Walnut Adopt-a-school Program Makes A Difference in Philadelphia

Walnut Adopt-a-school Program Makes A Difference in Philadelphia "It was really cool, and lots of fun! I felt a great power in myself!" Those are the words of Rosalind Wilson, a student at Fels High School, Philadelphia, describing involvement in the musical Runaways. Fels was the first school chosen for Walnut Street Theatre's "Adopt-A-School" program, and the staging of Runaways was the high point of this school-year-long affiliation.

"It was really cool, and lots of fun! I felt a great power in myself!" Those are the words of Rosalind Wilson, a student at Fels High School, Philadelphia, describing involvement in the musical Runaways. Fels was the first school chosen for Walnut Street Theatre's "Adopt-A-School" program, and the staging of Runaways was the high point of this school-year-long affiliation.

Wilson said Runaways impressed not only those involved in the production, but the entire student body. "All the other kids were very impressed with the show," she said. "The cheering at the end was so loud ... it was such a positive experience."

Runaways, by Elizabeth Swados, was staged on March 20 under the direction of Walnut Street Theatre School's Outreach Company, and Wilson had "raves" for them, too. "They were all such loving people, they really cared for us."

Walnut Street Theatre's Adopt-A-School program is under the supervision of William Roudebush. "The Fels project is a shining example of how a regional theatre can have a direct and lasting influence on the community outside of the theatre," said Roudebush, who is the Walnut Street Theatre School director. "We ignited youthful imaginations and showed many people that the impossible can be a reality."

The staging of Runaways the first musical Fels has been able to produce in 11 years was directed by Aaron Cromie, Theatre School artist-in-residence.

Cromie said when the lights went down and a hush came over the audience at Fels, "Everybody could feel something exciting in the air. I'll never forget the looks on their faces after the first number and they got such great applause. They knew they'd really accomplished something!" Working with Cromie were Outreach members Lisa Strum, David Holland, Derek Livingston and Jennifer Sassaman, each responsible for a different aspect of Runaways. Livingston was in charge of getting Voyage House involved, a social service organization that helps runaways. A Voyage House representative spoke to the cast and told them what resources are available to youths who do run away from home. "It really helped the cast understand the issues the play deals with," Livingston said.

Fels had the support of the entire Walnut staff for Runaways, especially the scene shop crew and apprentices Bernadette Brennan, Jessica Bender and Jay Clawson.

Principal Dr. Margaret Jaskulek said, "The faculty, students and parents are still raving about Runaways." The production gave Fels students "the opportunity of a lifetime. They learned about the dedication, commitment and teamwork necessary for success."

Drama Coach Steve Mato noted, "The kids involved all took scraps of wood, that were to be discarded from your stage construction as mementos, a sure sign of their fondness for the whole experience."

Instrumental Music Director Howard Miller said the Walnut's "professional guidance and knowledge inspired the students to perform like never before. It was Fels lucky day when the Walnut 'adopted' our school!"--

-- By Ira Kamens
Philadelphia Playbill