Theater Director Mireya (Murry) Hepner creates productions that help make kids clever

By Hope Katz Gibbs

Field trips to live theater enhance literary knowledge, tolerance, and empathy among students, according to a study at the University of Arkansas. The research team found that reading and watching movies of Hamlet and A Christmas Carol  could not account for the increase in knowledge experienced by students who attended live performances of the plays.

Students who attended live performances of the play also scored higher on the study’s tolerance measure than the control group by a moderately large margin and were better able to recognize and appreciate what other people think and feel.

That’s something that Mireya (Murry) Hepner knows intuitively. She has been responsible for all things MainStreet Theatre Company at the Lewis Family Playhouse in Rancho Cucamonga’s Victoria since its inception in 2006.

“I am so proud of the award-winning company that we’ve become, and I am grateful to all of the creative artists who’ve shared their collective imaginations and artistry with our audiences,” says the lifelong theater maven who has spent more than two decades working in the American Theatre, on Broadway and off, in Regional Theatre and on the road.

“My mission at MainStage is to teach kids empathy. Through theater, I want to open their eyes in brand new ways to discover great artistry, strong protagonists, and good role models—be it other children, animals, or characters they can relate to.”

With three plays performed each season by professional Equity actors, Hepner says the scripts she chooses are ones that will evoke a discussion between the students, their teachers, and their parents. Case in point is the upcoming show to be performed Feb. 1-9: And Then They Came For Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank.”

“This play questions what happens when hate and violence become normalized, so the audience should be 6th graders and older,” Hepner suggests. “We know they will be amazed, for it is a unique theatrical experience that combines videotaped interviews with Holocaust survivors Ed Silverberg and Eva Schloss with actors recreating scenes from their lives as young teens during World War II. Both were friends of Anne Frank’s, and we learn firsthand their stories of terrible hardship, survival, and hope against all odds.”

There are even more shows not to be missed this year at the Lewis Family Playhouse, where the mission is to build a community by having them experience memorable performances.

“Through school performances and weekend public shows, we reach close to 25,000 young people and educators a year,” explains Cultural Center Manager Peggy Magee, noting that this season offerings for all ages range from The Broadway Princess Party and Peter Gros Animal Kingdom to the award-winning International Mime Company Mummenschanz and the comedy and magic show The Chipper Experience.

Be sure to read our one-on-one Kiddie Academy interviews with Hepner and Magee on our blog.

Click here to learn more about the Playhouse.

And click here to explore the power of taking kids to the theater!