Arts and Entertainment

Poisoned apples, personal growth

Missoula Children
Missoula Children's Theatre comes into town this week with their production of 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.'
— image credit: Contributed photo / Missoula Children's Theatre

The more comfortable you can get them in their own skin prior to adolescence, the better they’ll be able to handle the onslaught on their identity during their teenaged years.

Life skills. Empowerment.

Terms overused to the point of triteness, to be sure, but important concepts nonetheless.

Adolescence is the crucible: all the prep work that goes into them before adolescence pays off big time once they’re through it. Getting them comfortable with who they are — and getting them to believe you love them no matter what — is a huge challenge.

Theater helps. So do sports. Any structured activity where children are challenged on several levels, where they can experience both success and failure while being reinforced socially, pays huge dividends by the time they enter high school.

That’s why Missoula Children’s Theatre (MCT) and activities like it are so important. MCT’s Little Red Truck™ rolled off the ferry Sunday night in preparation for auditions that began Monday.

For more than 30 years, MCT has been traveling around North America producing shows and creating art and energetic self-confident children in 1,100 communities. Their program includes around 65,000 children annually.

In six days, Sarah Wright and Kepler Correia will bring 50 to 60 island children into the MCT fold and hold them together while they hold each other up in a six-day schedule, beginning-to-end performance of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

Wright and Correia move from town to town throughout the Pacific Northwest, auditioning children on Monday and working with them intensively until the performances on Saturday at 3 and 7 p.m.

The week is an intense one: rehearsals run up to three hours each, depending on the parts. Younger actors work alongside older actors, who usually get the most difficult parts, and MCT brings all the sets, costumes and props.

There’s no getting around it. If parents are looking for a way to get their child out of the house and into something that is really, really good for them, an MCT show is just about perfect.

“I think it was the best thing I ever did in my childhood, to be perfectly honest,” Jenni Merritt said.

Merritt grew up in the theater, spending much of her time in school productions directed by Fred Yockers and jumping into summer MCT productions every chance she got.

“I think I was 8 years old when I got into my first Missoula show,” she said. “I was in 18 productions until I was too old to audition. They used to come twice a summer — way fun.”

Merritt went from acting in productions to helping Yockers with the school productions in the last several years. She has seen children grow in the most unusual ways though involvement in theater.

“You learn so much stuff when you’re in a Missoula show,” Merritt said. “How to buckle down and get a job done. How to work with other kids. Even in just one week, I saw super-shy kids who, by the end of the week, were running around playing and interacting with others.”

Kim Wickman’s daughter Emma, by any measure, holds herself with poise on stage. Emma has been in Missoula shows, said her mother.

“She loved it,” Wickman said. “I think it’s amazing. She’s pretty confident. Over the last couple of years, and with that ‘Jazz Fly’ play, she seems to have confidence about being on stage. She’s willing to try anything.”

To say that Bristol Whalen’s experience in theater has helped shape her is accurate: she’s currently studying German and Theater at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma.

“What I got out of it was how to do amazing things with a lot of people in a short amount of time,” she said. “I made friends really fast by doing something cool. It has lasting impressions.”

While new to many children, the production of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” is in the current MCT rotation, as are many other fairy tales. It’s the third time the production has come to the island since Merritt was 8, she said. “It’s a good play,” she said.

Lest there be any doubt as to whether an MCT production sticks with children long after they grow onto other things, Merritt leaves no doubt.

“It’s a lot of fun. It has one of the best little kids’ songs in it. It’s the ‘Bat Song.’ All the kids sing this song about being bats. It’s very, very catchy. I still know all the words to it.”

— “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” is Saturday, 3 and 7 p.m., in the San Juan Community Theatre. For tickets, call 378-3210, visit the box office, or visit www.SanJuanCommunityTheatre.org

Missoula

Children’s

Theater’s

little red truck

returns with a production of ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’

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