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Theater tour encourages interest in arts amongst middle schoolers

BY CLAIRE DIETZ | APRIL 23, 2015 5:00 AM

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With arts programs slowly being stripped from schools, Riverside Theater hopes to bring live theater and classic literature back into schools with its Will Power Tour. 

At 5:30 p.m. today, Riverside Theater, 213 N. Gilbert St., will host a performance by the educational-outreach program, which has visited 11 local middle schools in the past two weeks. Will Power’s small cast will stage a 10-minute snippet from Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac, which provided the groundwork for the 1987 movie Roxanne, starring Steve Martin and Daryl Hannah.

Jody Hovland, the artistic director of Riverside Theater, said the performance, whether performed in the classroom or a formal theater, affects kids in a variety of ways.

“Will Power introduces the classics to youth in a way that is playful and informative, showing how little distance there is between the thoughts and feeling of someone in the 1600s and today,” Hovland said. “Making the work accessible and personal breaks down barriers, invites people in. For some teenagers, it’s a first experience with theater; we hope it makes them want more.”

This is the 15th incarnation of Will Power, which was established by Riverside in 2000. The tour performs for mostly eighth-grade classrooms in the Iowa City, Coralville, and Cedar Rapids area, exposing students to such greats as Shakespeare and Molière, before heading to high schools, as well as introducing the concept of live theater in a informal, interactive environment. 

Ron Clark, an actor and cofounder of Riverside Theater (with Hovland and Bruce Wheaton), said tonight’s show will include a conversation about Rostand’s play and the associated themes of beauty and self-image. Riverside will stage a full production of Cyrano de Bergerac June 19 through July 12.

“I think it would really be a great sneak peek into what the summer is going to be about,” Clark said.

The play is based on the real-life de Bergerac, who was a playwright and satirist born in 1619 and who served in the 30 Years’ War. After being injured in the war, he returned to Paris and became the personality Rostand molded into the protagonist of his magnum opus. 

Clark described the multifaceted personality of de Bergerac as “Shakespeare mixed with the Three Musketeers. He was witty, funny, a tremendous fighter, swordsman, very charismatic, charming, courageous guy who is very beloved except he has this huge nose.”

In addition to presenting audiences with an entertaining show, Clark said Will Power fans kids’ creative flame.

“I’ve been teaching the past three years at Tulsa, and I was really sad when I got there because the state at just hacked away at the arts program until there was nothing,” he said. “Art programs have been completely taken away. So these kids don’t have theater, two aspects of visual art … You go into these schools and talk to these kids, and when it becomes really interactive, they really see a lot of joy, you see a spark in them.”

Steven Marzolf, an actor involved in the tour, said theater offers young people a variety of benefits.

“I think it’s very important to expose middle-school students to theater,” he said. “On a very basic level, theater is incredibly fun, but in addition to that, it is a wonderful way for students to learn self-confidence, collaboration, expressiveness, and discipline. These are all invaluable attributes that they can learn and take with them as they grow and mature into young adults.”


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