While many local community theater stages are dark, Westfield Playhouse’s newly formed Youth Advisory Council has rehearsed and put on a staged reading of “Alice in Wonderland,” while raising money for both the Playhouse and the Hamilton County Harvest Food Bank.
Due to the looming COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease) pandemic, the staged reading was recorded, without an audience, and offered online to patrons who donated a minimum $10 to the production project.
The “Alice in Wonderland” script was royalty-free, which means that the work is part of the public domain and anyone can produce it for free. The youth council, upon announcing the project to the public, decided to give 20 percent of donations to the food bank.
“It will help with food purchases,” said Anita Hagen, executive director of the food bank, as she accepted a check from the Playhouse. “Through COVID, we’re having to purchase a lot of food.” The food bank, Hagen said, “is more like a grocery store for the food pantries,” serving about 40 pantries in the county from the nonprofit’s location at 1605 N. 10th St., Noblesville. The pantry also packs food for children’s meal programs throughout the county, utilizing the kitchen space at Ivy Tech in Noblesville.
Hagen said other than the Christmas holiday donations (mainly from schools and businesses), 2020’s food for the pantry was mainly all purchased. “People have been very, very generous,” she said, noting that about $60,000 was purchased from donations from the community in 2020.
Hagen was thrilled to get the donation from the theater and youth council.
Rosie Allenson, co-chairman of the youth council said, “We decided collectively that we would like to donate 20 percent of the proceeds from that show to a local organization, and we thought yours was perfect for that, because we’re so very thankful for all the work that you do for our community.”
Allenson said the donation was twofold. “We wanted to show that our organization cares not only for its patrons but also for its community.”
She said, “We were delighted to be able to put on a show that was loyalty free that enabled us to be able to donate to an organization such as this one.”
Westfield Playhouse Youth Council came about when Allenson approached the Westfield Playhouse board about becoming a youth board member. Allenson, 17, Noblesville, has performed in productions at Westfield Playhouse and wanted to be more involved. The Noblesville High School senior, who graduated in December and who will go through commencement in June, is spending her final semester fulfilling an internship by volunteering at Westfield Playhouse and at Buck Creek Players Playhouse southeast of Indianapolis.
Allenson and Jadin Payton, 18, Elwood, are co-chairmen of the youth council, which began forming in July 2020. The youth council is comprised of young thespians who were recruited personally by Allenson and Payton to join in as founding members of the youth council.
During rehearsals in January, the youth council met twice a week virtually via Zoom video-conferencing, easy-to-use online platform.
Allenson and Payton directed and acted in the production, and also did set decoration. Westfield Playhouse board member Tom Smith produced the play. Brandi Davis, Payton’s mom, was light board operator and created the online playbill which was posted on the Playhouse website of which she is webmaster.
Eight of the 11 members of the youth council made up the cast of 21 roles in “Alice.” Each member played one to four roles, depending on the role size and availability. Council/cast members included Rachel Bush, as Alice; Graham Puterbaugh of Westfield, as Lewis Carrol, Mad Hatter and Mock Turtle; Jadin Payton as King of Hearts, Caterpillar and Twiddledee; Maya Davis as White Rabbit, Frog Footman and Five of Spades; Kenzie Odle of Noblesville as Red Queen, Cheshire Cat, March Hare and Two of Spades; Addie McMillan as White Queen, Duchess and Gryphon; Rosie Allenson as Queen of Hearts, Twiddledum and Seven of Spades; and Tatyanna Hobbs as Humpty Dumpty, Knave of Hearts and Dormouse.
The production required no set and no props, with the exception of music stands and stools. Actors donned black attire (except for Alice in her blue dress and white pinafore) and clear face shields and kept a social distance on the playhouse stage. “Apart from the occasional hat (or sweater, jacket or eyeglasses) change to indicate a character switch,” or Mad Hatter hat or rabbit ears, there were no costume changes required, Allenson said.
The Council/cast had one in-person rehearsal only, just one night before the filming.
“I definitely think that recording was the best option. It kept everybody safe, our actors and actresses. I think viewing online isn’t ideal, but it’s definitely do-able. I definitely think that our cast did a fantastic job of putting it together. And I think it will just show that our youth council is capable of so much,” said Payton, who plans to attend Ball State University in the fall to study architectural engineering.
While the family friendly classic was a simple production, the play project was well received.
Allenson said, “We have a very supportive group of parents as well … those parents were very eager to view the show though it be virtual. All of our youth advisory council members were extremely helpful in promoting the show on social media and by word of mouth. So we did have a fantastic turnout despite it being only virtual, which helped not only our council but also the theater and, in turn, the food bank.
Allenson is happy with the success of the youth council’s first production project. She hopes in the future that youth council projects will have a live audience. “If not, then I would love to see the theater be able to have some more professional recording done so we can make it more of a cinematic experience.”
“It raised a good amount of money for our theater and for an organization that really makes a positive difference in our community,” Allenson said. “It also allowed our passionate young theatrical leaders to showcase their talents and abilities in a safe way, while still allowing them to get a taste of how to operate a show completely on their own.”
“It was a joy to work alongside such professional, passionate, and responsible young actors,” said Allenson, who graduated in December but won’t go through commencement until June with her class of 2021.
Allenson has been accepted into the American Academy of Dramatic Arts this fall in New York City, the same school attended by such notables as Robert Redford, Grace Kelly and Lauren Bacall, and Kirk Douglas.

-Contact Betsy Reason at [email protected] Betsy’s daughter, Addie McMillan, serves on Westfield Playhouse’s new Youth Advisory Council and met Allenson previously at The Belfry Theatre’s “Cheaper by the Dozen” play; both are Conner Prairie youth volunteers. Addie played Erin Walton alongside Jadin Payton, who portrayed John Boy Walton, in Westfield Playhouse’s 2017 holiday production of “The Homecoming, A Christmas Story.”