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Missoula theatre group continues rural school tradition

Posted on January 16, 2014 by Vauxhall Advance

Around 40 Hays School students are off to see the wizard as the Missoula Children’s Theatre presents, “The Wizard of Oz”, this Friday, Jan. 17, at 7 p.m. in the Hays School gymnasium. The show is free to attend.

The production is being spearheaded by Anna Lewing and her partner, who trained for a two-week period in Missoula, Mont. in May 2013. They then set off on a year-long tour of schools ending in May, 2014. In the last eight months or so they’ve traveled to 27 different schools and have 18 more still to go before the tour ends.

Lewing said the children’s theatre has been in operation for the past 40 years or so, and has been touring for the past 30 years. The company travels to all 50 states in the U.S. and 17 countries. There are 47 teams in operation during the touring season.

“We’re able to work with about 65,000 talented young people every year,” she said.

The production involves a week of practice and preparation, during which time the children are exposed to the many different facets of theatre production, from the performance aspects to learning about what happens backstage to make a show run smoothly.

“On Monday we come into a town and audition kids,” said Lewing. “We’re able to cast (up to) 60 children in various roles. Then we rehearse with them through the week and on Friday we put on a full-length, professional production.”

“It’s a great opportunity for kids to have a little taste of the arts, and an opportunity for them to perform in front of their family and friends,” she added.

The Missoula Children’s Theatre production of, “The Wizard of Oz” is based on the classic children’s novels written by L. Frank Baum. The story follows the  adventures of Dorothy and her dog, Toto, who are transported by tornado to the magical land of Oz and must try to find their way back to Kansas. The play was written by Jim Caron with music written by Michael McGill.

Lewing listed public speaking as one of the fundamental skills children learn through theatre, which is important because many children have limited practice in that area of communication and consequently they can become fearful of speaking in front of large groups.

“People usually list (fear of) speaking in front of a group of people even over death,” she said. “Which tells you quite a bit about that.”

Theatre allows the students a chance to practice those skills and gain confidence in a way that’s fun and feels like a group activity.

“By participating in something like this, these kids get firsthand experience on public speaking and presentation,” she said. “They’re (part of) the biggest team they’ll ever play on.”

“It’s fun. You get to hang out with a group of equally talented people and solidify relationships, stuff like that. It’s quite an undertaking. A lot of these kids have never gotten up in front of a group of people before,” she said. “And all the sudden they have this huge confidence boost when they get to get up in front of 100 people and perform. It’s quite an esteem-building (exercise).”

This is not the first time Lewing’s family has been involved with the theatre in Hays School. Her parents toured with the Missoula Children’s Theatre in 1981, and one of the places they stopped in was Hays, where they performed, “Pinocchio”.

As a second-generation performer with the children’s theatre, Lewing said the Hays production will be the first time Lewing and her parents both ran a theatre production in the same school. It is also the first time a child of a touring group has become part of their own touring group.

Lewing said she has been on the lookout for parents who might have taken part in her parents’ production, but has had little success so far.

“I was kind of hoping some of the kids who were in Pinocchio in 1981 knew my parents, and I haven’t run into anyone yet,” said Lewing. “But I’m still looking.”

Lewing said the response to the production has been good from the teachers, parents, and children, every time they come to a new school. “It’s such a positive thing for the kids themselves,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity for kids who want to get out and blow off a little bit of steam through the arts. The communities (and parents) are really supportive.”

“There are 40 extremely talented children from Hays School participating.” she said.

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