The project is sponsored by a grant from the University of California Humanities Research Institute. UC Merced Professor Katherine Steele Brokaw is directing the show and coproducing it with music theater lecturer and professional opera singer Jenni Samuelson and Arts UC Merced producing manager Gail Benedict.
"The play has a message we think is important," Brokaw said. "It's learning not to judge people who look different from you and learning not to bully. It doesn't matter where you come from — it's where you're going."
"Ugh the Duck" will be performed twice a day in the campus' Dr. Lakireddy Auditorium from May 15 to 18. More than 2,400 area youth will see the production. There will also be two public performances, one at 10 a.m. and one at 2 p.m., on May 19 at the Merced Multicultural Arts Center, 645 W. Main St.
The afternoon performance will be followed by a panel discussion on arts education and its benefits to Central Valley children featuring theater professionals, K-12 educators and UC Merced professors. Donations from the public performances will help support the Merced County Arts Council.
The production is a joint venture with Merced County Office of Education (MCOE), which will bring local school children to campus and expose them to the fine arts. It also gives UC Merced students an opportunity to work with professional performers, thus strengthening connections across several communities, Brokaw said.
"We hope that the show's message — that every child can someday spread their wings but still have a place to call home — resonates with the children of Merced and inspires them perhaps to consider someday becoming a UC Merced student," Brokaw said.
The play was written by Nancy Steele Brokaw, and the music is by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Arthur Sullivan. The music director is Patrice Stribling Nelson.
UC Merced students Justin Choi and Kirstin Grice-Rower will star in the play with Samuelson and professional opera singer Donn Bradley. Community theater artists Corey Strauss and Karen Damme are working on the design team.
Two years ago, UC Merced and MCOE collaborated to produce "Little Red Riding Hood" for local schools.