Thespians bring mermaids, dragons, bunnies to life

The original cover art for “The Narwhal, the Mermaid, and the Unicorn” from second-grader Mirielle.

The original cover art for “The Narwhal, the Mermaid, and the Unicorn” from second-grader Mirielle.

Jameson Oates, News Editor

Mermaids. Warrior princesses. Bunny sidekicks. Deep sea unicorns. Slaying dragons with rap lyrics. Creativity knows no limits when elementary students team up with high schoolers to produce and dramatize irresistibly wacky stories.

Second-grader Mirielle had an epic tale to tell about a mermaid, a unicorn and a narwhal. It includes pool dance parties and tattoo artistry. FUHS theater students are going to bring Mirielle’s story to life.

Michael Despars’s Theater 2 class collaborated with students from Orangethorpe Elementary this month to convert the children’s collection of short fantastical stories to theater productions ranging from puppet shows to rap battles.

Orangethorpe teacher Pam Keller has invited the theater students to join her class’s Zoom on Thursday to have the high schoolers share their productions.

Puppets used for “The Narwhal, the Mermaid, and the Unicorn.” One student voiced and controlled each character. Adam Nguyen voiced the Narwhal, Lily McWatters voiced the Mermaid, and Nolan Shirk voiced the Unicorn.

Keller says she is thrilled about the project.

“They love it, and they’re so excited,” Keller said. “Since we’re already Zooming together that day, Fullerton’s students are going to join us so we can all watch.”

Keller is especially interested in what Fullerton’s interpretations of the short stories will be.

“It’ll be fun to see my student’s reactions to seeing their stories being put on the big stage,” she said. “My students did write dorky, crazy stories because they’re little. They don’t always make sense, which makes me wonder how they’re going to be adapted.”

Despars is also enthusiastic about the collaboration.

“We’ve been meeting with local theater teachers recently to help them through distance learning, and one of the teachers brought up a question about how we’re going to connect to our elementary and middle schools since we can’t invite them in to see our shows,” he said. 

“The idea came up to have elementary students write up stories and have older students dramatize them,” Despars said. “I reached out to Pam Keller and asked her if her students were writing anything. They were.” 

Despars asked Keller for her students’ best work.

Mirielle’s original artwork of the Unicorn swimming.

“She was super excited for the whole idea,” he said. “As soon as we selected our favorite stories, we got to work turning them into plays.”

Despars feels organizing this project has been especially challenging, in the best possible way.

“An elementary student isn’t about detail. They’re about whatever they’re thinking of in the moment. Some of the stuff we received I call ‘bones’,” Despars said. “These are the ‘bones’ of the story and our job as artists is to put the meat on it.”

“The challenge is how do we take what’s in this kid’s head out of their writing and add things to it without taking away from its original intent.”

It’s also been a unique experience for high school students.

Sophomore Donny Cannady says he’s enjoying every bit of it no matter the difficulty.

“I’m super excited because I know if I was in second grade I would be excited to do this,” Cannady said. “It’s been fun but also difficult because these stories are really, really weird. That only makes it more enjoyable to me.”

Sophomore Sophia Galvan feels especially connected to this project.

Sophia Galvan reads from her hand-decorated storybook of “The Narwhal, the Mermaid, and the Unicorn”.

“I love working with kids so I knew this was going to be fun,” Galvan said. “Our last theater project was for competition, so we had to take it really seriously. It was stressful because we had to do it all over Zoom. But this was something I knew I could just have fun with.”

Galvan worked hard to create hand-made props for her chosen short story to provide a memorable experience for the elementary students.

“For the kids, I want them to enjoy it. I want them to look forward to this,” Galvan said.

Despars and the Fullerton theater students are working to release a showcase to the public featuring the dramatized stories sometime in January. 

Depending on how things play out next semester, it’s possible Fullerton and Orangethorpe will continue to collaborate on theater-related projects in the future.

“I think this is a fabulous idea,” Pam Keller said. “I’d be more than happy to do it again.”

The Little Machine cover art by Isabelle Guardia.
Cover art for Mirielle’s story drawn by Sophia Galvan.