• By Susanne Washburn

    Photography by Hubert Schriebl

    The Missoula Children’s Theatre turns ordinary youngsters into real live actors in Dorset

    Instant Actors

    In Snow White, there were 14 Bats, 18 Forest Animals, the eponymous Dwarfs, along with assorted counts of Turtles, Bluebirds, Frogs and Skunks. (Crews in The Wiz of the West are Buzzards, Tarantulas, Coyotes, and “Munch Kin”, among others.) At the end of each rehearsal day, the winning group gets its reward. In one such contest, the Dwarfs were the winners. Their prize: an advance look at the headgear they would wear in the show. Costumes are not distributed until Friday, the day before the performances. Dress rehearsal takes place Saturday morning, and then there’s a matinee and later performance. Between shows kids exchanged their costumes for street clothes, but got to wear their make-up home for dinner—cool!

    Dorset’s Sheila Childs, who’s given theatre workshops herself says, “From observing the TADs (different ones every year), I’m impressed with how the two manage a bunch of kids with a big age range. It’s so carefully organized, the younger ones rehearsing first, while the older ones do their school homework backstage; then the younger ones go home. It’s very scheduled.” Actor Zachary Zupan says there’s “a formula for casting different groups. For little kids there are 10 or 15 parts, not many lines to learn, mostly singing; as you get older, there are bigger parts; at my age, not as many parts—but real names and personalities.”

    MCT shows are guaranteed action-packed. The entire theatre space, not just the stage, is in use, with the Dwarfs (for instance), each with her distinctive mining prop, running in from the back of the house, and departing the same way, all the while singing: “yo/ hi, ho/ hi, ho/ It’s off/ to work/ we go/…We’re/ three less/ than ten…” (As it happened, the dwarfs last year were all girls.) During rehearsals, the director takes each onstage group through its moves; they mimic her. In Snow White, there was plenty of big-scale arm activity, plus bumps, kicks, falls, rolls and determined entrances, as well as distinctive gestures for each group, seen again when the entire cast took its bow at the curtain call.

    Tour actor-directors for the 2011 MCT show were Erica Zintek, who had been at Dorset four years earlier doing The Pied Piper, and Jen Weisphal, an MCT TAD for the previous three years. Both women have theatre degrees and professional stage experience, including dance. In the Dorset Snow White, Erica took the role of Witless the Woodsman, a character who’s onstage most of the time. “I was impressed with the fantastic talent of the Dorset kids,” she said, “and the great support for the arts in the area”.

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