Local Arkansas students bring beloved musical theater program to life

LITTLE ROCK, AR (07/14/2017) After a 15-year absence, a beloved musical theater enrichment program returned to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, thanks to a grant from the Arkansas Department of Education and some help from Arkansas seventh- and eighth-graders.

Hosted by the UA Little Rock Jodie Mahony Center for Gifted Education, "MT Stage: The Hamilton Experience" provided a unique opportunity for high-ability and gifted students to learn about musical theater, stagecraft, and civics June 26-30 at UA Little Rock. An Academic Enrichment for the Gifted and Talented in the Summer grant funded the program.

"To us, this program was an exciting opportunity to bring a very missed student enrichment program back to campus," said Dr. Christine Deitz, program director. "The Jodie Mahony Center was beyond thrilled to offer this program again to Arkansas students."

Participating students included:

  • Emma Barrett of Jonesboro
  • Alexandria Wright of Jonesboro
  • Eva Grace Barrett of Jonesboro
  • Lucy Box of Jonesboro
  • Trinity Bell of Little Rock
  • Makiya Stuffs of Little Rock
  • Kennedy Arnold of Little Rock
  • JahLayae Freeman of Jacksonville
  • Zaria Montgomery of North Little Rock
  • Benjamin Wilson of Texarkana, Arkansas
  • Mia Hartley of Texarkana, Arkansas
  • Tyler Childers of DeWitt
  • Taryn Oitker of Cabot
  • Grayson Siebert of Blytheville
  • Taylor Chandler of Huntsville
  • Rachel Estep of Springdale
  • Alexandra Lanier of Alexander
  • Margaret Rood of Malvern
  • Gabriella Stokes of Ozark
  • Emily Wheat of Sheridan

Growing up in the small town of Malvern, participant Margaret Rood didn't know other aspiring actors. The rising ninth-grader jumped at the chance to get a taste of acting life during "MT Stage: The Hamilton Experience."

"This was my favorite thing to do all summer," Rood said. "Musical people are a very small niche in my hometown. It was great to be surrounded by like-minded people."

After participating in the camp, Rood plans to pursue acting and theater opportunities in Little Rock to give her more experience before college.

During the program, students attended civics and musical theatre history classes to learn about the history behind the Broadway play. Students studied aspects of Greek theater, Shakespeare, and modern theater. In civics class, participants discussed immigration, citizenship, and the Bill of Rights.

"You could see the talent, passion, and commitment of these children in their eyes from the moment they came to campus," Deitz said. "It reminded me of why I came into teaching."

At the end of the week, participants performed music and choreography inspired by the Broadway hit, "Hamilton: An American Musical," during a June 30 student showcase in University Theatre on the UA Little Rock campus.

Gabbie Stokes, a rising ninth-grader from Ozark, was thrilled to play the characters of Thomas Jefferson and Lafayette.

"I have never done theater or drama before," Stokes said. "This camp was the highlight of my summer."