Dunbar desperados rock the stage
This coming weekend, folks from throughout Sonoma Valley are invited to attend the Dunbar melodrama, this year titled, “The Deadwood Desperado, or, A Mother’s Grief.” Don’t be mislead by the ironic title, this is actually not a grief-filled show at all, but a hilarious family-friendly melodrama complete with sound effects, costumes, slapstick antics, a twisting plot line, a saloon matron with a secret past, a crooning, blind femme fatale, a bumbling band of cowboys and two-bit crooks and lots of audience participation.
Professional director Kate Kennedy, who tamed this unruly cast of 55, brings out the best in these student actors, fifth-graders all. The Dunbar melodrama is a tradition not to be missed. Lots of families from around the Valley like to pack a picnic dinner and hang out on the beautiful lawns before the show. That way, they can place their chairs in the optimum spots to catch all the action. Tickets are available at the door: $10 adult, $5 child, or $25 family package. Concessions and staking claims for picnic spots begin at 5 p.m., shows start at 6 p.m., and the dates are Friday May 23, Saturday May 24, and Sunday May 25.
If you have questions, would like to make a donation to the program, or are interested in purchasing ad space in the playbill, contact Kate’s able assistant and outreach volunteer Shannon Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org or 996-3352, or send a note directly to Dunbar School fifth-grade play, 11700 Dunbar Road, Glen Ellen CA 95442. Because it’s open seating in a huge field, there are always “day of” tickets available, too.
This is the perfect family entertainment for Memorial Day weekend. If you have school-aged children, from any school in the Valley or beyond, you will all be entertained by the antics of Kate’s charges. Grandparents are especially invited. Bring the whole family for a fortunate escape from the busy-ness of a Sonoma weekend. Out on Cunninghame Field, beneath the specimen oaks, you’ll find contentment and relaxation, away from the tasting rooms of downtown Sonoma. By the way, last week (in the online version only, I believe) I mentioned Max Cunninghame, a former principal of Dunbar School, whose name graces those beautiful fields. What I didn’t mention, and what is quite remarkable, is that Mr. Cunninghame was Dunbar’s principal for 32 years, guiding Dunbar from a four-room school to a campus with 12 classrooms, a multipurpose room and an administration wing.
Other beloved principals at Dunbar have included Larry Westlake, Jerald Tuller, Ken Limon, Rosemary Haver, Micaela Philpot, Bethany Wilson, Lauren Ekman, Leticia Cruz and Claudia Berkman. Dunbar’s present principal, Melanie Blake, joined the school in 2009. Rosemary Haver was the principal 22 years ago when the melodramas began, giving the plays her enthusiastic support when introduced by Squire and Suzy Fridell. Hence, the name of the stage where the children perform, Haver Stage.
Who writes this wacky stuff?
A simple fact that few folks know is that Squire Fridell who, along with his sweetie, Suzy, was the first director of the Dunbar melodrama, is also the playwright of the four plays that the Dunbar players cycle through from one year to the next. Each year, Squire has to rewrite the appointed script, making sure that each child who wants a part gets one. He’s become a sort of genius at finding the right part for each kid, playing off their innate personality and abilities. We thank Squire for making sure this tradition continues and we praise Kate for her fortitude and talent in turning an unruly bunch of 55 kids into credible actors. Huzzah! as the Bard would say.
Flowers, fish, and birds of all stripes
The Dunbar School campus busted out in beautiful color last week, as flowers, fish, birds of all stripes and more appeared on the walls of the south wing.
A new mural was created last week thanks to the good folks of Sonoma Plein Air Foundation. We are happy that Keith Wicks, founder of the Plein Air Foundation, noted a problem and worked to overcome it. Lack of art instruction in the schools is a serious matter, and once Keith’s daughter informed him of the problem, he went to work. That was back in 1998. Today we have a flourishing art program in all of our schools thanks to the organization that Keith established. Hurray for Sonoma Plein Air, which has contributed more than $74,000 to art education in our Valley.
Wandering around the Dunbar campus last week, it was easy to see the students’ enthusiasm for their newest Plein Air-sponsored project. Once again this year, Mendocino artist and teacher Janet Self arrived a week ahead of time to prime the wall and prepare for the students’ work.
Working with staff, teachers and parents the school choose the theme of water in our world. It’s an environmental project that incorporates math, science, language and more along with art lessons.
