From Alcott’s Pen to the CSU Theatre Stage

The Timeless Tale of Little Women

By Mitch Wills

In 1868, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women was first published for the world to see.  Since then, it has gone on to become an American classic and influence generations of readers. The novel tells the tale of four sisters: Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy, and their journey in becoming women and finding a sense of individuality in their family lives.

Little Women has remained an American staple in the literary world, as well as in the arts with countless adaptations of the novel since its inception, something that Professor of English and Louisa May Alcott historian, Bruce Ronda, attributes to the novel’s widespread appeal to audiences.

“It is a moral tale about learning the lessons of life, learning good behavior, learning how to get a long, and the consequences of action,” Ronda said. “Alcott also creates identifiable characters that are recognizable human beings with flaws, passions, desires, and that make mistakes.”

“The book is appealing because of these dimensions, a teaching component and a story-like narrative interest as well.”

The real-life veracity and authenticity of the characters in Alcott’s Little Women come from her experiences as a child growing up in 19th century New England. The fundamentals of the story are based on her own family, namely her sisters. Each of the daughters corresponds with a character in the novel, says Ronda.

“There are important ways in which she diverges from her life experience in the novel and there are also important ways in which she takes her life experiences and embeds it in the story.”

The Alcott’s were poor for much of their life. The father, Bronson, was a philosopher and a teacher. The mother, Abigail, came from a prosperous family, the Mays, and the Alcott’s lived day-to-day because of money loaned from the Mays. Being from a family that never really saw prosperity, Alcott formed a sense of family bondage that is apparent throughout the novel.

Growing up, she was surrounded by transcendent artists of the time, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. From her upbringing in that culture she developed an intense passion for writing that mirrors her counterpart in the novel as Jo.

Colorado State University’s world premiere adaption of Alcott’s novel takes the stage in a way this classic tale has never been seen before. The production features what has made the novel (along with its adaptations as a musical and stage plays) such a success over the years: a strong character emphasis on the family.

“Families are families are families,” said Director of the Division of Theatre and Dance for the University Center for the Arts Walt Jones. “[The play] is very reflective of true life because it is multi-ages of characters visualized on the stage where we can do things that the novel or a film can’t do, because it’s in real time.”

Why Alcott’s novel has survived over the years is because of the emphasis on family. Family is timeless and she presents the characters in a way that reader or an audience member can relate, even 145 years after the novel was first produced.

“[The characters] are interesting, distinctive, individual, and fun-loving people,” Ronda said. “They have romances, they love things even though they are not people of means and that is appealing to audiences and can easily be dramatized.”

With the same family-centric theme that perpetuates through the novel, the struggles and the love that stems from the relationships within the family is something to which everyone can relate. The unconditional love among the sisters through the ups and downs of growing up is something that an audience can grab a hold of, and something that CSU theatre hopes to illustrate to audiences for the holiday season.

“It’s about family dynamics and the struggles of families in their world and with each other,” Ronda said. “It’s about the love that families have for each other despite their difficulties.”

Little Women has weathered almost 150 years and still remains one of the most beloved novels in American history. The friendship, love, and family affection that grace its pages now grace the stage at CSU, and just in time to spread some joy this holiday season.

Tickets for Little Women are $8 for CSU students, $8 for youth (under 18), and $18 for the public. Tickets are available at the University Center for the Arts (UCA) Ticket Office in the UCA Griffin Lobby, by phone at (970) 491-2787, or online at Advance purchase is recommended to avoid at-the-door fees.

The University Center for the Arts at Colorado State University provides an enriched venue in which the study and practice of Art, Dance, Music and Theatre are nurtured and sustained by building the skills and knowledge needed by future generations of arts professionals to become contributors to the essential vitality of our culture and society. During the 2013-2014 season, the UCA celebrates its fifth anniversary and features several celebratory events that highlight connecting our campus and community with impactful arts.

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