FONTANA, CA – Fontana Unified’s Career Technical Education (CTE) program opened its theater season with live musical productions of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” as District elementary and middle school students got the holiday season off to a spirited and nostalgic start.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” is the latest production presented by Fontana Unified’s Theater Conservatory and brought together the talents of Canyon Crest Elementary School, Dorothy Grant Innovations Academy and Wayne Ruble Middle School students at the historic California Theatre for the Performing Arts in San Bernardino. For the first time, it featured an all-student cast, who once again worked with A.B. Miller High School multimedia design teacher Joseph Henson.
The FUSD Theater Conservatory was established so that young students could discover the joys of theater and work as actors in a professional show, as well as get involved in CTE projects at an early age.
The District’s theater program is now gearing up for its final production of the 2023-24 school year, the Harry Potter satire “Puffs, or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic,” scheduled for Feb. 1-2 at the California Theatre. “Puffs” will feature A.B. Miller drama students, as well as students from other District high schools.
For Henson, who has more than 30 years of experience as a theater and movie producer and provides instruction at 21 FUSD schools, the students’ transformation from novices into seasoned performers has taken place virtually overnight in the program.
“It is stunning to see the progress made by these students, who in less than a year have developed into nothing less than professional stage actors,” Henson said. “Many of the actors have begun working on outside theater projects. The conservatory has had an amazing impact on our kids. None of this would be possible without our stage crews, District support and our CTE department, which has gone above and beyond in helping us create these shows and get students in the seats.”
Fontana Unified hosted performances of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” between Nov. 13 and Nov. 19. More than 10,000 patrons enjoyed the show, with 2,000 District elementary school students included through the efforts of the CTE department, which paid for the tickets and transportation to the show.
The timeless tale follows the “Peanuts” gang – including Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus and Snoopy – as they search for the true meaning of Christmas while working on a holiday play. The stage musical features the original compositions of Vince Guaraldi, including the classic “Christmastime is Here” and the instrumental “Linus and Lucy.”
“Being in ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ was an amazing experience because I got to perform in front of a large crowd of people, be with my friends and have fun all at the same time,” said Dorothy Grant fifth-grader Ricardo Armenta, who was in the ensemble. “This opportunity has truly changed my life and I thank my family for their support and to everyone who made this opportunity come to life for me.”
With each new Theater Conservatory production, FUSD students continue to further develop into budding thespians. During the inaugural production of “School of Rock,” held in March 2023, students shared the stage with professional actors. During “Disney’s The Little Mermaid” in April 2023, students made up the majority of the cast. In “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” all the actors were students.
“What a delight to see so many students receive a chance to be in a professional play and establish a love for theater while learning how to collaborate with their classmates and acquiring new skills that will make them better learners,” Superintendent Miki R. Inbody said. “Thank you to Joseph Henson and his team for their extraordinary efforts to provide these unique experiences for our students.”
FUSD_THEATER1: Fontana Unified students from Canyon Crest Elementary School, Dorothy Grant Innovations Academy and Wayne Ruble Middle School made up an all-student cast in the District’s production of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” at the historic California Theater for the Performing Arts in San Bernardino.
FUSD_THEATER2: Fontana Unified’s Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) Program began its theater season with four live productions of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” More than 2,000 District elementary school students saw the show through the efforts of the CTE department, which paid for the tickets and transportation to the show.
FUSD_THEATER3: Canyon Crest Elementary School Principal Jacqueline Piddington, second from right, celebrates Fontana Unified’s production of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” District elementary and middle school students, including Canyon Crest students, made up an all-student cast.