Students to present Huckleberry Finn

Retired music teacher Janet Barnard works on a dance with students Tuesday at Marshall Auditorium during dress rehearsal for the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the opera.

By Liliana Castillo: CNJ staff writer

Students are behind every piece of Marshall Middle School’s production of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, an opera written for them.

Eighth graders at the school, a few seventh graders and a few sixth graders from the Arts Academy at Bella Vista have built sets, made costumes, will sing, act and work the sound booth and lights during the performance 6:30 p.m. Friday.

Leads Justus Strickland, who plays Huckleberry Finn, and Kamal Cass, who plays Jim, a slave, said the play is ultimately about friendship.

“It’s about two people coming together and realizing there shouldn’t be races,” Cass said. “It’s amazing that people comprehended that in that time period. It’s a history lesson.”

Strickland said both eighth graders have been leads in four or five musicals.

The production is part of a push to bring more arts into the schools, especially performing arts.

An arts team of teachers at Marshall made up of math teacher Dustie Gonzalez, physical science teacher Florence Russell, history teacher Lonnie Baca and English teacher Alison Brown have begun incorporating the arts into their lessons.

Gonzalez said the play is doing the same thing, simply in reverse. She said it’s an arts undertaking which incorporates history, social studies, math and language arts.

“We want to reach kids who aren’t in band or choir also,” Gonzalez said. “This is a diverse way of kids learning.”

Russell said students are more likely to learn from performing the play over reading it in class, for example.

“It’s a more personal connection. They will remember it because they didn’t just memorize it,” she said.

The play involves 80 students, 12 of whom will work backstage during the performance.

Principal Jay Brady will also be working as a stage hand Friday. He said the curriculum-based production is getting students excited.

“They’re completely buzzing. They’re engaged because they’re creating it,” Brady said. “When students are actively involved in what’s going on, you get a better result.”

Brady said the production is also building leadership traits.

Charis Duke, who lived in Clovis from 2000-2003, wrote the opera version of the classic play for the school.

She flew in from North Carolina for the performance. She said the play is full of substance and therefore able to turn it into an opera.

“Ultimately, it is a story of friendship,” Duke said. “The play is set in the 1800s, and this boy, Huck, struggles with helping Jim, a slave, escape. But Huck realizes that Jim is a person and he should be free. In the context of the time period, that’s an amazing thing for a boy to realize. It’s the humanity of it.”