Fort Rucker youth hit the big stage
At a Monday morning rehearsal, director Jennifer Willis teaches a scene from The Wiz of the West to military children who play buzzards in the production.

FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- The talents of many Fort Rucker children will be on display Saturday at 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. at the post theater in the musical production of The Wiz of the West, the western version of The Wizard of Oz.

The Missoula Children’s Theater provides all the equipment needed, according to Denise Honeycutt, Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation partnership specialist, “but Fort Rucker provides the talent.”

Child, Youth and School Services and Fort Rucker DFMWR are hosting Missoula Children’s Theater’s first visit, and this is also the first time many of the children will perform in a play.

“My daughter puts on plays at home all the time, but this is her first actual production,” said Stephanie Watkins, whose daughter Emme Watkins auditioned for the show.

Emme said she’s nervous, but “really excited to do the first play of my life.”

“I received a lot of phone calls from people stating that they wanted to open a children’s theater,” said Honeycutt.

She thinks that watching the week-long process will help aid in future Fort Rucker productions, especially “the experience of watching them with the audition and production of a play in such a short time.”

“We only have five days to put this play together,” said director Jennifer Willis to the 57 children who sit on the stage at Monday’s audition.

With such a short time frame before two performances on Saturday, willingness to make it to the daily rehearsals is the first priority.

After the speech, the auditioning children, ages 5 to 18, are prompted to stand in a circle on the stage of the post theater and recite lines like “We’re out of banana peels, what will we do?”

Each one of them recites the same line in varying degrees of silliness, while the two directors carefully select the cast.

“We don’t have any preconceived notions when we come into town. They get a fresh start,” said Willis during the audition.

Fellow director Jeremy Cunningham said that “A lot of parts are written for specific age groups, so that we can do it in a week.”

At the end of the two-hour process, all 57 young actors have roles, and they began five days of rehearsals and workshops.

At Tuesday’s rehearsal, they were still enthusiastic about their upcoming performance.

“I like rehearsing and going through what we have to learn,” cast member Delaney Mulcahy said as she practiced her role as Hawknose Hallie, the wicked witch of the west.

According to Willis, learning is a big part of every one of Missoula’s productions.

She said that the mission of the theater is the development of life skills in children through participation in the performing arts.

“My favorite thing is when I hear someone say ‘I can’t believe so-and-so did this, they’re such a troublemaker’,” said Cunningham. The growth in every child who participates is “probably the biggest reward.”

Willis believes she has also grown during her six years as a tour director

“It’s a great place to work. There are things on this job that I don’t think I could learn in any school or with any college degree,” she said.

When asked if the task of putting on a production in six days ever has any problems, Willis and Cunningham are positive that the show will be a success.

“It always turns out well, and sometimes the little hiccups are what make the show most memorable,” said Willis.

Tickets and information are available at Child, Youth and School Services in Bldg. 5700 Rm. 130 or by calling 255-9638.

Page last updated Thu July 28th, 2011 at 09:40