VERMILION — For one week a year, the students at St. Mary School know this: Something is coming.
Year-round, parents work to raise money and secure sponsorships to bring the Missoula Children’s Theatre program to the kindergarten-through-fifth-grade student body.
This is that week. Two directors from the Montana-based company showed up with a van full of sets and costumes and scripts, ready to put on a full-fledged musical this weekend.
This year’s show, “Jack and the Beanstalk,” already was shortened one day by a snow day Monday. That’s usually the day students audition for parts. The fast pace of the show calls for rehearsals to start within 30 minutes from the end of auditions, explained Molly Anders, who is co-president, along with Micah Roberts, of the school’s parent-student organization.
Auditions were postponed until Tuesday, when 61 kids — roughly half of the entire student body — tried out, Anders said. This is the third year for the program at St. Mary School, and interest in the show has risen consistently.
Kids will learn the hourlong show, including their lines and six or seven songs, to perform at 7:30 p.m. today and 3 p.m. Saturday. The show will be at the Vermilion High School, 1250 Sanford St. Tickets are $5 at the door, and free for children younger than 3.
“The way we teach is very intentional. We make them be hands-on from the beginning,” said Morgan Summers, a director. “Missoula’s mission is teaching life skills through theater. We’re not just looking for kids who are good performers. We’re looking for kids who are role models, team leaders — who’s focused, who’s supportive.”
They said it’s easy to know who to cast as leads based on personalities. In some schools — the theater company employs 50 teams of two directors each that travel to all 50 states and 17 other countries for the weekly intensives — the directors may be working with children from kindergarten through seniors in high school in the same show and have to make sure they get along and act professional.
“A lot of times, we’ll get people coming up and telling us, ‘Listen, this kid is a handful,’ and I’m often like, ‘Actually, I don’t really want to know.’ Our setting is not school. They become different people in this program. You’d be amazed what children can do,” said Tierra Porter, another director.
The kids rehearse four hours a day leading up to the show — and love every minute of it, organizers said. Teachers work classroom instruction around the week. The shows are designed to accommodate a flexible number of cast members, and in a small school like St. Mary all students who try out can get a part. Kindergartners, for instance, play Wonder Beans — tiny superheroes who bring all the muscle to grow the famous beanstalk.
“They steal the show. That’s what they do, always,” Porter said.
Porter and Summers take turns every week, switching off who gets to “herd onstage, or herd offstage” — one will be onstage, helping prompt kids through their lines or movements and one will be behind the scenes, making sure kids get off set, change costumes and enter on cue.
Anders said Roberts is the “mastermind behind this.”
Roberts wrote a grant proposal that brought Nordson Corp. to the table to fund the show, along with several other corporate and private sponsors. The program costs $3,650 for the week, but local districts also provide housing for the directors, the venue and musical accompaniment.
“It only lasts a week, so the kids aren’t burnt out, we moms don’t have to sew costumes, and they do it all in one week,” Anders said. “It’s just awesome.”
Contact Rini Jeffers at email@example.com.