Missoula Children’s Theatre gets kids out of their shells
‘The Tortoise Versus the Hare’
April 21, 2017
Leah Sanginiti and Brandon Butorovich have been working with 64 South Summit Middle School students on a theatrical production of "The Tortoise Versus the Hare" for the past five days.
The students will perform the Missoula Children's Theatre musical at 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 22, at the DeJoria Center, 970 N. S.R. 32.
"The play starts out as the story that most everyone is familiar with, but has a twist ending," Sanginiti said during a joint Park Record interview with Butorovich just before rehearsals on Tuesday. "The moral of the story, as it has been written in an original play for the Missoula Children's Theatre, is to not judge a book by its cover."
The musical teaches inclusion and respect for others in spite and because of their differences.
"Not only are they getting that lesson through the play and the characters that they play, but they will learn some of that through the weeklong process of working as a team," Sanginiti said.
Sanginiti portrays two characters in the play: Buddy, a sports writer, and Osgood, a member from a thespian troupe.
Butorovich, on the other hand, will be busy backstage.
"While Leah will be on stage making sure everything is going well, I'll be making sure everyone is doing well behind the curtains," he said.
The Missoula Children's Theatre, which was established 45 years ago, sends actors and directors to different parts of the country and world to present plays that teach children life skills through live theater and participation in the performing arts, Sanginiti said.
"We're less interested in turning all of the cast members into professional actors than we are wanting to help them develop tools such as team building, confidence and multi-tasking," she said. "We do want them to develop a respect for the arts and help them become creative people who are wonderful collaborators."
The two arrived at South Summit Middle School on Monday, where they held an audition.
"This is nothing like a traditional audition," Sanginiti said. "We had the kids do everything together in a two-hour group exercise, and through that session, we cast the show."
Over the next three days Sanginiti and Butorovich worked with the different character groups. The kids seem to thrive in this type of educational experience, they said.
"We use scripts and sheet music sparingly," Sanginiti said. "Instead, we [taught] students the songs and dances and some of their lines through call and response.
"What Missoula Children's Theatre has found is that kids' brains are so malleable and open. We do not give children the credit they deserve in terms of their capacity to learn things."
Within those three days, the kids learn the entire show.
"From there, we add the costumes and lighting," Sanginiti said. "Friday was our dress rehearsal and Saturday is our show day."
There are challenges of putting together a full performance from audition to curtain in five days.
"On the surface, there are 64 students and only two of us," Butorovich: said with a laugh. "But the deeper challenge is getting the kids to understand that they know they have permission to make mistakes and to not be afraid to open themselves up. We like to try to get them out of their shells from the get go."
"Another challenge is that some of the students have an enormous amount of lines they have to learn within a few days," Sanginiti said. "Brandon and I have to make sure that we are setting them up for success without overwhelming them."
Butorovich and Sanginiti have watched the kids reap rewards from the challenges.
"Even though we're at one school, sometimes the kids don't really know each other," Butorovich said. "I mean, we teach students from kindergarten to 12th grades and sometimes in elementary schools, the kindergarteners don't know the sixth-graders, so this is a place where they can meet and work together."
Another reward for the Missoula Children's Theatre duo is to work with students who have special needs and behavioral challenges.
"It's amazing to see some of these kids succeed in something like this," Sanginiti said.
Butorovich remembered an incident in a small town just out of Los Angeles a few months ago.
"A dad, whose daughter we had cast in a lead role, came up to us after a show and told us how much confidence we gave his daughter and how many friends she made because of her work in the production," he said. "It was amazing to hear how much we not only impacted these kids' lives, but also their parents' lives as well."
In any given year, the Missoula Children's Theatre has 50 different teams like Butorovich and Sanginiti, who travel to different parts of the United States and 17 different countries to work with children.
"Missoula Children's Theatre makes it a point to reach small communities to bring opportunities for children to experience theater," Sanginiti said.
The Missoula Children's Theatre and South Summit Middle School students will present "The Tortoise Versus the Hare" at 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 22, at the DeJoria Center, 970 N. S.R. 32, in Kamas. Tickets are $3 at the door. For information, visit http://www.dejoriacenter.com.