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Red Riding Hood skips into town

Hunter Plotkin (center), portraying a locksmith in the stage production of "Red Riding Hood," interacts with fellow Missoula Children's Theater child actor Alora Brown (left), who played Red Riding Hood in the show.  Joining the young thespians on stage is veteran MCT actor Lindsey Oetken, who portrayed the Big Bad Wolf. This is the 17th year the
Missoula traveling theater company came to Patrick AFB, Fla., to help children learn the basics of theater and boost morale.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Susan A. Romano)

Hunter Plotkin (center), portraying a locksmith in the stage production of "Red Riding Hood," interacts with fellow Missoula Children's Theater child actor Alora Brown (left), who played Red Riding Hood in the show. Joining the young thespians on stage is veteran MCT actor Lindsey Oetken, who portrayed the Big Bad Wolf. This is the 17th year the Missoula traveling theater company came to Patrick AFB, Fla., to help children learn the basics of theater and boost morale. (U.S. Air Force photo by Susan A. Romano)

Missoula Children's Theater actor Lindsey Oetken applies stage makeup to Dalelia Jourdain, a member of "The Wolfgang" in the stage production of "Red Riding Hood." Oetken and Jourdain, along with several dozen other young thespians, performed in the Patrick Air Force Base Youth Center's annual performance July 27, 2015.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Susan A. Romano)

Missoula Children's Theater actor Lindsey Oetken applies stage makeup to Dalelia Jourdain, a member of "The Wolfgang" in the stage production of "Red Riding Hood." Oetken and Jourdain, along with several dozen other young thespians, performed in the Patrick Air Force Base Youth Center's annual performance July 27, 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo by Susan A. Romano)

Missoula Children's Theater actor Lindsey Oetken (left) interacts with Abigail Biggs, Cammryn Reagan, Hannah Amaral and Alora Brown during the stage production of "Red Riding Hood" July 27, 2015 at the Patrick Air Force Base theater.  Biggs, Reagan and Amaral played best friends to Brown's portrayal of Red Riding Hood.  Missoula Children's Theater is a traveling company that spends a week at a time at locations throughout the United States helping children learn the basics of live theater.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Susan A. Romano)

Missoula Children's Theater actor Lindsey Oetken (left) interacts with Abigail Biggs, Cammryn Reagan, Hannah Amaral and Alora Brown during the stage production of "Red Riding Hood" July 27, 2015 at the Patrick Air Force Base theater. Biggs, Reagan and Amaral played best friends to Brown's portrayal of Red Riding Hood. Missoula Children's Theater is a traveling company that spends a week at a time at locations throughout the United States helping children learn the basics of live theater. (U.S. Air Force photo by Susan A. Romano)

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Children from across the Patrick AFB community converged at the base's Youth Center July 27 to audition for parts in the Missoula Children's Theater production of "Red Riding Hood."

Ranging in age from 5 to 17, the kids tried out for various roles in a stage adaptation of the children's story about a little girl who sets off to visit her grandmother who lives in the woods, but finds herself being pursued by a big bad wolf.

Ashraf Dahud and Lindsey Oetken, seasoned actors with MCT, held a casting call for 17 individual roles, 23 group roles and three assistant director positions.  Within a few short hours, the parts were awarded, scripts were distributed, and the young thespians got to work memorizing their lines.

The next two days were devoted to learning stage presence and blocking, a method used by theater directors to establish the proper positioning and movement of the actors on stage. On the third day, the young troupe, who had been learning their parts separately, came together to read lines as a complete cast.  By the fifth day, the actors were ready for a full dress rehearsal, complete with musical accompaniment, lighting and costumes.

The annual event, in its 17th year coming to the Patrick Youth Center, is the highlight of summer vacation for many of the children who audition for the show.  Ryan Gottrich, in his third year with Missoula, played Little Loveable Wolf, the little brother of the Big Bad Wolf.  He and his younger sister, Erin, started with Missoula when the family was stationed in California.  Ryan was excited when he found out he earned a part with speaking lines.

"This was the first time I got a role that has an actual script and lots of lines to say!" the 9-year old said excitedly.  "I couldn't wait to get started when I got the part.  I love to act and I love to be on stage.  It's so much fun putting on a costume and wearing make-up and memorizing lines.  It's so awesome!"

Missoula Children's Theater is a traveling company that spends a week at a time at locations throughout the United States helping children learn the basics of live theater.  It also fills an important morale-building need at military bases across the country,

Dahud was the show's director, while Oetken played the Big Bad Wolf.  Both are in their first year with the theater company.

"I started acting when I was in middle school," said Dahud.  "I played sports and acted, but it wasn't until I had a significant sports injury that led me to the theater full time.  While dramatic acting like Shakespeare is my favorite, I have grown and learned so much from being a part of Missoula.  The most rewarding part is seeing the smiles on the parents' faces at the end of the show."

Nathalie Wilson-Velthof, chief of Youth Programs for the 45th Space Wing, was impressed by how quickly the show comes together, and how well the children adapt to their roles.

"Every year I'm amazed how the kids learn their lines so fast," she said.  "I think the arts are so important for children nowadays - anything that gets them off the couch and away from the video games and electronic devices.  Missoula also teaches them about responsibility, organization and teamwork, which are things that make them successful through school and life in general."

Dan and Ainsley Gottrich, parents of Ryan and Erin, were equally thrilled to see their children perform on stage. 

"It is so rewarding as a parent to see your son or daughter succeed," said Ainsley.  "I think as military children, it's much easier for them to adapt and assimilate into situations like being in front of a crowd of people; it's certainly the case with our kids!"

Dan echoed his wife's pride. 

"The aspect I like most about Missoula Children's Theater is seeing how excited our kids get during the week of the program," he said. "When Ryan got his part, he could barely contain himself and began telling me all about the storyline.  I stopped him and said, 'No, buddy! Don't tell me what happens -- you'll spoil it for me! I want to be surprised when I see it for myself.'  I just love to share in the experience with them."

Patrick AFB's chief of Airman and Family Services, expressed her thanks to her staff and the crew from MCT.

"We are proud to host programs like Missoula," said Pam Jordan.  "But they don't happen without the collective help and contributions from people like Youth Program director Darleena Jones, Nathalie Wilson-Velthof, our pianist Marce Palos, and all the workers from the Youth Center who understand how valuable the theater experience is for the children.  Without their dedication and involvement, they wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity."

The play, which was performed in Patrick's old movie theater, truly gave the young cast the feeling of being on stage under the bright lights in front of a large audience. 

Prior to the production, Ryan was asked if he was nervous about taking the stage. 

He quickly responded, "I get a teeny bit of nerves, but I'm really more excited than anything.  I don't have time to be nervous, especially since I want to be an actor when I grow up!"

For more information about youth programs, contact the Patrick Youth Center at (321) 494-4747.