Children’s theater comes to Hill City

Leslie Silverman
The Missoula Children’s Theater (MCT) made its way to Hill City, giving the opportunity for many local children to perform in a live production of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” 
The nonprofit company  began in the 1970s by Jim Caron and Don Collins, who organized  a group of  adults to perform plays for children on a makeshift stage in a local movie theatre in Missoula. After casting more children in plays, the pair decided to commit to the idea of casting local children in plays they brought to different towns across the state. This ultimately led to what the MCT now does, bringing community driven  performing arts experiences to children. 
Hill City was one of the few schools that allowed a production in 2020 despite COVID-19.
“We had to lay off about 68 people at a moment’s notice,” said Dory Lerew, tour marketing associate with MCT.
Most of those people were already driving to their destination. The experience was “unprecedented” and the MCT was hardly able to schedule any performances during the spring of 2020. There were layoffs at their home office in Missoula as well. 
Although it was a real struggle things are picking up little by little. Lerew jokes that she’s used to last minute cancellations and still has lovely conversations with contacts who are excited for the day they can safely be brought back into communities still struggling with COVID-19.
MCT brings its pop up theater performances to every state and even overseas, reaching military bases and international schools. 
MCT began in 1960 and travels to over 1,000 communities across the US to bring weeklong residencies to a cast of about 50-60 children. Two directors show up in a truck, bringing with them the set, costumes and props to transform children into actors and a theater into a stage.
MCT has been coming to Hill City since 1990. No one is quite sure who first brought it here or when it made its hiatus but for local entrepreneur Jamie Duprey, who brought the MCT back several years ago, it’s a memorable experience for all involved.
When Duprey moved to Hill City she didn’t like that it didn’t happen. Duprey used to live in Big Timber, Mont., and used to participate in MCT as a child.
“I still remember the songs,” said Duprey, who looked forward to the production each year because it was “so different from every week of my life.”
“It’s really a unique experience,” she said.
Duprey reached out to numerous local businesses and civic organizations to raise enough funds to bring the MCT to Hill City. Production costs about $3,000.
Joe Godburn, one of the show’s directors, commented on the ease of being able to put together a production of this nature so quickly.
“It’s much easier to do a show in a week with kids than adults. They’re excited to do it,” he said.
Godburn also notes that children don’t yet know their limits. 
During auditions the directors are looking for three qualities: loud clear voices, big expressive bodies and the ability to follow directions. This year there were parts for all children who came out and the show had its cast in two hours. 
Amber Ogaard’s daughter, Bayleigh, was cast as Royal Scholar Red. Ogaard  says it’s the second MCT play Bayleigh has done.
“This is a great experience to see what theater can be like,” she said.
Ogaard says it teaches things like dedication “to make all the practices, learn all the lines. They also learn time management.”
She said the overall performance is fantastic. 
Alyssa Nelson, 8, cast as part of the Money Council, enjoyed the MCT experience.
“I really like that I can be on stage,” she said.
Twelve-year-old Kieara Babcock of Keystone, who played King Fire, likes the challenge the MCT experience brings.
“It’s hard to stay in character,” says Babcock. “It requires me to be serious, and I’m not that serious.” 
This is her third time in an MCT production. 

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