When you’re a theatre student, you may dream of making it to the Great White Way. Broadway is, after all, the pinnacle of the theatre industry with 41 theatres featuring the very best of the performing arts. For Theatre Troupe 287 at Leavenworth High School in Kansas, a bit of that Broadway dream came true in their production of Little Women.

The musical was directed by acclaimed actor/director/producer Jana Robbins, who produced Little Women on Broadway in 2005. That production starred Sutton Foster, who earned a Tony Award nomination for her role as Jo March. “Jana was incredible and changed our students’ lives. She was positive, professional and practically perfect in every way,” says Leavenworth High School theatre director Jennifer Morgan Beuchat

Jennifer met Jana years ago when Jennifer’s daughter was performing in a production of Little Women that Jana was directing. For years, Jennifer had hoped to bring a Broadway professional to Leavenworth High School to work with the students. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and shut down Broadway.  Three of the shows that Jana produced were forced to close. Jennifer took the opportunity and reached out to Jana with an invitation to direct Little Women.

Jana says, “I was thrilled to direct the show at Leavenworth as I have family in Kansas City. So, not only would I have the pleasure of directing the show and working with students again — which I love — I would also have the opportunity to stay with my family in the process.”

Last-Minute Pivot

The original plan for Theatre Troupe 287’s Little Women was to create an entirely virtual show. The story would unfold through Zoom, and auditions, call-backs, live readings, and rehearsals would take place online.

Jennifer explains, “Jana’s original plan was to stage it with each student in a Zoom-type square passing props between them — rather magical. Because we couldn’t meet in person on campus, we procured an off-campus site to Zoom with Jana so students could interact with each other in person while Jana directed.”

“We were being innovative; dropping in green screen backdrops for each location and finding ways to shoot the show that were new and exciting for all of us,” says Jana. She adds that because of this approach, rehearsals took place over a longer period, giving students time to really grow into their character roles.

Then, just 10 days before filming, the Leavenworth High School Administration informed Jennifer that the show needed to be filmed in person and on stage. Actors needed to wear masks and maintain social distancing. With only seven rehearsals left, Jana needed to direct and stage the show all over again. The School Administration did not agree with the original vision of the production, and thus mandated the format for its final filming and virtual presentation.

“Although blocking was similar to what was planned in the Zoom squares, the cast had to learn a lot of new blocking — including, of course, their entrances and exits, etc. — and film this new version of the show on stage in less than one week. These students were committed and gave it everything they had. And they succeeded!”

Little Women was released virtually on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021.

A Successful Run

When asked about working on this production of Little Women, Jana says, “The gifts were delivered to me on a daily basis: feeling the love of theatre that we all share, watching the students reach for their dreams, knowing that I could help them believe in themselves and their abilities, and now knowing that so many of them are going on to study acting in college and pursue a career in the theatre — the theatre that I have devoted my life to… I couldn’t feel more joy.”

Jennifer expresses similar feelings: “I got to see the grit and determination of Jana and the students. I also got to see how she was able to bring out the best of each student. I got to see how theatre changed my students’ lives.”

Following the troupe’s performances, Jana got to finally meet the students in person when she flew to Kansas to visit family for her birthday. The cast and crew met for a private celebration where the students even sang her happy birthday. 

“Jana showed the students what a true class act is and that you can be successful while being kind,” Jennifer says. She adds, “We are blessed.”

Pearls of Wisdom for Thespians

From Jana Robbins:
● You get out of something what you put into it. So, the more you commit to the process and the harder you work, the more you’ll learn.
● Show up on time, learn your lines, and practice on your own.
● Theatre is live. So live in the moment.

From Jennifer Morgan Beauchat:
● Listen and learn.
● Arrive early, stay late, be off-book first, say thank you.
● Embrace and celebrate the joy of storytelling and learning how to be the best of yourself. 

Natalie Clare is a Cincinnati-based writer who composes original content for brands, organizations, and publications. As a storyteller, she writes fiction and nonfiction, and she directs and produces works of film. Visit her at nataliecwrites.com.

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