By Heather Regula, Correspondent
1970 was a memorable year – the Concorde completed its’ first supersonic flight, the voting age lowered to 18, the average cost of a home was $23,450, a postage stamp cost six cents, gas was 36 cents a gallon, Earth Day was celebrated for the first time, the Beatles disbanded, and Richard Nixon was President. 1970 was also the year that a jobless actor named Jim Caron made his way from Chicago, Ill, to Oregon, and ultimately as fate, or a broken down vehicle would have it, to Missoula, Mont. While waiting for his car to be fixed, Caron spontaneously auditioned for a play in town. He got the role, and his life changed as a result. He partnered with fellow actor, Don Collins, to create a theater company.
Forty years later, the Missoula Children’s Theater has morphed into a traveling theater that stretches across the globe – performing in every state and 16 countries. The Cultural Activities Center hosts this annual event and the production this year is “The Tortoise Versus The Hare: The Greatest Race.” There are 58 children cast in this musical.
Hannah Stephens and Nicholas Main are the Missoula Tour Actor Directors at the helm of the production, and both Stephens and Main have Bachelors of Fine Arts and professional acting experience.
“The production is written by the home staff at Missoula Theater. They write the script, design the set and create the props and costumes,” explained Stephens. “The show comes with us. We are in each town for one week – auditioning kids on Monday, rehearsing all week, and performing that weekend. It’s amazing to see how much growth and bonding takes place in kids just in one week.”
Not knowing 58 children before spending a week with them might present a challenge to some. But Stephens and Main handle it seemingly with ease. They have successfully created a culture of mutual respect, discipline, and community among the children. The kids positively interact and support each other.
“We love to bring theater to children everywhere. Most towns Missoula travels to are small. This is a great, cost-effective, way for a city to teach the arts,” said Main. “I love working with these kids and watching them come out of their shell. Learning how to speak, and sometimes make mistakes, in front of others is an important life skill!”
Amy Thomas has two sons, Noah (10) and Andy (8), involved in the show. Noah is playing The Hare, and Andy is playing Popsy Gecko.“My boys have been involved in Missoula Children’s Theater for three years. My five-year-old daughter, Emma, loves watching her brothers perform. They come home and teach her the songs and dances. She can’t wait until she is old enough to participate,” said Thomas. “My boys are Scouts and athletes, so this is something out of their norm. One of my sons is super shy, and this has helped him come out of his shell. Missoula is an incredible opportunity for kids.”
Eleven-year-old Zoe Krueger of Belton has acted in school and UMHB plays, but this is her first year performing in a Missoula Children’s Theater production.
“I love acting, and the costumes are great! I’m playing Mo, the evil weasel,” said Krueger. “I’m not evil in real life, so it’s a challenge to make myself think and act that way.”
Paula Knight, the show’s accompanist, retired from teaching music after 29 years in the classroom.
“I play the piano for the kids and the show. Missoula sends the neatest young adults to lead the children – it’s so fun to watch them. I’m going to get my grandkids involved in this next year. Maybe we can make it a fun week and let them stay with me while they work on the production,” said Knight.
Fifteen-year-old sophomore Kahlan Henderson has the role of the Tortoise.
“My school schedule is busy, and I am not taking theater classes, so I love this opportunity. It is my fourth year to be part of Missoula Children’s Theater, and I love acting. Working together on a production teaches everyone dedication and commitment,” said Henderson.
Kristen Reichert, Visual Arts Director for the CAC, was responsible for booking the camp and handling the registration.
“My son, Arty, is seven years old and he is Bulldog Bunny. He loves participating in this. Missoula does a great job and helps to build confidence in children,” said Reichert.
Next year’s Missoula Children’s Theater will take place in the second week in August 2018.
“We can’t pre-register, as there will be open auditions for school-age children. More information on the camp and what other things the CAC offers can be found at www.cacarts.org,” said Reichert.
Anyone interested in teaching theater or classes at the CAC can contact Kristen Reichert at (254)773-9926 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.