Many folks have helped with the murals, or shown their enthusiasm in other ways. Former Dunbar teacher Mike Witkowski was up there last week, photographing the students’ progress. You might find one of his photos in the online version of the column.
Dunbar walls alive with color
Before even looking at this year’s mural in progress, I visited the other murals scattered around the school campus. Entering campus from the front parking lot, I first saw the picnic tables and benches that had been painted with bright flowers overflowing from table to bench. Three of them decorate the front yard that is crowned with the beautiful and venerable Dunbar cork oak, a Spanish import that’s been there since the early days.
Just beyond the tables and benches is one of Dunbar School’s first murals, a fairly small painting that graces the outside wall of the office wing. Vibrantly alive with sunflowers, poppies, tomatoes and a variety of wild birds, the mural is a cheerful reminder of our beautiful valley and the lush growth that so easily fills our lives.
The second mural of note is a fairly old one covering the wall of the Dunbar kindergarten wing. I call it the “I Love Dunbar” mural because those are the major words that cross its middle. This pastel-colored, fading mural features softened colors that make it even more beguiling. The mural includes, left to right, the school, a farm, our downtown and the village market, all filled in with delightful people, some large, others small, some of whom are obviously children, others maybe adults. This peopled mural shows only carefree, smiling folks, the kind who make up our village.
The next wing over, which includes the school library, features last year’s Plein Air-sponsored mural, a flower-festooned land of little people. In that artwork, the teacher (again Mendocino artist Self) chose to emphasize a bounty of flora in the picture. Each student worked on the large, showy flowers, later adding a tiny self-portrait along the bottom of the mural. The effect is brilliant and charming. A colorful homage to all that grows, in reality and imagination. I watched the students working on that last year, and their enthusiasm was obvious, their pride apparent.
Creek, pond, river, harbor, sea
To the left of that bower of flowers, the new mural was created last week. I call this one “Waters of Life,” though Janet said it was more than that. A closer look reveals its complexity. Yes, it does feature waterways, first a trickle of a creek that flows from the flower painting forming a large pond in the second mural. Occupied by a great blue heron, and several ducks, along with a red-winged blackbird, the pond is teeming with life, both flora and fauna. The pond flows into a river that gets larger as the mural moves along, finally opening at a large harbor into a swirling sea replete with ships and storms, a perfect illustration of the water cycle.
Along the riverbanks a number of distinct habitats are featured, from grassy oak woodland to conifer forests to a lively riparian waterway with frogs, pollywogs, mammals of all types and beautiful ferns, flowers and other plants. There’s a section of gravelly ground beneath the stream where salmon might spawn, and a hill full of blazing orange poppies. Each area provides a science lesson for the students. The mural is rich in abundant life, both wild and tame.
Artists at work
While Janet Self was the resident artist, the campus project for all grades was coordinated by Beth Biermann. She did a wonderful job of keeping all of the students occupied and happy, able to paint just what they wanted. Students arrived with their classes, but also came at recess to complete their sections. Beth’s was no small task, but she coordinated it with grace, generosity and, always, good humor. Her winning smiles welcomed all.
Beth told me that the Dunbar School open house evening was especially inspiring as children brought their parents and other family members to show them which part of the mural was their work.
Helping corral this group of enthusiastic students were two grandmother helpers. Teacher Renea Magnani’s mother, Merrell Matheson, was one of the grandmama helpers, as was Mary Lynn Lucchese, whose grandson is a student at Dunbar. These helpers are especially generous in teaching the student artists about sharing and cooperation, including everything from remembering to put on their painting smocks (in this case, oversized T-shirts) to loaning a fellow artist the jar of paint that is necessary to complete their section. While action is most of the work, there is also listening and learning, all good lessons for the children of Dunbar. And that includes all of the students. Even the special ed students take part in the mural and the several banners that decorate the sides of the painting.
My suggestion: Check out these lovely pieces of student-created art, even if you’re not a Dunbar family. That’s another reason to arrive early for the Dunbar melodrama. We invite folks from all over the Valley to see our school murals, and Kate’s production. I’ll be there, too, so please say hello.
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Want to see your own name in the news? Share your stories with friends and neighbors in Glen Ellen. Call or write me at 996-5995 or P.O. Box 518, GE 95442. Or email me at Creekbottom@earthlink.net. Glen Ellen chatter rarely requires timeliness; however, if your news does, please be sure to contact me at least two weeks before your desired publication date.