By Paige Murray
From the pages of a book to acting on a stage, “Rufus M.” is a story that has a way of bringing people together. Noel Johnston, who is producing a theatrical version of the story with the Stampede Troupe, will be reunited with a childhood friend who helped him get this story on the stage. On February 23 and 24, the children’s play “Rufus M.”, hosted by the Stampede Troupe, will be held at the Union Colony Civic Center for all to see.
Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Noel Johnston, a producer of the play, lived next to children’s book author Eleanor Estes and her family. He had attended the same elementary school as her daughter, Helena Estes, but in second grade moved away and had not talked to or seen her since.
After moving to Greeley, Johnston joined the Stampede Troupe and now serves as president. The Stampede Troupe has produced around 150 shows since it first started in 1974, showing about five or six shows every year, including two children’s performances.
About a year ago, Johnston and the Stampede Troupe had been looking for a new children’s play to begin producing. While looking over his bookshelf, he came upon his old children’s book “Rufus M.” written by Eleanor Estes. After reading through it, he decided to produce a play after the book.
“Rufus M.” is a story about a young boy named Rufus living during WW1 in 1917. It goes into detail about historical events, but from the perspective of a poor, fatherless family.
To recreate this story on stage, Johnston had to get consent from the author. This proved to be more difficult than expected. Eleanor Estes had passed away years back and the publishing company could not be found. His last option before choosing another story was to try to find Helena Estes.
After searching through Facebook, he came across four different people under the name who could possibly be the Helena he was looking for. After some thought, he finally messaged the one he thought was the most likely to be her, explaining who he was and is hope for recreating “Rufus M.”, but as a performance rather than a children’s book and waited.
Three months later Johnston was looking for other options for the performance when he got a message. The message had been from Helena, and she was ecstatic about the idea of turning her mother’s book into a children’s play.
Once she had given him the information for the publisher, he began his recreation of the story.
The play is an adaption of about seven of the chapters from the original story and has had to be modified slightly in order to create a complete understanding of the performance.
Having been written in 1943, it was not quite on the level of understanding for children in this day and age because it used adult words and somewhat complex ideas. Various parts had to be improvised to help establish that understanding.
Focusing on the time period the story takes place in was a critical part as well. There were many parts that they wanted to incorporate, but eventually had to take out because it did not make
Every story has a lesson to take home and Johnston has two main themes that he interrupted from Estes’s story: sharing what a loving family is and perseverance. Throughout the story, little Rufus has to overcome many barriers, but one thing never changed, his perseverance. He never gave up and continually worked for what he wanted, a theme that Johnston wants the audience to understand.
When Johnston finally had a draft of the play finished, he emailed Helena to see what she thought of his adaptation of the story. And she loved it.
“My goal from the beginning was to capture what he thought Eleanor’s intent with the characters in this story and I think her intent was to show what a loving family means and that, the little boy Rufus, has a mother that loves and comes from a poor family, but the love and support of his family and people around him is more than enough,” Johnston said.
The premiere of “Rufus M.” is not the only thing that will be adding to the excitement of the event for Johnston. Helena Estes has decided to attend the show and Johnston will be reunited with his childhood friend after about 62 years.
Stories such as these are not seen every day. It establishes a sense of relationships and connections between family, no matter how hard the time and the idea that people can come together over even the simplest things, such as a story.
And this particular story is unfolding right here in Greeley.