Ready to 'put on the show'
When the little red truck pulled into town Monday, with the words "Missoula Children's Theater" printed on the side, it was the start of a week-long theatrical adventure for 56 Detroit Lakes-area children.
Since Monday, MCT actor-directors Anna Miller and Matt Ablan have been putting the kids through daily four-hour practices -- practices that will culminate in two live weekend performances on the stage of the Historic Holmes Theatre.
The cast will present two performances of the children's play "Jack and the Beanstalk," set to take place at 7 p.m. on Friday, June 29, and 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 30.
This weeklong residency at the Historic Holmes Theatre is part of MCT's annual theatrical tour. A total of 52 teams of actor-directors are sent to communities throughout the U.S. to give children in those towns a crash course in how to "put on a show," as Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland once put it.
"A total of 56 kids auditioned Monday, and were cast in the play," Miller said, adding that the age of the cast varies from as young as five to as old as 16.
After the auditions, the kids "took a half-hour break, and then we went right into rehearsals," Miller added.
"We rehearse four hours a day, Monday through Friday," Ablan added.
The duo has been traveling the country doing these weeklong residencies since late May, when they were chosen as one of the 42 teams to represent MCT this season.
"I auditioned in St. Louis on a Sunday, and they called me back that Tuesday to offer me the job," said Ablan, who hails from Kansas City.
He is currently working on his BFA in theater performance at Wichita State University.
Miller, meanwhile, auditioned in the Twin Cities, and was likewise offered the job a couple of days later. A Minneapolis native, she graduated from Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D., this past May -- a couple of months after learning she had gotten the job with MCT.
They are both excited to be on their first tour with MCT.
"I had never heard of the company before (the audition)," Ablan said, but added that he was eager for the opportunity to be working with kids.
"I just really like working with kids," he says, adding that his past experiences have included teaching swimming lessons, and working at a Boy Scouts camp for eight years. "I love their eagerness to try something new -- and they're not afraid to say what they think."
"They're like sponges," Miller agreed. "Growing up, theater was something I did and enjoyed so much... it's a safe haven for kids. To give that experience to someone else, even for just a week, that makes me happy."
Ablan said one of the more surprising things about their travels thus far has been "how fast they (the kids) learned their lines. Usually they go home after Monday's auditions, and have them memorized by Tuesday."
In addition to the cast, Miller said, they also use four older children (age 12 and up) as assistant directors, who help with the sound and lights for the production, serve as stage managers backstage, and even get the opportunity to find out what it feels like to direct a scene on their own.
"They help the actors get organized backstage before every show," Ablan said.
"It's a really big job," Miller added.
The duo will be traveling the country with their "Jack & the Beanstalk" production through the end of the summer, after which they could be assigned to do a different production, or not.
"There are three other teams besides us doing 'Jack & The Beanstalk,'" Miller explained. The other 38 teams are doing different shows. We could be switched to a different show at the end of summer, or we might stay with this one. It depends on what the need is (for the various productions requested)."
After Friday and Saturday's performances, Ablan and Miller will be off to begin their next residency in Grand Island, Neb.
But for now, they're still enjoying the opportunity to work with the Detroit Lakes cast.
"One of the unique things about this show... all the leads (roles) are female, even Jack and Giant," Miller said.
"We don't have enough guys," Ablan explained.
"But that's cool... this production just has a different feel to it," Miller added
For tickets to this weekend's performances, call the Holmes Theatre Box Office at 844-7469 (SHOW). Admission is $5 for adults and $2 for students.
For more information about the Missoula Children's Theatre, visit the company's Web site at www.mctinc.org. For more information about this and other upcoming shows at the Historic Holmes Theatre or the Detroit Lakes Community & Cultural Center, visit www.dlccc.org.