Kids learn about history at Sack Lunch Theatre

Published: Tuesday, March 25 2014 4:29 p.m. MDT

Students enjoy a show during the Desert Star Sack Lunch theater at the Desert Star Playhouse in Murray on Thursday, March 13, 2014.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

MURRAY — Who knew third-grader Luke Sadler could belt out "The Star-Spangled Banner" on a moment's notice in front of an audience?

All of the kids from Butterfield Canyon and Newman Elementary schools and their teachers know it now.

Sadler was on stage at the Desert Star Playhouse when the "bonus round" came up and he was asked to sing the national anthem. He took a deep breath, opened his mouth and sang it through with almost no hesitation and with all the correct words.

It was part of the Desert Star Playhouse Sack Lunch Theatre program, designed to help teach history during the lunch hour to youngsters in the third and fourth grades through story, dance and song. The one-act musicals take place at the Murray playhouse, known for its original musical comedies and sing-along "olios." The current production is titled "An American Adventure."

Kelly Knight Clifton oversees the Sack Lunch Theatre program and writes and directs the shows. She's pleased that teachers are signing up to bring their classes.

"It's actually really great," Clifton said. "The kids learn history. They learn theater etiquette."

Clifton said the productions are designed to match the core curriculum outlined by the Utah State Office of Education — and to entertain at the same time.

"It's educational. It's patriotic. It's a field trip and it's theatrical," said David Pack, who plays Matt with the big glasses and the whirly hat in "An American Adventure."

Heather Derderian, a Butterfield Canyon teacher, said her students pay strict attention.

"We came last year, and our kids absolutely loved it," said Michelle Olsen, another one of the teachers. "It goes just exactly with our curriculum."

Ashlyn Miller, 8, said she knew the show was going to be funny and she liked taking a break from regular school.

Sam Weller has been to Desert Star before so he was thrilled when his teacher told the class they were going to have lunch at the theater and see a show.

"I'm guessing it will be kinda funny," predicted Blake Moss, 9, as he waited for the curtain to go up.

"Probably some adventure like the Civil War," said fellow student Davis Passey.

Derderian said she'll be bringing students from the school's other two tracks. She said the kids learn well from the stage story and respond to the game show at the end.

"We love it, for sure," she said.

The show starts with the Pledge of Allegiance and with Jackie Jones (played by MeKenzie Heaton) fighting boredom with the whole social studies experience in Miss Miller's class.

It isn't until she's fallen asleep and visited the past that she gets excited about the first Thanksgiving, the Boston Tea Party (a tea party without any real tea?), the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, introduced with simple songs and catchy rhythms.

Carrie Johnson plays Miss Miller and Jake Omer plays the part of Ryan, who is also the host of the game show.

The four actors will return for the next show, "Numbers of Glory," which will focus on math. ("Numbers" will run from April 14-May 29). The first 2014 show was "Science Saves Satterville."

Seats are $5 each, and students bring their own lunch to eat in the theater.

Olsen said the PTA paid for the bus this year and parents paid for the tickets, with some donating extra money so every student could attend.

"It's rewarding," Johnson said. "The kids are a good audience."

For more information, call 801-266-2600 or go online to

Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with more than 35 years' experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at


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