The Valdosta Daily Times
Arriving Monday for the first day of Little Actors Theatre hosting Missoula Children’s Theatre, none of the 30 area children had any idea who would play the Seven Dwarfs, let alone Snow White.
By morning’s end, all of the children had auditioned. By afternoon, Snow White had been selected, along with the dwarfs, the wicked queen, the prince and the rest of the familiar characters.
By Tuesday, they rehearsed and built the show’s set on the Valdosta High School Performing Arts Center stage. By Wednesday, the youngsters, ranging in ages from 6 to 17 years old, were “off book,” meaning they had mostly memorized their lines and were no longer allowed to bring scripts on stage.
Today and Friday, they will continue rehearsing. On Saturday morning, they will wear their costumes for the first time for full dress rehearsal. On Saturday afternoon and again that evening, they will perform “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” for audiences.
For 10 years, Diane Tovar, the Valdosta-based Little Actors Theatre director, has coordinated and hosted Missoula Children’s Theatre in South Georgia.
Each summer, for the past decade, Missoula has sent two theatre professionals to Valdosta. Based in Missoula, Mont., the children’s theatre company sends theatrical teams to towns throughout the nation and the world.
The theatre troupe began more than 40 years ago in response to a practical need. A Montana theatrical production received an invitation to perform in another town. Director Jim Caron realized the troupe could not take the show’s children actors with them. So he decided to audition children in the other town. When about 100 children arrived to audition for seven roles, Caron realized the need for children’s theatre.
Caron formed Missoula with the goal of bringing theatre to children in locations across the United States.
Missoula professionals Jake Stempel and Kelly Combs arrived Sunday in Valdosta. South Georgia is their fifth stop this year. At each stop, they have a week to prepare, direct, rehearse and present a show with participating children ranging from cast sizes as small as 25 to 300, Stempel says.
Combs and Stempel, both of Chicago, have been involved with Missoula tours for the past year and a half.
Combs’ Missoula association began as a child when she was one of a group of youngsters participating in a visiting show.
Stempel’s theatrical interests began as a 5-year-old, playing the Scarecrow in a small, community production of “The Wizard of Oz.” He’s been hooked on theatre ever since.
Missoula doesn’t just introduce children to performing in a show, or honing their theatrical skills, it helps them prepare for life, Stempel says.
“The Missoula mission statement reads that we promote life skills,” he says. “... It helps develop responsible behavior, respect for others, communicating with other people.”
Leading these sessions, Stempel and Combs see children’s confidence and abilities grow within a short creative burst of time as they have five days to prepare from start to finish a 50-minute show.
Wednesdays are often big confidence days as children realize they are able to learn lines and song lyrics within a couple of days. Working with youngsters, Stempel has learned a few lessons, too.
“The thing I’ve learned about kids is they have impeccable memories and impeccable imaginations,” Stempel says.
THE CAST: Elyssa Pate, Henny Hari, Church Barnas, Cathyrine Allbritton, Joanna Jasinski, Kaitlin Allbritton, Dylan Schindler, Aloura Barnas, Lauren Lewis, Alex Cope, Lori-Beth Bowen, Gabbie Bradford, Alissa Pellicone, Katie Barber, Lauren Grier, Madison Belt, Amanda Talor, Shelby Wilson, Emily Criss, Nicole Wilson, Jaylon McDougal, Sydney Hammond, Katie Smith, Madeline Pitts, Kennedy Lilly, Lawrence Smith, Bella Iturralde, Chandler Monetti, Savannah Osheim.
PRODUCTION: Haylee Johnson, assistant director; Jake Stempel, Missoula actor; Kelly Combs, Missoula director.