When Katie Littleton, 10, first sat down to read her mother’s “Little House on the Prairie” books, she thought the stories didn’t move quickly enough.
But she kept reading, and now she appreciates author Laura Ingalls Wilder’s take on pioneer life and community values in the pre-digital era.
“Their lifestyle wasn’t fast like modern life is — it’s cool to learn about it,” says Katie, who plays Laura Ingalls in Adventure Theatre-MTC’s production of “A Little House Christmas,” running Nov. 17 to Dec. 13 in Glen Echo.
Katie, who lives in Washington, D.C., has performed before, including playing the Scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz,” as part of after-school classes at Adventure Theatre-MTC in Glen Echo.
This play, however, is her first professional acting job.
“It’s really fun and exciting, like a roller coaster,” says Katie, who hopes to pursue acting as a career.
But she also recognizes the challenges ahead in this production, which is set for 60 performances before the end of the year.
“I plan to keep auditioning for parts after this one, but I’ll see afterwards if I still love it,” says Katie, who has a clear-eyed view of the demands of her job.
She says she prepared for the role by reading the Ingalls books that her mother read as a girl and saved for her.
“I think I understand Laura’s personality much more after reading them,” she says.
“She loved being outdoors,” Katie says. “She was a troublemaker and said what she thought.”
Director Serge Seiden, who also lives in Washington, D.C., and whose sister supplied him with Ingalls’ books, says Laura is a girl who reaches out to others and who has a generosity and boldness about her.
“She’s willing to put herself out there, and she’s not afraid,” he says.
“That still appeals to girls today. [The books] tell something about women’s proscribed roles, and Laura just slightly pushes the boundaries.”
He also says Katie is well suited for the role.
“She has an infectious curiosity and delight that she brings to the rehearsal process,” he says.
“She also has a great sense of humor, and there’s also a calm about her,” he says.
Set in 1870s on the Midwestern plains, the hour-long play for children 4 years old and older was adapted by James Devita from episodes in the Ingalls books.
“A Little House Christmas” tells the story of a storm that causes a nearby creek to overflow, keeping Pa Ingalls (Robbie Gay) and Ma Ingalls (Hyla Matthews) from picking up Christmas presents they have ordered for their daughters Laura and Mary (Maya Brettell).
Seiden says the set is like a skeletal version of a house set against the sky with a suggestion of a wheat field in the background.
Inside is a big fireplace, chimney, wood stove and a wood plank floor.
“It’s an abstract frame but with realistic elements,” says Seiden, who also incorporates activities for the young actors into the play.
“The kids do some quilting, and they make decorations for the tree,” he says. “They also carry in wood, and water from the creek.”
Seiden, who grew up on a farm not far from the Maine coast, is no stranger to chopping wood.
“We’d burn eight cords every winter,” he says. “We’d cut all the wood and put it in the basement in stacks.”
Seiden also remembers how farm families would help each other out in times of trouble and how they stayed focused on the important things in life, values reflected in the play as Christmas approaches for the Ingalls family.
“It honors the values in the book, which is what attracted me to work on it,” he says.