On Saturday, November 10th, the Missoula Children’s Theatre and a cast of approximately 40 Methow Valley Elementary students performed two showings of “The Secret Garden”, both to a full house. The masterful performances were the product of approximately 22 hours of rehearsal that took place prior to the showings facilitated by the Missoula Children’s Theatre.
Who is the Missoula Children’s Theatre? Where did this amazing collection of people come from?
To answer that, we need to go back in time to the summer of 1970. Jim Caron, an unemployed actor, was searching for a mission in life, on his way from Chicago to a friend’s wedding in Oregon when his aging Volkswagen van broke down. The nearest service station was – fortunately and fatefully – in Missoula, Montana. While waiting for the van to be patched together, Jim noticed an audition poster for Man of La Mancha. Just for fun, he auditioned and was cast in the role of “Sancho.”
He developed an instant and lasting friendship with Don Collins (the actor playing “Don Quixote”), and together they organized a company of adults to perform plays for children on a make-shift stage in a local movie theatre. The plays, as well as the idea of developing live theatre for kids, were well-received in Missoula. Soon, nearby Montana and Idaho communities requested performances of their own.
During the early seventies, the company began casting kids when it seemed appropriate, such as in Hansel and Gretel or Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In 1972, when February performances of Snow White were booked in Miles City (a small Montana community located an icy 500 miles from Missoula), Jim and the other directors were not excited about the prospect of traveling with seven children across the state and decided to take a radical step: they would attempt to cast the dwarfs from children in Miles City.
The directors traveled across the state a week before the rest of the company, a bit skeptical about finding seven kids who might be interested in being in the play. When 450 children arrived, the astonished team auditioned the huge group and cast the seven roles. The success of that week—obvious major interest among kids, parents, teachers, and the press, as well as an excellent production and sold-out performances—opened the eyes of the MCT staff and the doors to the future.
This year, they will perform in over 50 states, 16 countries, and work with nearly 65,000 students!
Sponsored by Methow Arts, PSFA, Winthrop Kiwanis, Chewuch Inn, KTRT, Methow Valley Fund, the National Endowment for the Arts, Montana Arts Council, and the Methow Valley School District, today’s showings marked the 25th annual Missoula Children’s Theatre performance in the Methow Valley.
Special thanks to Ashley Lodato and Linda Mendro and the many sponsors noted above for making the arts accessible to all youth in the Methow Valley!