Sixty youngsters, auditioned on Monday, putting a musical onstage on Saturday—impossible? Not for the Missoula Children’s Theatre, which sends teams of actor-directors to guide local kids through MCT’s special six-day training program every year in some 1,200 venues across the U.S., Canada and beyond. In Vermont, this magical theatrical event has happened for the past eight years—at the Dorset Playhouse. And, according to Maureen Chaffee of the Dorset Players, who was instrumental in originally bringing Missoula to Dorset, “It’s definitely something that’s become a hallmark at our theater. We look forward to it every year.”
This year’s show: The Wiz of the West with its major dance component is an original MCT script that draws on the 1975 Broadway hit The Wiz, but in this retelling, the Wizard of Oz is back in his native Kansas as Dr. Ozzy, Wizard of Frontier Medicine.
Last year Stratton Magazine followed the Green Mountain thespians, ages 6 to 14, during the week they prepared and put on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Their show, to be sure, was not the familiar Brothers Grimm version that dates from 1812, but a very 21st-century telling with kids spouting language like “freeloaders” and “Calculate it in metric?”
The Montana-based theatre company that makes all this happen celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2011. Conceived in 1970 by a couple of actors, MCT has grown to a staff of 47 teams of TADs (“tour actor-directors”) who drive a signature Little Red Truck into town every year, full of costumes for the big cast, props, movable fabric flats and some versatile sturdy boxes (sit on them, stand on them, lie down on them) for the stage set.
The TADs travel from town to town, and are put up during their visit at either an inn, motel or home by the sponsoring group—school, theatre, organization, U.S. Army (at West Point and overseas)—whatever. The show’s posters and publicity are all provided by MCT, and stories placed in local newspapers put out calls for kids in advance of the production week.