The story of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March was first immortalized in the book “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott in 1868. Just over 150 years later, youth actors will present an adaptation of the story in a production of “Little Women” running Friday through Sunday at Presser Performing Arts Center as part of the Drama Theater Camp.
Friday and Saturday performances are scheduled 7 p.m. with a 2 p.m. Sunday matinee at the Stribling Black Box Theater. “Little Women” tells the story of the March sisters as they grow into adulthood during and after the U.S. Civil War. It is loosely based on Alcott’s life and of her three sisters.
Melissa Trierweiler is the director of the intensive two-week camp. Cast members were chosen in March and started learning their lines before rehearsals began July 8. Actors had to memorize their lines before the camp started, because the first week was dedicated to blocking out movements and the second week was dedicated to full run throughs.
“We’re starting to work through it, find the problem areas and making sure we remember [blocking] from last week,” Trierweiler said.
While there are many “Little Women” adaptations available, Trierweiler wanted the youth actors to find ways to bring their own experiences into their characters.
“I try to encourage them not to focus on what other people have done when they did the roles,” she said. “You can take bits and pieces out, but really you have to build it from the ground up yourself. We don’t want to do a carbon copy. We want to do our own interpretations.”
Trierweiler decided between three different scripts for the Presser production. Because the two-week camp consists of a smaller cast, participants are able to get a lot of one-on-one interaction and study with Trierweiler.
They worked on character development through a packet including questions about each actor’s respective character. They also did what Trierweiler calls a character lab by spending about 45 minutes on different activities focused on character development and movement.
“I had them interview as their character — a lot of stuff like that,” she said. “Yesterday we just talked for about half an hour about their character and their motivations of their character.”
The many adaptations of “Little Women” are evidence of its continuing relevance, Trierweiler said.
Beth is her favorite of the four sisters in the play.
“[Beth] gets her strength from her sweetness and shyness,” she said. “Just because you’re a shy character, doesn’t mean that you’re not strong. All of these women are strong characters.”
Trierweiler started as a summer theater camper herself at Presser when she was 13 years old. She then studied theatre at Stephens College in Columbia, graduating in 2016. She now works in the box office and teaches youth theatre classes for the Coterie Theatre connected with Crown Center in Kansas City.
“I still felt very connected to [Presser] and had good relationships here,” she said. “In 2017, Lois [Brace, executive director], asked me to come direct ‘Anne of Green Gables,’ which was a brand new camp in [Stribling], along with the two-week summer musical camp.”
Trierweiler focused on theater directing at Stephens, and she was excited to return to Presser to help with the summer camps.
Last year’s summer theater camp was “A Little Princess.”