By Kate Luce
As February approaches, elementary school students from all over the region are planning their trips to this year’s Michele’s Little Hearts Theatre production of Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse at IU South Bend.
Five years ago, Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse made its first appearance at Michele’s Little Hearts Theatre. Now, with a new generation of IU South Bend students who will perform the play and a new generation of students excited to watch the performance, it seems like the right time to have this performance come to the main stage once again.
Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse tells the story of a little mouse named Lilly. One day she brings her purple plastic purse to school for show and tell, but her teacher takes her purse away from her. Lilly is furious, but then feels remorse about her anger.
“This story tells the tale of a young girl growing up and learning how to gain a better handle on her emotions and on how her actions affect those around her. It teaches children that they are able to feel what they feel but that those feelings shouldn’t be an excuse to hurt others. It also shows a loving adult figure (her teacher) who helps her find herself,” Taylor Jump, BFA Theatre, who plays Lilly, explains.
Each year, an average of 5,000-8,000 students attend the Michele’s Little Hearts Theatre performances throughout the weeks the show is in production. For many of these students, this is the first live theatre performance they have ever attended.
For Demarée Dufour-Noneman, Michele’s Little Hearts Theatre is more than just one of the biggest productions of the year for the Raclin School of the Arts. Her mother developed the Michele’s Little Hearts Theatre into what it is today.
“We all feel so great to see that first or second grader just in awe of seeing live theatre on stage. The way that it has grown is wonderful too. Obviously, my mom was pretty involved with that as the Outreach Director here. She really grew it into the program that it is today, which is why it’s named after her. For me, it is particularly special and a great time every year to think of my mom and what she has done for the outreach community, what she gave, and how we are able to continue that,” Demarée Dufour-Noneman, Production Manager says.
With her mother’s passion for community arts she crafted a program that promotes an amazing experience with live theatre for elementary students. In return, the children’s theatre production was named: Michele’s Little Hearts Theatre.
“It’s incredibly special to me that this program is named after my mom. We came to that decision after my mom passed away. At the time, I was not part of the university. The staff of the Raclin School of the Arts came to my family and asked if this was something we would approve. It was hugely moving because of my mom’s dedication to the arts and children throughout her entire career. She was a kind-hearted cheerleader for students and learners and artists in every aspect of her life. Speaking as her child and now a professional and an artist myself, I can tell you she was tireless in that dedication,” Dufour-Noneman says.
For anyone who loves the arts, there was usually a moment during childhood when the arts drew them in. Whether that moment was at an art museum or at an orchestra concert, it was the moment of magic that sparked their imagination. Michele’s Little Hearts Theatre strives to provide that spark. “For so many kids, exposure to the arts is something they may not have in a very real way as part of their day-to-day lives. As artists, creators, and people who work in the School of the Arts, we all have so much exposure to the Arts that it’s hard to think about the fact that there are people for whom this is not the case. For those people, their children don’t get that experience either,” Dufour-Noneman says.
Not only does the Michele’s Little Hearts Theatre help provide this experience for elementary school students, but all proceeds go directly towards scholarships for Theatre and Dance students at IU South Bend.
In addition, this production offers two performances a day throughout a two-week period, thus giving the theatre students a taste of what a production cycle is like. It takes hard work to perform each show with the same energy as the last performance.
“It is always so much fun to do children's shows. It shows us how to sustain doing multiple performances a day and gives us an opportunity to perform in front of over 500 young students, which is an exhilarating feeling,” Jump says. Another experience that Michele’s Little Hearts Theatre helps to provide is the opportunity for theatre students to direct. This performance is traditionally directed by theatre students, giving them the chance to branch out to different forms of Theatre.
For Lilly’s Plastic Purple Purse, Eddy Castle, BFA Theatre Performance, is directing.
“This is the first show I have directed! There does seem to be a bit of a learning curve, but it has been such an amazing experience so far. We have been brainstorming some amazing ideas, and I can't wait to see them on the stage with the team,” Castle reiterates.
For over 59 years, Michele’s Little Hearts Theatre has been a gold standard performance for the Raclin School of the Arts. The love and dedication of many people throughout the years has helped the event grow into what it is today.
“I stand on the balcony and look at these kids, and get a tear in my eye because there are so many people who are ready to continue this great tradition every year, with the School of the Arts. To look and see that continuing year after year, it fills me up with joy for the year. If I ever have a moment of saying, ‘What am I doing in community arts?’ That’s the moment where I can say, ‘I’m good,”” Dufour-Noneman says.
Michele’s Little Hearts Theatre will run from February 13-21, 2019. The public performances will be February 15th at 11:00 am and 1:30 pm. Tickets are available here.