Before she was a renowned humanitarian, conservationist, and animal activist, Dr. Jane Goodall was a little girl with a very special toy chimpanzee named Jubilee. Created by the Kennedy Center’s renowned youth theater program, the musical Me…Jane: The Dreams and Adventures of Young Jane Goodall shows how that youthful attachment to a toy became a lifelong devotion to real primates, which in turn has transformed how humans view and treat these fellow beings. It also foreshadows the gender-based discrimination that Goodall would repeatedly vanquish in her lifelong quest to study wild animals.
The Kennedy Center Theater for Young Audiences on Tour performs Me…Jane on Sunday, May 5, 3 pm, in Spaulding Auditorium of the Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth. School groups will see the performance on Monday, May 6, and both shows will be American Sign Language-interpreted.
Dame Jane Morris Goodall is best known for her nearly six-decade study of social and family interactions of wild chimpanzees, primarily in Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania, in 1960. She is the founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and Roots & Shoots (a global environmental and humanitarian education program for young people), and she has worked extensively on conservation and animal welfare issues.
Passionate about animals from early childhood, Goodall couldn’t afford to attend university so worked as a typist and in documentary films, continuing to educate herself about Africa and its wildlife. When she had the good luck to be invited to visit a friend in Kenya in 1957, she met the famous paleontologist Louis B. Leakey and impressed him with her knowledge of the continent’s flora and fauna. He hired her to accompany him and his wife on a fossil-hunting expedition in Tanzania. After that, Goodall was able to get permission and funding to live among and study the wild chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park. Patiently acclimating the chimps to her presence, she was able to observe them more closely than any previous scientist, discovering til-then unknown behaviors such as meat-eating and tool-making. Word of her work spread, and Goodall was accepted in 1962 at Cambridge University as a PhD candidate, one of very few people to be admitted without a university degree.
National Geographic decided to sponsor her work, and Goodall published her article in the magazine in 1963. She earned her PhD in ethology (the study of animal behaviour) in 1965. Also in 1965, National Geographic granted funds for the construction of the first buildings of what would become the Gombe Stream Research Centre. National Geographic television specials introduced an international audience to Goodall and her unconventional practices–such as naming the chimpanzees rather than referring to them by, say, number. While some scientists scoffed at this, Goodall steadfastly defended what is now conventional wisdom: that primates have individual personalities, just like humans.
Based on the 2011 book by Patrick McDonnell, a beloved, bestselling author-artist and creator of the Mutts syndicated comic strip, Me…Jane shows Jane and Jubilee as they go on outdoor adventures and observe the miracles of nature around them. As they discover new and exciting things on their expeditions, Jane dreams of spending the rest of her life living with and helping animals–despite nosy neighbors who scold her for being silly. She takes her Jubilee with her as she watches the chickens and squirrels in the rural English neighborhood, recording her observations in a notebook. With anecdotes taken directly from Goodall’s autobiography, this adaptation makes a true story accessible for the young—and young at heart. Original songs like like “Animals, Animals, Animals!” and “Be Still” memorably communicate the principles that animated this budding scientist.
Goodall herself gave the show a stamp of approval when it premiered at the Kennedy Center in 2017. “The idea of bringing Me…Jane to the stage is very exciting,” she told the Kennedy Center. “I love the book and I am sure that the live action will inspire children of all ages to pursue their dreams and to realize if Jane did it, they can do it, too.”
Critics, too, cheered the production. Wrote DC Theatre Scene, “5 STARS! One of the most poignant moments I’ve recently seen at the theater.” Wrote the Washington Post, “Animals sing and dance throughout the show. Not real animals, but … actors … [who] leap, swing, scamper, pant and peck just like the creatures they portray. Judging by the cheers and laughter of the audience, they were a big hit.”
Goodall, born in 1934 and raised in Bournemouth, England, was the first person to study chimpanzees in their native habitat, in Africa, and has written about 30 books on her experiences. She also travels and speaks frequently about conservation and protecting our shared planet. The play ends with a video of Goodall as an adult, showing her observing and playing with chimps in Africa and sharing a message with the audience.
Watch Jane Goodall interact with the chimpanzees at the Houston Zoo in preparation for the musical: