Learning life skills while having fun


Marilyn Delk


Darke County Center for the Arts brought Missoula Children’s Theatre to our community last week, once again offering local kids the fun and thrill of participation in theatre. MCT is one of my favorite things—not only because of my love for theatre, but also due to the organization’s commitment to and recurring achievement of its mission to develop lifeskills in children through participation in the performing arts—while the youngsters have a really good time. MCT’s idealistic goal is not reached by pounding pious platitudes throughout the intensive week of preparation prior to presentation of an impressive musical production, but simply through following the rules of theatre, an art form where all participants are dependent upon each other to achieve success.

The intrinsic message delivered by MCT’s The Emperor’s New Clothes is reiterated repeatedly throughout the production—“It’s not the clothes that make the person; it’s the character”—a lesson stating basic human values. However, when you talk to participants in the show, they mostly say they had a really good time. I talked to two of my neighbors who participated—Ivan Surber, who donned an incredibly cute (my description) but “very hot” (Ivan’s report) costume to play a Royal Silkworm, and his older brother Lewis, who took on the vital role of assistant director.

Ivan said that he made new friends with all of the other cast members, and that the very best part was “the end, where everybody is out there singing.” But he also knew that at the end, “the Emperor came back to common sense.” Lewis decided to be an assistant director because he liked the idea of working backstage better than being in front of people and “thought it would be interesting to help out and see what you could do.” He also quite honestly admitted that he “liked telling people what to do” and “The little kids depended on me.” The boys’ experience pretty much sums up “developing lifeskills in children.”

Each MCT production is led by a team of just two actor/directors. The talented and fun team of Mandi Fielding and Josh Hires who came to Henry St. Clair Memorial Hall epitomize the essence of the MCT mission; both are committed to advancing the art of theatre. And the duo enthusiastically agreed that our youngsters were by far the most talented that they had experienced during their summer tour with The Emperor’s New Clothes!

“It’s unbelievable how good they are!” Josh exclaimed. He went on to say that due to the kids’ already highly advanced understanding of basic performance, he and Mandi were able to go far beyond what is usually achieved during the week, teaching more advanced skills and furthering character development. “The kids are so responsive; we enjoy their performing,” Mandi said.

A part of an arts-loving family, Mandi participated in Missoula Children’s Theatre productions in her eastern Pennsylvania home town, each year informing the MCT team “When I grow up, I want to do your job!” While studying theatre performance and music at Huntington University, she began auditioning for MCT, finally fulfilling her life-long desire after three tryouts. Following what she calls an amazing summer with The Emperor’s New Clothes, she will play The Big Bad Wolf in MCT’s fall production of Red Riding Hood.

Josh grew up in West Monroe, La., and has been interested in the arts since he was “real little”; after earning a degree in another field enabling him to earn sufficient funds to pursue his dream, he began his career voice acting, then took part in a local stage production where his love of theatre was further enhanced. He will be performing at Universal Studios in Orlando during the winter months, and hopes to return to the MTC tour during its next season.

Josh and Mandi hope others find joy from participation in theatre, regardless of age or life situation. “There is so much to do in theatre—a creative outlet offering so many opportunities with so many benefits,” Josh explained, expanding on MCT’s mission of teaching lifeskills to children to include possible fulfillment of life goals for grownups.

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