Preview: First Stage Young Company Graduates to Fully Staged Production

by Peggy Sue Dunigan

First Stage Young Company begins a new tradition. The Young Company graduates to its first fully staged production with the world premiere adaptation of Lois Lowry’s Gathering Blue, opening May 10 at Marquette University’s Helfaer Theatre.

Christine Pollnow at the Utah Shakespearean Festival this fall

Eric Cole’s adaptation of Gathering Blue, the second in a trilogy of Lowry’s post apocalyptic novels, comes to life when the award-winning Young Company collaborates with Marquette University’s Theater Department, although the script was developed in partnership with Oregon Children’s Theatre.

By chance or choice, many of the Young Company actors in the show including Christine Pollnow and Erin Stapleton will be graduating from high school and their time at First Stage Theater Academy. Gathering Blue will be their final performances before heading to college in the fall.

Gathering Blue casts Pollnow and Stapleton as the main character, Kira, a teenager who has a visible physical limitation, a person considered unworthy in Lowry's post apocalyptic society. However, Kira’s mother was an accomplished weaver and passed this gift to her daughter before she died. A significant gift, as Kira’s talent becomes more valuable to the primitive culture where she lives, despite her physical imperfections. In an interview with Pollnow, the high school senior said Lowry’s play addresses, “a person can be stronger because of a limitation than others who are considered physically perfect.”
Erin Stapleton and Jordan Horne at a Gathering Blue rehearsal

Gathering Blue requires Pollnow to walk with a twisted leg, supposedly a limitation her character was born with. She discovered when rehearsing that this physical characteristic helped considerably in “getting into Kira’s personality much earlier because this usually happens when you step into the costumes and then are completely immersed in the character.” 

For Pollnow, to christen the first, fully staged Young Company production was definitely worth waiting for, and also incorporates a First Stage outreach to capture teenage audiences. When a teen sees someone on stage, near their age, that individual can be challenged to embrace other new accomplishments or experiences.  At 19, Pollnow sets an inspiring example because after graduation she plans to attend New York University this fall to major in theater. The other actor alternating as Kira and a friend of Pollnow’s, Stapleton, will also be majoring in theater at Webster College.

Another high school senior Jordan Horne was cast as Thomas in the play, a talented carver who befriends Kira. While he connects with Kira as one more orphan in the village, Thomas is expected to restore several lost arts to the village's special celebrations. Horne came away with this perspective on the play that he related, “the arts have fallen by the wayside in Lowry's story, in this setting, because the village fights for food, their survival.”

Horne has performed with First Stage in the Young Company’s Cymbelline, Tom Sawyer, The Thief Lord, and Peter Pan and Wendy. He emphasized how Lowry’s story “glorifies the arts” in this desperately grim culture. The carver, singer and weaver in her story represent all the arts and eventually become valuable to the villagers. Arts that need to flourish and provide soul sustenance similar to the mere necessities in any time period. Horne will also be graduating to the theater program at Carthage College, ready to grow into the next phase of his life. He explains, “I think of leaving First Stage similar to any actor who also graduates from role to role.”

Whatever life course First Stage Theater Academy graduates choose, the young adults take the principles they learned at the First Stage Academy to heart. As the Young Company expands to more full stage productions, this year with Gathering Blue and Romeo and Juliet next season, students following Horne, Pollnow and Stapleton will be further inspired. Pollnow expresses these exact sentiments as she believes playing Kira has been a great role model for her, and she hopes for the audiences, “Kira's not one to take no for an answer, she keeps searching to make something right…and is willing to make a difference in the world.”

Find out more about GATHERING BLUE.                    

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