Fort Wayne Youtheatre Brings Louisa May Alcott to Life in Young Heroes Production
Sophia Bell as Louisa May Alcott
I’ve known Gregory Stieber for quite awhile, and in those years I’ve interviewed him many times. Chief among those conversations were the plays he was writing and directing for Fort Wayne Youtheatre’s Young Heroes of Conscience Series as well as his brilliant adaptation of James & the Giant Peach, also for Youtheatre. I’d reached a point with him that apparently I felt comfortable asking him to do things for me because shortly after seeing his 2020 Young Heroes of Conscience offering, Martin Luther King, Jr., I fired off a text asking if he took requests. Having recently seen the new Greta Gerwig version of Little Women, I had a strong need to see a play about Louisa May Alcott.
As far as I was concerned, my work was done. If he said yes, I got my way. If he didn’t…oh well, I tried. Little did I expect him to say yes – provided I collaborate with him on the project. Gulp. I’d never done any playwrighting although I’d long considered a different project but had no idea where to start and didn’t trust my own ability to pull it off. I realized that working with Gregory would give me that nudge, allowing me to learn from someone I respected enormously.
Then, just weeks later, the lockdown. But I saw that as an opportunity to do what I do best – throw a bunch of money at Amazon to benefit my obsession du jour. (And admit it, throwing money at Amazon was pretty much what everyone did during those strange weeks.) I already owned a couple of Alcott biographies as well as a few of her novels, but I dug a bit deeper and accumulated a nice little pile that spent the entirety of Pandemic 2020 next to my bed. The plan was to stage what was to be called “Making Little Women: Louisa May Alcott” in the early part of 2022, and that felt like a manageable goal. As Gregory and I met and talked through 2021, my confidence grew quickly. Greg has an uncanny knack for teaching while making you feel like you’re so smart. And I felt smart! Granted, this was hardly a new topic for me, but I found myself thinking things I hadn’t imagined, largely as the result of something he said. As someone who typically writes alone at a computer, I found the process of bouncing ideas off of someone else, responding to someone else’s idea and coming up with my own (and vice versa) incredibly liberating. The more we wrote, the more excited I got.
I’ll be honest…there were a few times I wondered if my suggestion of Louisa (she and I are on a first name basis now) was worthy. Gregory has tackled some hefty material in Young Heroes. Ryan White. Ruby Bridges. Anne Frank. Helen Keller. Harriet Tubman. MLK. What was I thinking suggesting she was on par with those icons of social justice? Well, let me tell you, whatever moved me to suggest Louisa in the first place was way smarter than I was when I questioned it. The script which will be produced this coming weekend, on the First Presbyterian Theater stage, is gorgeous, and I am so proud of the work that Gregory and I have done.
I’ve learned something else, too. Beginning with auditions in mid-January and continuing through these last five weeks of rehearsals, I have seen how incredibly talented and generous the young people in Fort Wayne’s busy theatre community are. Those who attend plays regularly at our thriving community theatre stages may not take time to consider how passionate the performers have to be to spend the hours they do putting together these shows. They do shows for the love of the art because they aren’t paid for their efforts. It’s completely a volunteer endeavor, and all of these people have plenty on their plates. School, jobs, families, commitments – fitting in daily rehearsals to those busy schedules takes some effort. Doing so when you’re somewhere between eight and 18 years of age (and perhaps live outside of Fort Wayne and Allen County limits) requires buy in from an entire family. But it happens all the time, and for that we should all be grateful.
And let me tell you, this collection of actors bringing the work of Louisa May Alcott to life is remarkable. The abilities of these young people, and the realization that they will only get better as they age and develop, is mind boggling. Many of the actors you’ll see are or have been students of Fort Wayne Youtheatre. For my own granddaughter Lucie, currently in her fifth year as a Youtheatre student, this marks her first production, and I’m amazed at her own growth as I watch her take direction from Greg, who has such a knack for bringing the best out of his young cast. It’s been a treat to share this experience with Lucie, and as I’ve said numerous times, I love that she gets to see her Gaga do something other than fetch her snacks and make her favorite sandwich.
Although known primarily for writing Little Women, which in and of itself would have earned her a place in the canon, Louisa May Alcott is much more than one book. And I hope that those of you who see our final product (March 4-6) will come away with that same realization. As for me, I’m not done with playwrighting, and, having so enjoyed our collaboration, I’ve recruited Greg to work with me on my long anticipated adaptation of…well, you’ll find out someday!
We’d love to see you at First Pres for our weekend run! To purchase tickets, visit artstix.org.