Missoula Children's Theatre sets sails for 'Treasure Island' at the PAC

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By Robert Villanueva

Nearly 200 area students disregarded freezing temperatures Monday for a chance to land a spot on “Treasure Island” when Missoula Children’s Theatre held auditions at Hardin County Schools Performing Arts Center at John Hardin High School.


The auditions attracted 192 children in first through eighth grades for the production that hits the PAC stage at 7 p.m. today and 1 p.m. Saturday. Between 50 and 60 children ultimately were cast.

“We would love to have 200 kids in the show, but that’s just not possible,” said Jess Eisenberg, tour actor and director.

MCT produces the play, holding the group auditions so children are not faced with auditioning alone on the stage, Eisenberg said.

“The mission is to build life skills through theater,” Eisenberg said. “They also learn how to work under pressure.”

Eisenberg and tour actor and director Chris Chamblee addressed the students before the audition. Chamblee told students he and Eisenberg were looking for three things: loud and clear voices; big and expressive bodies; and the ability to listen and follow directions.

After getting the students onstage and lining them up according to height and grade level, Chamblee and Eisenberg led the group of children in a series of exercises during Monday’s audition.

Chamblee told students to state their first and last name and age as “happy” as they could.

“As if you just won $100,000 ... after tax,” Chamblee said.

The students complied, some gesturing spiritedly as they announced their names and ages. Groups of students also were given lines to repeat and even directed to sing a verse of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”

“We try to make the theater audition a fun theater experience for all involved,” Eisenberg said.

MCT typically produces plays based on children’s classics or fairy tales, putting their own spin on them. The resulting production is family-friendly, Eisenberg said.

Children seem to enjoy the fact the production, from auditions to performances, are done in a week, she said.

“I think there’s an excitement to the urgency of it,” Eisenberg said.

Mellisa Pinckney of Elizabethtown took her daughter, Emma, 13, to the auditions and said it was the fourth year she’s tried out. Emma was in three previous MCT productions, Pinckney said.

“She loves everything about it,” she said.

Pickney said Emma, a homeschooled eighth-grader, has aspirations to be an actress and that the MCT productions have helped her self-esteem.

Elizabethtown resident Ruben Gardner took two grandsons — Landon, 7, and Ethan, 9 — to the auditions. The boys are students at Helmwood Heights Elementary School.

Gardner said his grandsons really enjoy participating in plays. Ethan is in rehearsals for the PAC production of “The Hobbit,” and Landon has appeared in MCT’s production of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” for which he portrayed a bean.

“Neither one is shy,” Gardner said.

Eisenberg said students are able to meet the schedule of the production in such a short time because they don’t know they can’t do it. The audition is the first step in determining which students will take on that commitment.

Additionally, those selected to be in the play must be put in suitable roles, so the audition helps determine that, Eisenberg said.

“We work really hard to cast children in the roles they are able to succeed in,” she said.

Though obstacles to MCT productions, such as inclement weather, have hampered schedules in the past, ultimately the group abides by the theater adage about the show going on, Eisenberg indicated.

“No matter what happens, we’re going to have a performance,” she said.

IF YOU GO: Public performances of Missoula Children’s Theatre’s production of “Treasure Island” are at 7 p.m. today and 1 p.m. Saturday at Hardin County Schools Performing Arts Center at John Hardin High School. Tickets cost $10-$25. For more information, call 270-769-8837.

Robert Villanueva can be reached at 270-505-1743 or rvillanueva@thenewsenterprise.com.