Theater lets kids get into the act

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Kids rehearse a scene for a Missoula Children’s Theatre (MCT) production of “Robin Hood” in Alamos, a town in Sonora, Mexico. MCT is currently working with local kids as it tours U.S. bases in the Asia-Pacific region. Photo courtesy of MCT
Kids rehearse a scene for a Missoula Children’s Theatre (MCT) production of “Robin Hood” in Alamos, a town in Sonora, Mexico. MCT is currently working with local kids as it tours U.S. bases in the Asia-Pacific region. Photo courtesy of MCT

Theater lets kids get into the act

by: David Hurwitz | .
Stripes Korea | .
published: July 30, 2012

It is said we are all the stars in a play about our own lives, but if you are a child on one of the U.S. military bases now being visited by the Missoula Children’s Theatre (MCT), you may get a chance to star in someone else’s show as well.

MCT will offer a one-week residency for its presentation of “Beauty Lou and the Country Beast,” a country and western version of “Beauty and the Beast,” at Osan Air Base from Aug. 20 to 25. Auditions will be held on Aug. 20, 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Osan Youth Center. No workshops are scheduled, with a performance of the show slated for Aug. 25, 2 p.m., at the Osan Officers’ Club.

It’s not “Hamlet,” “Richard III,” or even “The King and I,” but participants in the one-week acting program get to enter the magical world of theater and explore their own thoughts and feelings as well as those of the characters they portray.

“The primary goal of MCT is to develop life skills in children through participation in the performing arts,” said Terri Elander, the group’s international and public relations director.

“Within each MCT cast, girls and boys are equal; the disabled become able; the shy experiment with bravery; the slow are rehearsed to perfection; and the gifted become part of the whole. The lesson they learn is that all of them are necessary for the show to go on,” reads the group website. “MCT provides a unique opportunity to learn the lessons of group dynamics while excelling as an individual – a lesson from art that carries into life. ”

The theater group is invited to towns around the U.S., as well as military bases worldwide, by a “presenting organization” in the locality that pays for a one-week residency.  The group provides materials to help plan and promote the residency week, holds open auditions to cast 50 to 60 local school-age children, conducts five days of rehearsals for four and a half hours a day.

It holds three enrichment workshops on a range of theatrical topics like acting, makeup and costumes, and oversees two public performances of a 60- to 70-minute-long original musical complete with scenery and costumes. The residency week is conducted by a team of two tour actor/directors, who are recruited at theater conferences nationwide.

In return, the presenting organization provides housing for a week in a homestay or hotel, a piano and accompanist, audition space, two rehearsal spaces and one performance space. The presenting organization can charge a participation fee for children and/or admission to the performances or not, as it chooses.

“MCT is in its 41st season of providing professionally guided theatrical experiences for children,” according to the group’s website. During the 2012-2013 season, MCT will have up to 47 teams of tour actor/directors touring 1,200 communities in all 50 U.S. states, five Canadian provinces and over a dozen other nations worldwide. More than 66,000 children will perform in Missoula Children’s Theatre productions.

As a measure of its success in introducing theater to young people, 80% of the communities bring MCT back to their areas the following year, Terri Elander said.

Learn more at mctinc.org

Why Missoula?

Missoula is a beautiful city of around 70,000 people located about 45 miles from the Idaho border. Situated at the convergence of five mountain ranges, it just doesn’t seem the likely home of a center for children’s theater in the U.S. So, why Missoula?

Like many good things, it happened by accident, according to the Missoula Children’s Theatre website.

In 1970, Jim Caron was on his way from  Chicago to Oregon when his Volkswagen van broke down near Missoula. While waiting for the van to be repaired, he noticed a poster for “Man of La Mancha” and, just for the heck of it, auditioned for the show. He was cast in the role of “Sancho” and became friends with Don Collins, the actor playing “Don Quixote.” Together, they organized a troupe of adult actors who performed plays for children.

The productions were well received, and other towns in Montana and Idaho soon requested performances.

The company cast kids when appropriate, but didn’t want to take responsibility for them when booked to perform in a community 500 miles away.

They decided to use children from among local families. The directors went to the town a week in advance to cast the children – meant to portray the dwarfs in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” – and found 450 kids waiting for them.

The interest among the children, parents and teachers in the community convinced the troupe they had found something special, and the basis for the current Missoula Children’s Theatre was born.

  – David Hurwitz

Tags: Education
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