By Jeff Clemetson | Editor
Since the middle of October, elementary schools throughout East County have been invaded by “Martians!” –– an original performance for children by Grossmont College Theatre Arts Department’s Traveling Troupe.
Now in its 19th year, the Traveling Troupe is a special program that brings fun and educational plays to elementary schools in the fall and high schools in the spring. This fall’s production of “Martians!” is based off of a book by Meghan McCarthy called “Aliens Are Coming!” which tells the story of Orson Welles’ 1938 Halloween night radio broadcast of “War of the Worlds.”
“Martians!” was written and directed by Grossmont Theatre Arts professor Jerry Hager who said he “wanted to do something involving a radio show” after working on a recent SDSU production about a radio show. Because the fall tour program for elementary schools is always accompanied with a book, Hager searched until he found “Aliens Are Coming!” and knew he had the right material for a fun and educational performance.
“We use threads of the book in our plays so when children read the book they say, ‘oh yeah, I remember that from the show.’”
The educational experience isn’t just for the elementary students, the student performers from Grossmont College get a lot out of the program as well. “Young actors need to be taught the uniqueness of a touring show,” said Hager, explaining most high school or college theater productions are around eight performances over a couple of weeks, but the Traveling Troupe shows are around 30 performances over several weeks.
“It looks good on a resume and it’s a fantastic experience,” he said.
“Martians” is Jillian Jones’ second trip with Grossmont College’s Traveling Troupe. Last year she said she toured with the group’s high school tour called “Inside the Actor’s Process.”
Elementary school students and high school students bring different challenges but it is experience that she hopes will make her a better performer. “The show teaches us to work in any circumstance,” she said, adding that even the stages are sometimes a challenge because they are rarely the same shape or size. “We have a ‘yes we can’ attitude and we make the best of what we have to work with,” she said.
The Traveling Troupe has been to Vista La Mesa Academy for the last five years, said Assistant Principal Laurel Dehnel. “Martians!” was performed at Vista on Nov. 10.
“These performances are prioritized to bring to the school, given our experience with them,” she said. Prior performances at Vista included a mime show and historical plays.
The elementary school tour is sponsored by the Rice Family Foundation and the performances cost the school $200 for two assemblies and, according to Dehnel, are well worth it. “This is an incredible outreach program and it costs money,” she said, adding that she likes to encourage people to donate to the arts programs at Grossmont College so that these types of performances will continue. Dehnel said that her students get a lot from the performances because they get to be inspired by college students and, because Vista is a STEM school, exposure to theater is especially rewarding.
The feeling is mutual for the performers.
“The kids are amazing,” said Jones. “Seeing them smile and laugh is just so rewarding to me.”
If your child’s school wasn’t visited by “Martians!” this fall, or if it was and you want to experience the show with them yourself, the Grossmont College Stagehouse Theatre will be presenting performances on Dec. 4 and 5 at 7:30 p.m. and a matinee on Dec. 5 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the Stagehouse box office, online at bit.ly/1RM7sYK or by calling 619-644-7234.
––Write to Jeff Clemetson at email@example.com