When Amy Stead selected a play called "The Track Home" for junior high students to perform this fall, she had no idea it was written by a former student in Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191.
"The Track Home" director Emily Duea, seated, gives student-actors instructions as the cast rehearses at Burnsville High School.
"I was searching for highly-rated dramas for large, young casts," said Stead, a language arts teacher and drama director at Eagle Ridge Junior High in Savage. "This show has won some national awards at festivals. I chose it because of the structure of it and the fact that the characters were compelling and I could envision it on my stage. It is beautifully written."
Turns out the playwright is Kari Catton, who lived in Burnsville from 1969 to 1973 until her family moved to Sprinfield, Ill, where she now lives.
She heard from her publisher that her former school, Nicollet Junior High, was performing her play, "The Track Home."
"It is quite a coincidence that my old school is doing this play," said Catton. "I am just thrilled beyond belief."
In fact, she's traveling from Illinois to see the performance and a long-time friend from Nicollet, Mel Boudreau Allen, will be joining her.
The following weekend, the combined Nicollet and Metcalf cast will perform at 7 p.m. on Nov. 21 and 22 and at 3 p.m. on Nov. 22, also at the PAC at Eagle Ridge Junior High, 13955 Glendale Road, Savage. Stead is directing the Eagle Ridge production while the joint Nicollet/Metcalf production is directed by Emily Duea, a 2010 graduate of Burnsville High School who graduated from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities in 2014 with a double major in Theatre and Psychology.
"My years spent at Nicollet were some of the best," said Catton. "We painted shoes in the gym hallways. We painted a spiral rainbow in a stairwell." She also recalls Nicollet teachers who led field trips to the Guthrie, were enthusiastic about communications, and who taught typing. They all had an impact on her playwriting.
Catton began writing plays as a second grader and eventually developed the character of Casey who is featured in many stories and adventures including "The Track Home" and its sequel.
She continued to write numerous plays in high school and college, and then majored in theatre. Some of her works were produced and earned awards.
"The Track Home" is about the orphan trains, which were part of a welfare program that transported about 250,000 orphaned and homeless children from crowded cities in the eastern United States to find homes in rural areas of the Midwest between 1853 and 1929.
"This history just unfolded before me and I buried myself in the research," said Catton. "It was so much fun to discover this dramatic piece of our American history that I had never heard before. It was the perfect motivation for this play."