Seventh-graders bring history alive

Carpenter Ranch serves as appropriate backdrop for play

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— The creativity of a few dozen middle school students on Friday transformed an old barn into a fitting backdrop for tales of pioneers in northwest Colorado at the turn of the Twentieth Century.

Seventh graders at Soroco Middle School presented "Peaks and Passages" at the Carpenter Ranch just east of Hayden to an audience of children from the North Routt Community Charter School.

The North Routt students sat on hay bales as they listened to their older peers narrate and act out stories of the first people to settle in Routt County.

"Peaks and Passages," a non-profit organization in the southern part of the county, collects and presents the stories of communities past to today's communities.

Community members in Oak Creek collaborate with teachers and students to present the multi-act production.

On Friday, however, the students were the only actors.

It was not until their presentation of "Peaks and Passages" that the seventh graders finally had ample elbowroom to move around and interact with other characters.

Since the beginning of the school year, they have been practicing in cramped conditions.

Middle and high school students in South Routt must share the high school building until improvements to the middle school building are completed.

Such close quarters complicate practice times, said Brenda Little, seventh grade teacher and director of the play.

Finding a time that fits with her students' schedules to run through scenes can be almost impossible, she added.

But the seventh graders were committed enough to the play to see it happen Friday, Little said.

"We couldn't just push back a few desks and practice in a classroom," she said. "There's too many of us. But we found a way and we did it."

In previous years, students have performed in their gym.

The barn setting was new this year but the students said they appreciated the change of scenery.

Chelsea Bonfiglio, sporting a pair of overalls, said the new backdrop helped her to better stay in character.

Bonfiglio, 12, played a young girl who liked to dig holes in early northwest Colorado.

Following her older sister's suggestion, her character made one big hole out of all the smaller holes she had dug.

Eventually, the older sister paid for taking advantage of her younger sister's complaisance with her demands.

Bonfiglio, who has participated in the "Peaks and Passages" production before, said it was more realistic to dig her imaginary holes on a barn floor surrounded by reminders of the Old West.

"Doing the play at the ranch definitely kept us in the mood," she said. "My character was more fun to play."

Rachel Elston, 12, agreed that she and her classmates enjoyed dressing up more when they could work with an authentic setting.

"It was really old-fashioned," Elston said. "It made you think that you were almost back in that time."

Elston played the daughter of a Greek immigrant. Her character narrated the story of her father's arrival in northwest Colorado and his struggle to find his identity as a new American citizen.

Elston explained that she had more respect for the hardships endured by early Routt County settlers when she was able to tell about their history, rather than sitting in class learning about the past.

"It's so much better acting out their stories than reading about them," she said.

The seventh graders came up with their own costumes to reflect the era of pioneers.

Girls donned gingham and plaid dresses, aprons, shawls and bonnets. Boys wore cowboy hats and boots, overalls and flannel shirts.

Tack Louthan, who played Elston's father, said he didn't mind helping out his character by dressing the part.

"You don't always get to do stuff like this," Louthan, 12, said. "Once in a while, it's fun to do something different like this."

Louthan said he never would have paid much attention to the early settlers in northwest Colorado without first having the opportunity to play one of them.

His classmate, Jeffrey Connett, said it was sometimes hard to relate to events that happened so long ago but learning about history through "Peaks and Passages" made that history come alive.

"Instead of sitting in our desks at school, we got to come here and act out what might be kind of boring at school," Connett said.

Many lessons can be learned from the people who lived a long time ago, Connett said.

"I like the people," he said. "They weren't that different

from me."

Acts with names like "Guns, Knives and Wives," "Mail Order Brides," and "Shoes to Travel," kept the attention of the children in the audience glued to the seventh graders before them.

Just as in one of the many scenes from "Peaks and Passages," where early settlers to northwest Colorado quickly learned to forget about what they left behind, actors and audience alike were able to leave behind the present for an afternoon and step back to the days when the west was young.

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