I was in Montana recently and had a chance to visit the Missoula Children’s Theater in downtown Missoula. MCT has been around for 40 years; they estimate they have cast a million children in plays. That’s a lot of kids! A lot of kids with great memories and expanded horizons.
I met up with Cate Sundeen, MCT Development Director, who graciously took my wife and I on a tour through the theater complex. It’s actually a marvelous venue.
The MCT directors tour the US (and some foreign countries) in little red trucks that contain everything needed to put on a play: scripts, costumes, backdrops, props, make up, posters, graphics, photos, press releases. Add those ingredients to 50-60 kids and you have a play!
The kids don’t know about social dialog or social conscience or risks or any of the things adults think about when they think about theater. The kids know about excitement, anticipation, and glorious adventure. Which is as it should be. What they get is an opportunity to master the environment, to work hard, have fun, and exceed their current limitations. Some of the older kids probably sense that there is something important happening. It’s OK if they don’t. What’s important is they gain self-confidence, work as a team, and establish themselves as powerful little beings.
I’ve actually seen this happen. Last year MCT came to Theodore Judah Elementary School to do “The Princess and the Pea.” It was a great show. The girl playing the Princess had a long dialog near the end of the play, which she delivered without dropping a line. I could see the stress building up a little bit as she got near the end. When she got finished you could see how proud she was of herself.
I think every one of those kids was excited and proud of what they accomplished in that play. And when it comes right down to it, what better way is there to teach kids something about how social organizations work? A play has everything they need: dialog, action, drama, goals and rewards. A play is a microcosm of the world they must master. And it all takes place in an atmosphere of community.
So if you see a little red truck in your neighborhood with the Missoula Children’s Theater logo, make sure you get some tickets for whatever play they are putting on. If you have children, make sure they audition for a part. Check out the MCT web page for lots more details.
Cheers (and applause!)