For the first time in several years, the Orphan Girl Children’s Theatre in Butte is presenting the work of a Montana playwright.
Allyson Adams of Virginia City is the face behind ‘Duck Ugly’ and says she wrote the play back in 2000 but revamped it for the Orphan Girl production, which kicks off Thursday at the Mother Lode Theatre and runs through Sunday.
Adams describes the play, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tale “The Ugly Duckling,” as a “jukebox musical,” replete with classic pop tunes and two original songs written by Helena resident Judy Fjell.
Adams — who also composed the play’s dialogue and choreography — said she originally wrote the musical for River Mountain Repertory Theatre for Youth and was drawn to the story’s tale of a misfit trying to find his way through the world.
Like Duck Ugly, at one time in her life Adams felt like a misfit.
She was born in Hollywood and said many of her family members were actors. Her father Nick Adams was even a friend of Elvis’, Adams said.
But for Adams life wasn’t all glitz and glamour in the city of dreams.
Adams said her parents got divorced and her father died when she was seven years old. She described her adolescence as a “tough time,” and said she was eventually sent to Montana to live with her uncle in Ennis as a form of respite and remediation.
But what Adams found in Montana was something she couldn’t find in Hollywood: a sense of belonging.
“I always felt like an ugly duckling in Hollywood,” Adams said, noting that Montana felt more like home than anywhere else. “I always say that Montana saved me.”
After graduating high school, Adams went back to California for college. She later moved to New York City, where she studied method acting and taught creative movement and dance to children, including those with special needs, and to seniors. She moved back to Montana in 1997 and, in addition to other arts-based organizations, launched the River Mountain Repertory Theatre for Youth, for which she wrote the original version of "Duck Ugly.''
Adams said she’s long held a passion for teaching and sees the arts as an avenue for healing for young people who don’t “fit in” to a traditional educational setting.
“My whole life has been devoted to ‘art heals’” said Adams.
She said acting, dance and “experiential learning” can provide an outlet for energetic students who can sometimes be labeled as “disruptive.” The arts, she said, gives these students the opportunity to utilize their energy and express themselves in a positive way.
But most of all, said Adams, the arts can help young people find a place in the world where they can be themselves.
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“You go from place to place looking for where you belong,” said Adams, “where is home and where do you belong?”
Adams said she’s made a few changes to the play for the Orphan Girl production, most notably the inclusion of a new character — the “Fairy God Dude Man,” who is Elvis and a fairy godmother rolled into one.
Adams described the Fairy God Dude Man as a divine intervention character.
“So Elvis is divine intervention?” The Montana Standard asked.
Adams responded in the affirmative, laughing.
“To me he’s like an angel,” she said.
In the play the Elvis character helps Duck Ugly pick himself up by his webbed feet when he feels as though he can’t continue any longer after being taunted and teased by the other characters.
But Elvis is more than just a character in Adams’ play.
The King of Rock ’n' Roll has special meaning for the Virginia City resident because of her father, who Adams said spent eight days with the performer in Memphis. Her father wrote a manuscript based on the trip called “The Rebel & The King,” which Adams published in 2012.
Other creative work from Adams includes her one woman show, “Moment of Peace,” about Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin. She also recently completed a new play "Save the Country: How Belle Fligelman and Jeannette Rankin changed the world."
As for Elizabeth Crase, the play’s director, and Orphan Girl Artistic Director Jackie Freeman, they say the play’s themes of belonging and inclusion are precisely what drew them to “Duck Ugly.”
“Contemporary, fun and old favorite songs illustrate the emotional thread of Ugly's journey as an outcast because he is different,” the two said in a news release. “‘Duck Ugly’ is full of heart and humor.”
“That’s just such a powerful message,” Freeman later told The Montana Standard, noting that the message has been a reoccurring theme throughout Orphan Girl’s current season.
Earlier Orphan Girl presented “Same Difference,” a play focusing on disability awareness. Several of the cast members were children with disabilities, Freeman said, and many of them have returned to star in “Duck Ugly.”
“This is a place for everyone,” said Freeman of the Orphan Girl Theatre. “Regardless of your socio-economic status and regardless of how you move through the world.”