A traveling theater company presented an original production to Putnam Elementary School students Thursday but the stories they told didn't spring from a writer's imagination.
"All the stories that you heard are stories that we collected from real people," said Bob Lucas, producing director, playwright and songwriter for Mad River Theater Works of Zanesfield.
That included the tale of a 12-year-old boy who earned $2.75 a day for his family during the Great Depression with his team of horses. It was one of several stories the group used to paint a picture of Depression-era America in "The Living Newspaper."
Living newspaper Artsbridge program at Putnam School
In addition to stories, the play included lively songs, as the performers brought to life a theater company employed by the Works Progress Administration, a program designed to get the unemployed back to work. The title came from the fictional group's show, intended to spread the word about what the WPA was doing.
In addition to history, the show emphasized the importance of the arts.
"Making something from nothing, that is the artist's life," Lucas sang in one of the first numbers.
EVAN BEVINS The Marietta Times
Mad River Theater Works performers, from left, Tamara Loewenthal, Bob Lucas, Jamie Gans and Chris Westhoff perform a song during their original production, “The Living Newspaper,” Thursday morning at Putnam Elementary School.
Gerri Torres, Artsbridge's arts education director, said that combination of education and the arts is why Mad River has been a great partner for the local organization. In her 15 years with Artsbridge, Torres has called on Mad River a dozen times for programs in area schools.
"The reason I do is because they continually, every year, mount a new show," she said. "They are what I consider the perfect marriage of theater arts and (arts) education."
For many students, the tap dancing of Tamara Loewenthal was a highlight of the show.
"I thought that the rhythm was nice," said fourth-grader Maria Pfaff.
After the show, students peppered Loewenthal with questions like "How do you tap dance so good?"
"If you love it, you will practice it," Loewenthal said.
In addition to the music, fifth-grader Vanessa Wilson said she enjoyed the combination of history and fiction in the production.
"I liked how the story came together (with) the true events that happened," she said.
Lucas said the group had worked on "The Living Newspaper" for three years and were able to put it on and join forces with Indiana-based Fiddle and Feet (Loewenthal and fiddler Jamie Gans) with the help of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and PNC's Art for Life. The group makes a point of mentioning them because they're thankful for the help they received, he said.
"Being thankful is one of the best things you can be because you don't have a sourpuss on your face when you're busy being thankful," he told the students.
Mad River also performed this week at Harmar and Belpre elementaries as well as for students in Warren Local, Morgan Local and Wood County schools.