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By Marilyn Delk


An enriching, incredibly fun opportunity awaits area first- through 12th-grade students this summer. Darke County Center for the Arts is once again bringing a team of Missoula Children’s Theatre Actors/Directors to Henry St. Clair Memorial Hall in Greenville to produce a full-blown musical starring local youngsters; and a good time will be had by all!

The MCT team will bring their little red truck crammed with everything needed for the play except the cast, and on Monday, July 15, will hold auditions for the 50 to 60 available roles in a production of The Pied Piper. Immediately following the auditions, which will begin at 10 a.m. and end at 12 noon, intense rehearsals will begin and continue throughout the week. And then, on Saturday, July 20, two performances of the fully-realized production will be performed before admiring audiences who will undoubtedly be amazed at all that was accomplished in one short week.

DCCA first brought Missoula Children’s Theatre to our community about twenty years ago; that initial experience looms large in memory, as DCCA officials had no idea whether anyone would respond to the call for auditioners, and worried that not enough youngsters would show up to mount a production. MCT officials confidently offered assurance that there was no need to worry, and that there would be a show regardless of how many or how few local kids were available for casting. And then—over 100 kids showed up! (That sadly caused the unanticipated outcome of a large number of disappointed youngsters for whom there was no role in the show, meaning tearful kids learned life skills, as promised by MCT, but not the joyous ones they had expected.) That enthusiastic response to the opportunity to take the Memorial Hall stage has pretty much been the norm ever since, with some participants coming back year after year and many former young actors now escorting their own children to audition for this season’s MCT production.

MCT’s origin tale has been told in this space many times, but provides the humble basis for the continuing success of the nation’s largest touring children’s theatre company. In the summer of 1970, unemployed actor Jim Caron’s aging Volkswagon van broke down on his way to Oregon for a friend’s wedding, stranding him in Missoula, Montana. While waiting for his vehicle to be repaired, he noticed a poster advertising auditions for an upcoming production of Man of LaMancha; he auditioned, and was cast as Don Quixote’s loyal sidekick Sancho. He instantly developed a lasting friendship with the actor playing the lead role, Don Collins, and they soon organized a company of adults to perform plays for children in Missoula; the productions were welcomed with enthusiasm, and soon nearby communities were requesting performances of their own.

In February 1972, the company was booked to perform Snow White in a small Montana community located an icy 500 miles from Missoula; Jim Caron and his cohorts were not excited about traveling across the state with the seven children playing the dwarfs. So they decided to travel to the town and hold auditions for those roles a week before the rest of the company arrived. They were, of course, skeptical about finding seven kids who might be interested in being in a play; but 450 children arrived for the audition! They easily cast their show, and the rest is a happy history!

So if you have a kid, know a kid, or are a kid, mark July 15 through 20 on your calendar now, so that other summer events do not interfere with the opportunity to participate in an enriching experience that will be a lot of fun. MCT’s stated mission is to develop lifeskills in children through participation in the performing arts, an outcome that one can actually see developing during the week of the production. But the joy engendered as lines and lessons are learned is what past participants fondly remember and carry with them long after the little red MCT truck has moved on to bring the gift of theater to myriad others throughout the world.

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