BJ Blanchard: Notes from Glen Ellen, March 31

An undated photo of the one-room Dunbar School in Glen Ellen.


For a sweet little country school, Dunbar Elementary packs a wallop. On a rural twist of Dunbar Road before it meets Highway 12, Dunbar has deep roots in the community. Established in 1857, it has changed over the years from a rural wooden one-room schoolhouse perched on the rise opposite what is now the market, to our current structure on Dunbar on a 20-room campus.

Today’s student body is around 260 and the teachers know every student. Dunbar kids all make contributions to the community, and many attend top colleges. This innovative little school is considering an “International Baccalaureate” curriculum, a groundbreaking move that could start students on the road to international higher education, if they so choose.

Twenty-five years ago, Squire and Suzy Fridell’s daughter Lexi was a student at Dunbar. It so happens that the Fridells have a background in theater and TV, so when they decided to contribute to their daughter’s school, they did it in the form of producing two melodramas. A stage was built. Costumes were made. Props were acquired. Who knew that children would take to melodrama with such enthusiasm, but the Dunbar kids embraced the project and “the fifth-grade play” was born.

This year’s production is "Bad Day at Gopher’s Breath."

Much of the energy for the show comes from Kate Kennedy, director, and “chief encourager of shy kids.” The pixie-like, dynamic Kennedy is no slouch. Originally from Minnesota, Kennedy has pursued Shakespearian theater her entire career, acting in San Francisco Shakespeare Company, founding the Avalon Players, and creating Sonoma’s Performing Arts Camp at the Sebastiani. She was Sonoma’s Treasure Artist of the year in 1999, and is indeed a treasure for emboldening and molding generations of Glen Ellen’s 10-year-olds.

It’s a rite of passage for Glen Ellen kids. Maybe you were Lilly Blossom, Molly Loveless or Blackie Redburn in “The Deadwood Desperado.” Or maybe you were part of the Rawlins Gang: Rawhide Rawlins, Bad Bruce, Ringo, Laredo, Doc, Sleepy or Dopey. Maybe you were our hero Sherriff Crutchwaffle or sweet Bambi Phingerdoo. Were you in the Sound Squad providing whack-and-boing sound effects for the bang-bang antics of the players? A highpoint for some is watching the after-show during the ovations, when middle-aged Dunbarians stand up in the audience looking positively adult, and proudly announce, “I was the Barkeep in Gopher’s Breath 1994,” or “I was in the Sound Squad in Deadwood 2010.” It’s enough to bring a tear to the eye.

This tradition happens every Memorial Day weekend on Haver Stage, under the oaks beyond the main campus of Dunbar Elementary School. Grandparents, neighbors, old friends, all gather on blankets in front of the wooden stage for the show which elicits “boo hiss” when the villain appears. A basket picnic dinner and vino are appropriate and enjoyed by the audience, the players concentrate on their clever lines, and a great time is had by all. See you there May 26 to May 28 as spring turns into summer.

Contact BJ Blanchard at