Kids nail Wiz of the West 

Missoula Children’s Theatre returns to Whistler for another kids performance, by kids

WHAT: Missoula Children's Theatre presents The Wiz of the West

WHERE: Millennium Place

WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 29, 3 p.m. & 5:30 p.m.


Jennifer Wells is rehearsing lines with a dozen kids at Myrtle Philip Community School. The children are all reading out of a handbook and Wells is directing them where to stand and, when appropriate, suggests how to execute their lines.

The kids respond with the kind of enthusiasm parents wish would accompany their school work. But alas. Enthusiasm for theatre is better than no enthusiasm at all.

They're on the second day of rehearsals for the Missoula Children's Theatre production of The Wiz of the West , a cowboy take on The Wizard of Oz. Only one day before, Wells and her partner Jeremy Cunningham had auditioned these students. So many kids turned out to participate they had to turn some away.

By Thursday, the 52 kids, ranging in age from four to 12, won't even need handbooks for their lines. Saturday, they'll be dolled up in costumes and makeup, performing at Millennium Place for a packed house of their parents and friends.

Every year, MCT comes to Whistler and every year it sells out, but unlike a regular theatre performance, success is built not on audience reaction or how well the actors perform, but by how much the child has grown throughout the process.

"We obviously want to give that theatrical experience... but the main point is about the process and not necessarily the product," Cunningham says. "How does that child feel about themselves? How have they grown by the end of the week, regardless of whether or not they have remembered all of their lines."

The company's life statement is to develop life skills in children by participating in the performing arts. The kids are practically forced into dedication - they have to learn the lines and their roles. And by the end of it, they get a big payoff - the performance that all their parents and friends will get to see.

"That big pay-off, they can carry over into the rest of their life. If they work really hard in school there can be a big payoff. If they work really hard at an after school job or any of the other things in life that they do, that aspect can carry over," Cunningham, says.

Wills says, "They gain confidence, responsibility, they make friendships. It's very cool to watch these kids blossom."

All this happens in less than a week, which makes the immediacy of the payoff seem all that more important. It teaches the kids that hard work and dedication can breed immediate results. In school, a realm that offers results on a half-year basis, a program like Missoula Children's Theatre can give them some intense involvement and a large payoff, all within the span of a week.

"And I can definitely say that it stays with them longer than for just a week," Wells says. "We've gone back to communities who have said that because of this week, they now study harder in school, they've tried out for other things, they have this confidence that they never had before."

All MCT scripts are designed with the specific age groups in mind, so each group is given a certain kind of role that they can succeed in. Each year the troupe returns, the kids are a year older and advance in prominence in the play.

Cunningham and Wells travel together year-round, designated to one geographical region. Right now, they're travelling the Pacific Northwest with The Wiz while another dozen teams are travelling with different shows based on stories children and their parents are familiar with. Often, the MCT passing through town is a big small-town event, waiting all year long so they can see the show.

In Whistler, the kids are enthusiastic and, by the looks of it, poised to offer an energetic show. MCT is designed for success from its actors but that extra enthusiasm always helps.

"I think they're going to do great," Wells says.





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