Kids learn acting, history in 'Sister Moses' - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Kids learn acting, history in 'Sister Moses'

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Posted: Thursday, February 11, 2010 3:04 pm | Updated: 3:28 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

When the curtain rises during Friday night's production of "Sister Moses: The Story of Harriet Tubman," a few veteran East Valley actors will take the stage.

Slideshow: "Sister Moses" dress rehearsal

When the curtain rises during Friday night's production of "Sister Moses: The Story of Harriet Tubman," a few veteran East Valley actors will take the stage.

At 11 years old, Kiana Blader is one of the more experienced members of the child cast.

"I like being in the play," the fifth-grader at Chandler's Bologna Elementary School said during rehearsal this week. "I love acting in lots of plays. This one I'm not really nervous. I've been doing this a long time."

She first joined the cast five years ago.

Slideshow: "Sister Moses" dress rehearsal

Kiana and several of her Bologna classmates have been recruited to take part in Desert Dance Theatre's annual production. The "dance drama" tells the story of Tubman's anti-slavery efforts and her struggles to fight for freedom and equality in the mid 1800s.

The performance includes singing, African drums, a small orchestra and, of course, dancing.

Mike Breen, a teacher at Bologna, started working with Desert Dance on the "Sister Moses" performance in 1992 after hearing about it through an ASU course about integrating the arts into curriculum. Each year, he not only takes part in production but recruits his students to play various roles.

Jasmine Rodriguez, 9, will play another slave girl. The Bologna fourth-grader has been in the show four other years.

"It's pretty fun, and every day I learn about Harriet Tubman," Jasmine said. "And I like to meet different people every year, and it's really fun to bounce around and bow at the end."

After years at Chandler Center for the Arts, renovations forced a move to the Higley Center for the Performing Arts this year. There are two shows: one for schools on Thursday and one for the public at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

Kiana plays a slave girl in the play.

"It's Black History Month, and I really like being a part of that kind of stuff," she said. "I think it actually does teach you about her life and what she accomplished and it's very entertaining."

Cody Shaw, 8, will perform as a town boy for a third time.

"I like that we get to play rock-paper-scissors and marbles on stage," Cody said. "In my class we were talking about Harriet Tubman saving slaves, and she's in this play. I like that it's interesting. It has a lot of good parts in it."

To prepare for the show, students watched a movie and read a book about Tubman's life, said Lisa Chow, one of the artistic directors at Desert Dance.

"We're bringing history to life," she said. "This is one way the students can learn about it."

Chow said she believes it helps the student audience to take in the play when they see children on the stage.

Breen agrees.

"It's a live theater. It's not just a textbook. It moves them," he said. "It's woven together. It's powerful. They sense the tragedy and the struggle to get away from the slave owner and the life they had as a slave. They see it. They can feel it. ... I get goose bumps every year. It's like an old movie you watch. You know how it's going to turn out but you still cry at the end."

Mike Thomas, 16, a junior at Chandler's Perry High School, is in the cast for a seventh time. Like other students in the show, he started in fifth grade when Breen was his teacher.

"I don't think I truly appreciated what the culture and background was about until I started doing the show," he said. "If you watch the show, there's a whole bunch of factual information that opens your eyes. That's why I keep sticking around and doing it."

Margie Wolf, dance instructor at Mesa's Dobson High School and a founding member of Desert Dance Theatre, recruits some of her students each year as well.

Senior Amber Weeden, 18, will perform in "Sister Moses" for the first time. It's her second year as part of Dobson's dance program, but she was in the audience during last year's show.

"It was a good portrayal of her life and what she accomplished," Weeden said.

Besides the local performance, part of the professional cast traveled to Austin at the beginning of the month to put on the show there. Local children were recruited to perform as the extras in the show.

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