The Missoula Children’s Theatre casts 60 young San Diegans in “The Wizard of Oz,” at the Poway Center for the Performing Arts.
Question: How long does it take to direct 60 kids in a musical theater production?
Answer (incredible as it seems): 5 days
That’s the way the Missoula Children’s Theatre works. They come into town on Sunday, audition on Monday and cast immediately afterward. The kids with speaking roles are ‘off book’ (i.e., have their lines memorized) by Wednesday. The week is spent in after-school rehearsals (4-8:30pm) and by Saturday – voilà ! A full-on production — with sets, props and costumes — of “The Wizard of Oz” (or one of the hundreds of other original scripts the company offers).
This is the Missoula Children’s Theatre’s 12th visit to the Poway Center for the Performing Arts. The company was formed in 1970, with the mission of developing “life skills in children through participation in the performing arts.” From one little Missoula outpost, the group now visits nearly 1300 communities worldwide (in all 50 states and 17 other countries), working with 65,000 children each year. At any given time, there are 33 Missoula teams of two, out and about, making theater magic.
It seemed like a super idea to Cavanaugh Greenwood, a Missouri native who graduated from Stephens College in her home state last May, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in theater arts. She went straight from school into Missoula’s 2½ -week intensive training program, and has been on the road ever since, stopping in 30 cities with the company’s original musical version of “The Wizard of Oz,” based on the books and the movie, with new music and additional characters, like the Winkies , the Magicians and (for the 5-7 year-olds) the Evil Magic Flowers.
Greenwood was matched up with Phil Gill, another Missoula newbie and Missouri native. Each week they create the show anew and provide a series of theatermaking workshops at local schools. The two alternate serving as director or acting in the show with the kids, and they also construct the set, hang the lights, adjust and launder the costumes, do the makeup, file reports, and buy whatever extras might be needed.
“It’s a great gig,” says the ebullient, 22-year-old Greenwood . “I love traveling and I’m a real people-person. I love teaching kids. My favorite part is watching the kids after the performance, so happy and excited, so proud of what they’ve done, and so surprised and shocked that it actually all came together. We feel that way, too!
“Theater provides a great sense of family and a great sense of accomplishment,” she continues. “Everyone learns that we have to work together and support each other to make the show work.”
Greenwood is thrilled with the Poway experience; 154 kids showed up to audition, the largest turnout in Poway ’s 12-year history with the company.
“The kids were amazing,” she enthuses. “There are some really talented kids in this area, for sure.”
So, what’s a two-hour, 150-child audition like?
“We give them each a random line to say in different ways – like they’re happy, excited, sad, angry . We teach them some simple dance steps, and we sing ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat,’ first as one big group, then individually.”
And right there on the spot, 56 local students, age 5-17, were cast, plus four assistant directors.
Come out this weekend and see how it all came together in five days, as if by wizardry.
The Missoula Children’s Theatre one-hour production of “The Wizard of Oz” plays at 3 and 7pm on Saturday, March 12, at the Poway Center for the Performing Arts.
Tickets ($5-17) are available at 858-748-0505; www.powayarts.org