Steamboat Springs Jenny Lewis’ English class of Soroco High School seniors was relatively quiet in the middle school auditorium Thursday morning.
Lewis said they’re normally a lively group, but during Thursday’s workshop, they had a lot to think about.
The night before, the group of students had gotten on a bus to Steamboat Springs to visit Strings Music Pavilion for a Literature to Life performance of “The Glass Castle” by New York’s American Place Theatre.
Aside from it being the first time many of them had seen a professional theatrical performance at Strings, the subject matter — that of the book they had just finished reading — was a heavy one: poverty, alcohol abuse and emotional pain are the main themes woven throughout Jeanette Walls’ memoir.
“I felt strongly the book would resonate with the students, and it did,” Lewis said about assigning the book. “They would come into class and say, ‘This book is making me angry,’ and whenever you can spark some kind of emotional reaction, you know you’ve reached them. It’s taking it to a level above just basic instruction.”
On Thursday morning, actress Sarah Franek and teaching artist Erin Ronder from the American Place Theatre traveled to Soroco High School for an in-depth workshop with the students based on the book and performance.
They did a few acting warm-ups and activities relating to the themes of the book.
Then, Ronder brought the discussion into a subject that hit home with the seniors: college essays.
The students did a short writing activity where they drew on some hardship or obstacle they overcame, just like Walls’ described in “The Glass Castle.”
“Memoir is about action,” Ronder told the students. “This book is an action. The point of her writing this was to learn something.”
The American Place Theatre Literature to Life program is a traveling teaching theater that performs famous works of American literature at schools in communities across the country.
Betse Grassby, Strings Music Festival’s nonclassical programming and operations director, first saw a Literature to Life production at a conference in New York. She said she had been looking for the opportunity to partner with the Bud Werner Memorial Library on a communitywide project.
And “The Glass Castle,” part of this fall’s ONE Book Steamboat community read, seemed to be a fitting story.
“It ends with a hope that people can overcome things,” Grassby said. “It’s an incredible book.
“It deals with poverty, with parent-child relationships, and obstacles. This is what kids are dealing with these days … we all are.”
Soroco senior Lauryn Bruggink said what she took out of the book, performance and workshop is that everyone has their glass castle — for Walls it was her success she found in her writing.
“It’s our hopes and dreams for the future,” Bruggink said.
For her, those inspirations come from the people in her life. And those reflections are coming in handy as she begins to dive into her college essay writing.
“It’s about the support people give you when you do the things you believe in,” she said.
— To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@SteamboatToday.com