Every day's a musical with Missoula Children's Theatre
Erin Norlie with the Missoula Children's Theatre teaches "the reptiles" their song during rehearsals for "The Tortoise Versus the Hare." Wiesbaden military community youths spent a week putting the show together before presenting their finished product on July 26 at Hainerberg Elementary School's Multipurpose Room.

WIESBADEN, Germany - It started simply enough -- more than 50 Wiesbaden military community youths reciting their names and ages in a theatrical manner.

By week's end they were full-fledged performers in a highly entertaining theatrical production.

"We have four days to put an entire show together," said Alex Kowalchik, who along with Erin Norlie brought the Missoula Children's Theatre to Wiesbaden July 22-26.

Kowalchik, who was with Missoula on his first overseas tour, including several military communities in Germany, was auditioning Wiesbaden participants, ages 6-15, on the first day of rehearsals in the Hainerberg Elementary School Multipurpose Room.

"Those of you who have been in our plays before know that we do things a little differently," he said; adding, "we want to put you in spots that will make you look like rock stars on Friday."

The youth theater company, based in Missoula, Mont., has shared the theatrical experience with tens of thousands of young people for more than four decades.

Several different groups from Missoula travel at any one time taking theater directly to various places around the globe.

"The company has 15 different shows," said Kowalchik, explaining that this time around local youths were putting together a production titled "The Tortoise Versus The Hare."

"It's one of the most fulfilling things I can think of doing," said Norlie, Kowalchik's co-trainer. "Serving as an inspiration to young kids is really amazing."

The St. Louis, Mo., native added that she is equally inspired by the young performers.

"It's amazing how you can give them so little and they make it their own and it comes alive. It gives them a huge outlet for creativity and they get the attention that they deserve."

As someone who was shy as a child, Norlie said she feels rewarded when the children come out of their shells. "The biggest payoff for me is to see them gain that confidence. Something that continues to amaze me is how much the kids can surprise us. I learn so much from them."

"What I like most about Missoula is how much I get to laugh and how funny the activities are. I also like spending time with my friends that do it too," said Kassidy Ness.

"I like that Missoula gives me the chance to meet and interact with younger kids and my peers," said Amaris Williams. "Meeting new people every day is something that I enjoy."

"I think it's a wonderful program," said Christina Dean, who watched rehearsals as her children participated. "I can't believe the classroom management skills that they have."

Dean, whose children were experienced Missoula participants, said she appreciates how the Missoula staff makes sure everyone has a chance to express him- or herself.

"It can be scary to be on stage," she said, adding that having the children participate together in teams and groups provides a "very supportive" environment."

"It's sort of the culmination of everything I love to do in life," said Kowalchik, "theater, traveling, working with young people. … I've always been performing -- magic, ventriloquism and professional wrestling -- I've always been there."

Along with the skills the children learn -- acting, organizing, memorizing, improvising, producing -- the Missoula trainers said the experience is mutually beneficial.

"It's a weeklong, intensive commitment which offers immeasurable values, Kowalchik said, explaining that taking the show on the road gives the trainers not only the opportunity to visit many new places but hones their teaching, acting and organizational skills -- in addition to "learning to think on the fly."

For more information on the Missoula Children's Theatre, visit www.mctinc.org.

Page last updated Wed July 31st, 2013 at 09:18