as house manager, junior Lily McWatters as soundboard operator, senior David Block as lighting designer, and senior Savannah Worrell as stage manager. Freshman Cynthia Montiel-Cruz volunteered to be a technical director and executed over 50 different projections, as well as coordinated the actors with the technical booth.

FUHS’s Technical Theater class spent two weeks analyzing the student-written scripts for sound cues, lighting cues, or set changes and then designed the lighting and sound themselves.

Before the students from Orangethorpe watched the production, they met the high schoolers in the Library to get to know the actors they were about to watch. Once in the Little Theater, teacher Michael Despars briefed the kids on how to behave in a theater. The show, as a youth theater production, hinged upon audience interaction. Scenes like “Link Defeats the Triceratops” by Cooper and directed by Sydney Parker, Allison Duck, Renn West and Jojo Fares contained multiple endings that the audience voted on. Juniors Logan Atkinson, Ryder Tucker, and Donny Cannady with sophomore Avery Hung even wrote a musical number for student Sincere’s “The Spider Dragon.”

After watching the short production and asking the cast questions about the process, students and high schoolers ate lunch together and bonded. Finally, before leaving the field trip, FUHS actors led all-inclusive and interactive improv games.

Actor and junior Nolan Shirk said it was the most fun when all of the adults and parents participated. “We tried to embody that silly, over-the-top childish humor and bring out that feeling in the audience, so the more they interacted the better.”

During the closing night, Donny Cannady’s keyboard began to cut out; instead of stopping the show, Cannady improvised and joined the actors center stage for the final chorus.

“The goal of this project was to take these kids’ stories and bring them to life,” Cannady said. “Orangethorpe is a lower-income area, and so this is one of the only field trips they’ll get because of COVID. We wanted to make it special for them, and I think we did.”

Click on the slideshow below to see more photos from the event.