Nicky Fuchs / Special to the Home News
Monday, Feb. 23, 2009 | 5:25 p.m.
Mounting a production of "Little Red Riding Hood" may seem like a daunting undertaking for a group of 67 kindergarten through fifth graders to begin with. But these Frank Lamping Elementary School students had only a week since auditions to perfect their lines for the Saturday performances at 3 and 7 p.m.
The rush of intensive theater comes courtesy of the Missoula Children's Theatre, whose directors travel the world to involve children in the performing arts.
"It gives them a lot of responsibility," director Samantha Blain said. "They also get a chance to make a lot of friends. They're all under the same pressure working together as a team."
Many of the students this year are veterans, having landed parts in last year's Missoula production of "Cinderella." Fourth grader Tommy Orluske, playing the role of the Woodsman this year, found his experience made things easier the second time around.
"Last year, I couldn't remember my lines," he said. "I'm studying more."
He was also enthused about his gregarious character.
"Everybody likes me in it," Orluske said. "I'm mostly a show-off."
Fourth grader Mollie Mars said she was surprised she landed the role of Little Red Riding Hood and admitted to some pre-performance anxiety. But she added she was more confident after performing in "Cinderella."
"It's harder to have a more challenging part," she said.
The Children's Theatre has nourished the dreams of fifth grader Cassidy Best, who wants to be an actress.
"I really like watching movies," she said. "I want to be one of those people that everyone looks up to."
But not everyone rehearsing brought experience. Haley Young, in her role as a mocking foreshadower, was one of a number of kindergartners.
"I like to be on stage and talk," she said. "I get to pick on Little Red Riding Hood."
Blain has come to relish working with young talent after seeking a post-college job with an opportunity to travel.
"I wanted to see if I liked working with kids," she said. "I'm usually a performer."
She also gets to employ a wide range of skills from directing to choreography to costuming.
She praised the students, whom she compared favorably to high school performers. Many of them have been staying four hours after school.
"The kids are working really hard," Blain said. "They take it much more seriously than older students."
At the same time, she finds them more of a challenge. They have shorter attention spans, she said, and often complain of fatigue and hunger.
"You have to take care of them more," Blain said.
After the final curtain, students are often disappointed that the experience is over.
Sometimes, she said, they send appreciative mail, including friendship bracelets.
"You get attached to them," she said. "It's sweet."
Dave Clark can be reached at 990-2677 or [email protected].