Middle school’s rendition of ‘Matilda’ comes to life this weekend
When Steamboat Springs Middle School band director James Knapp saw a production of “Matilda” performed on Broadway, he knew he wanted to bring a version of it to town.
“It’s just such a fun show with really great subject matter for kids at this age,” he said. “It’s funny for kids, but there is also a lot of irony and humor for adults, as well.”
Now, students at the middle school will present their version of “Matilda” on both Friday and Saturday this weekend.
Based on the beloved book by Roald Dahl, the story centers around Matilda Wormwood, a gifted and brilliant child who loves to read. Matilda comes from a difficult family, and when she finally gets to go to school, she and her classmates have to reckon with their terrifying teacher, Miss Trunchbull.
“I think it’s a story about what it means to grow up,” said director Vivienne Luthin. “It’s a lovely story of a person becoming an adult.”
Luthin, who also works with the local nonprofit Piknik Theatre, has been working with middle school students for the past six weeks in an after-school theater program. The group changed the show slightly; while typically it takes place at Matilda’s house, her school and the library, for this production, the entire set is the classroom.
Students file in as the school bell is ringing, and when they realize that Miss Trunchbull isn’t showing up that day, they act out stories about her, with one student dressing up as her. When the story of Matilda’s parents is told, students dress up as them, as well.
“I think there’s something really fun about the idea of kids playing adults,” Luthin said. “It involves a lot of imagination work, storytelling and play, which is personally my favorite kind of theater.”
To differentiate scenes, desks are moved around, and lighting is changed. The 18 student actors are on stage for the whole performance, and middle school band members will double as tech support, running sound and lighting.
“Performing arts is a complete experience,” Knapp said. “It combines math, science, literature, music, and you’re using all aspects of those curriculums, combining them into a performance. In every aspect of this performance, the students are utilizing something that they’re learning every day in school and putting it together in a creative way.”
Since the start of the school year, Luthin has been working with these middle school students on set design, costumes, acting techniques and more. Any student was welcome to attend the after-school program, and they auditioned for their role and then rehearsed three days a week.
Earlier this week, they presented the show to their peers, which Luthin described as a “huge accomplishment” for them.
“There is something really lovely about telling a story and sharing it with peers,” she said. “They are sharing a part of themselves in a way that they might not always share, and it’s equally important and impactful for their peers to see them do that.”
Luthin has worked with students at the Steamboat Montessori School, as well as Yampa Valley High School students. And while after this production, she will leave the valley for a few months and hopes to return with the mission to continue to bring the arts to Steamboat students.
“This group is incredibly driven and really smart,” she said. “I ask more and more of them all the time, and they are flexible and strong leaders. They have taken full ownership of the material, and their enthusiasm for theater is completely ignited.”
Sophie Dingle is a contributing writer for the Steamboat Pilot & Today. She can be reached through the editor.
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