Following the final performance of Darke County Center for the Arts’ presentation of Missoula Children’s Theatre’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” the parent of a cast member confided that during the past week her child, after a year of “never fitting in” at school, had blossomed into a happy child once again, joyously announcing following a midweek rehearsal, “I’ve found my people!” A happy ending, indeed, and another MCT success story.
The primary goal of Missoula Children’s Theatre – indeed the organization’s mission – is the development of life skills in children through participation in the performing arts. That brief summation of MCT’s ultimate purpose is preceded in the group’s mission statement by four and a half long paragraphs explaining in exquisite detail the what, why, and how of that lofty goal. After citing the pressures facing today’s youngsters, the document explains that MCT “strives to use participation in the performing arts as a vehicle to develop life skills (social skills, communication skills, self-discipline, a strong worth ethic, an understanding of the team concept and self-esteem) to answer the challenges of our time.”
A later paragraph explains that “within each cast, girls and boys are equal; the disabled become able; the shy experiment with bravery; the slow are rehearsed to perfection; and the gifted become part of the whole. The lesson they learn is that all of them are necessary for the show to go on. MCT provides a unique opportunity to learn the lessons of group dynamics while excelling as an individual – a lesson from art that carries into life.”
Virginia native Ashley Jones and Texan Annie Liskow, the team of MCT actors/directors who led all of the creative activity at Henry St. Clair Memorial Hall from July 30 through Aug. 4, strongly believe in the values espoused by their employer, and shared those values as they taught, disciplined, mentored, and supported their first-through 12th-grade charges who all worked together to produce a first-class production of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”
Annie had become enamored of theatre at a young age, her interest sparked by her families’ annual trips to New York City to take in the plays on Broadway; her teachers in high school and professors at Ohio Northern University not only strengthened her love of the theatre arts, but also motivated her to want to give back by helping others discover the benefits of involvement in theatre.
Ashley, painfully shy as a youngster, credits theatre with bringing her out of her shell, providing an outlet to discover different aspects of her own personality as she escaped into characters she portrayed onstage. As she continues to learn and grow in her craft by teaching and engaging with youngsters, she sees on a regular basis how others’ lives are positively impacted through the arts, mutually benefiting all concerned.
As Annie and Ashley directed intensive rehearsals, introduced songs, and taught choreography, they were impressed by the camaraderie and support for one another among their cast of local youngsters. These bonds were reinforced by the underlying theme of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” the idea that you are not alone and can call on your team for help recurs throughout the show, demonstrating the power of teamwork in achieving goals. The MCT duo also led workshops that while teaching acting and improvisation skills also gave lessons useful in everyday life.
The mission of Missoula Children’s Theatre is achieved again and again in more than 12,000 communities throughout the U.S. and 17 countries across the world. You can see it when you observe youngsters encouraging and supporting each other throughout the residency week; you can feel it when an exuberant cast delivers an amazing performance. You hear about it when Ashley and Annie speak of sharing the magic of theatre to impact lives. When you learn that the inclusiveness found when a team works together to achieve a common goal has restored a feeling of belonging to an alienated youngster, you know that “skills to last a lifetime” can truly be instilled in lives through involvement with the arts.