VALDOSTA --- A group of young actors will be hitting the stage today as the Missoula Children's Theater and students from Southland Christian School present the play Robin Hood at the Southland Church.

Two members of the Missoula Children's Theater, a national theater group that spends the entire year traveling state-to-state teaching kids the aspects of drama and stage performance, have been visiting Southland School for the week. The 40-member cast has been practicing each day in preparation for a performance of the play "Robin Hood," conceived and written by Michael McGill of the MCT.

Students were divided into two groups Thursday based on their ages. Katie Brantley, 25, assisted nine students, grades K-2 with their lines and songs for Saturday's performance. Brantley says the theater group currently has 25 teams that travel across the nation visiting schools during the school year and some weeks during the summer.

"We're on the road about 40 weeks a year and we pretty much live out of a pick-up truck," Brantley said. Each community that the team visits is responsible for providing a place of residency during their stay. Brantley, whose team member happens to also be her husband, said. "we've traveled across the country several times, and living with families in the community you get a taste of the area. I've

really gotten a feel for the southern area this week as I've come to the know people here. "

She and her husband Jon Brantley who coached a group of teenagers, seemed excited and pleased to be working with the students. They both coached the groups of students as the kids conquered a task few actors in Hollywood have been able to do: learn lines without the aid of a script. The students quickly memorized and recited their lines with emotion and enthusiasm as directed by the two instructors.

As Jon Brantley directed the group of 10 teenagers who play the "Merry Band" in the play rather than "Merry Men" as in the original, the eight girls and two boys shared a few giggles as some surprisingly low notes came from one young man while they all practiced a song for the play.

The Robin Hood cast is comprised of students from Southland Christian School, various schools in the city, and members of the Little Actors Theater. Lisa Mangles teaches theater at Southland and is also president of the Little Actors Theater and believes that having team members of the Missoula Children's Theater at Southland has impacted the cast members tremendously.

"Theater has so many benefits to children. It helps academics because the kids learn to focus, follow directions and move quickly, and it provides an outlet for creativity. Since the group has been here, we've noticed that after practice, they're taking those skills back into the classroom," Mangles said.

Saturday's performance will not be the last time the MCT will be in the area. Mangles is looking forward to the group returning during the summer, June 5 through June 10, for a theater project to be sponsored in conjunction with the Parks and Recreation Department.

"Robin Hood" will begin today at 1 p.m. in the Southland Sanctuary and is open to the public. Tickets for adults are $5 and $3 for children.

More Young Actors Entertain in the Community

Seven little Indians, two Pilgrim settlers, a wise willow tree and a pet raccoon entertained several residents of the Langdale Place Assisted Living and Independent Apartments Thursday during a presentation of "Pocahontas" by the Little Actors Theater Traveling Troupe.

Over 30 residents watched attentively as each of the children, ages 6 to 14, emerged from behind a colorful backdrop featuring trees decorated with leaves the burnt colors of fall, painted amidst dark green hills of the woods, all surrounding a big, blue, open lake.

The 20-minute version of "Pocahontas" was adapted for young actors in a script developed by Moulton Branch Elementary School Teacher Phyllis Childree. The team of homeschooled actors spent a semester of learning acting techniques, stage direction, expression, movement, directing and learning the many aspects of theater.

Director Diane Tovar said the children also learned a great deal about Native Americans while doing background study for the play including the discovery that many early Native Americans actually lived in long-houses rather than teepees. Pocahontas was played by 14-year-old Jake Mangles who said she found variations in the Disney version of Pocahontas while during her research. "They weren't as young or as close in age in real life. Pocahontas was only 12-years-old and John Smith was in his late 20's," she said.

The children's voices resonated throughout the Dahlwood Parlor Dining Room impressing the smiling residents as they each delivered their lines without hesitation. The cast also performed a spirited dance to music from the Pocahontas motion picture soundtrack, choreographed by Ansley Childree, using colorful, streaming ribbons.

Kaitlyn Felker, 11, said, "I enjoyed making costumes the most. It's fun learning how to make things." The children, with help from their parents, designed the set, made costumes and props, and even applied their own stage make-up. The residents all applauded as the children finished their play and introduced themselves. Later, people in the audience were invited to ask questions and also challenged to guess the secret materials of some of the props.

Thursday's visit to Langdale Place was the groups ninth performance since it began in September and Tovar said she and the crew of mothers are looking forward to the next session of homeschool classes which will begin in March.

Member Jason Scott, 9, who played the robust Governor Radcliffe in the play, encourages youth to participate with the troupe and said "it's really fun to do the plays because you get to meet more people and you can inspire others."

The Little Actors Theater practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays and offers classes for children in traditional schools in the evenings and during school breaks. The group will hold auditions for its main stage performance of Oliver in December.

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