PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
Aspiring young thespians spent a week auditioning, studying lines, singing songs and learning proper staging in preparation for Patrick AFB Youth Center's production of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" July 26, 2013.
Missoula Children's Theater came to the Space Coast to produce a musical complete with whimsical props and sets, colorful costumes, elaborate make-up and stage lighting with local children as cast members. MCT is a traveling theater company that spends a week at a time at locations throughout the United States helping kids put together a play from start to finish.
MCT's goal is to develop life skills in children through performing arts, and strives to use participation in the performing arts as a vehicle to help develop and improve discipline, a strong work ethic, social and communication skills, and self-esteem.
For each production, the theater company sends a team of two professionally-trained actors to each venue, and the duo is responsible for all aspects of the production - the auditions, the rehearsals, the costumes and the makeup. They rely on 'junior directors' to assist them throughout the week.
This year's team was made up of Kelly Combs and Jake Stempel. Both actors have been traveling with MCT for about a year and spend about 36 weeks on the road bringing theater arts to communities across America.
"One of the things I love most about my job is each week is so completely different from the last," said Combs. "Even though we are performing the same script and the same play at every location, it is such fun watching to watch the creativity that comes out of the kids and seeing them use their voices that they may not be able to do otherwise. It is an incredible experience!"
Combs received her theater training at the University of Southern California, and Stempel received his at Emerson College in Boston, Mass. Both say the challenges of putting together a show in less than five days is far outweighed by the rewards each performance brings.
"Our number one goal is to give each child the opportunity to succeed," said Stempel. "We strive to keep our standards high and make sure no one fails while on stage. For me, the hardest part of this job is leaving the kids at the end of each week. It's sad for me, because we develop a bond so quickly, but I'm also so thrilled by the time Day 5 comes along to see the progression and growth of each performer. It is extremely rewarding."
This year's play had 104 school-age children from the Patrick community audition for the performance, with 55 receiving roles. Other children also benefitted from afternoon workshops provided by the MCT staff. For more than two decades, MCT has filled an important morale-building need on military bases across the country, and Patrick's Youth Center is proud to be a part of the experience.
"Missoula Children's Theater has been a part of the Youth Center's summer program for more than 15 years, and it is always a big hit with the children and the parents alike," said Darleena Jones, the Youth Center's Program Director. "In addition to the children who attend the program during the summer, we also have children who aren't regular members come out just to audition for a part. It fills the center with a lot of new faces, and many children return year after year just to be a part of the performance."
The play's main character, Snow White, was played by Pearl Suarez, daughter of Capt. Sonja Suarez of the 605th Test and Evaluation Squadron. Pearl, a soon-to-be 8th grader at DeLaura Middle School, said she's been performing with MCT since she was 5 years old.
"I have always wanted to act and sing and perform, and no matter what base we've been stationed at, I've never missed a year!" she said. "I'm extra excited this year because I've never been cast as the lead, and I have a whole lot of lines to recite. The good thing is that I don't get nervous, and my excitement carries me through the scenes. It is so much fun!"
Come show time Friday evening, the Youth Center was filled with family and friends who enjoyed a free performance with a lively cast.
"This is our fourth year with Missoula," said Andi Marichal, whose son Anthony was the assistant director and daughter Helen was Phineas, one of Snow White's forest friends. "Anthony really enjoyed being the assistant director and helping the younger kids learn their lines. And Helen? Well, Helen is just dramatic!"
So what keeps this traveling troupe motivated from venue to venue?
"When I was a child, I had a hard time making friends," said Combs. "I didn't communicate well and was painfully shy. But when I tried out for a Missoula production, I found my safe place - no one judged me and I was able to use my voice and become other characters and be with other kids who shared my acting enthusiasm. That's what keeps me motivated - that maybe I can encourage a child and help them find their voice and give them a platform to display their hidden talents."
For more information about youth programs, contact the Patrick Youth Center at (321) 494-4747.
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